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Joe Zawinul & The Zawinul Syndicate

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Josef Erich Zawinul (born July 7, 1932 in Vienna, Austria) was a jazz keyboardist and composer. He was one of the front runners in the development of jazz fusion along with Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin and Miles Davis. Best known as the founder of the band Weather Report, with Miroslav Vitous and Wayne Shorter with whom he had previously recorded two albums as part of Davis’ studio band. He was leader of the ensemble called The Zawinul Syndicate until his death on September 11, 2007.

Zawinul, along with Corea and Hancock, was one of the first to integrate electric pianos and early synthesizers like the ARP 2600 in 1973’s Sweetnighter.

In the late 60s, Zawinul recorded with Miles Davis’s studio band and helped create the sound of the new Jazz fusion. Among others he played on the album In a Silent Way, the title track of which he composed, and the landmark album Bitches Brew, for which he contributed the twenty-minute track “Pharaoh’s Dance” which occupied the whole of side one. Zawinul is known to have played live with Davis only once, on July 10, 1991, shortly before Davis’ death.

Zawinul’s biggest commercial success came from his composition “Birdland”, a 6-minute opus featured on Weather Report’s 1977 album Heavy Weather. “Birdland” is one of the most recognizable jazz pieces of the ’70s, covered by many prominent artists from The Manhattan Transfer to Maynard Ferguson. Even Weather Report’s version received significant mainstream radio airplay — unusual for them — and served to convert many new fans to music which they may never have heard otherwise.

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