Monday, September 17, 2007

On The Mark -- Dead Jazz

The only good thing about a jazz great dying is we get hear a lot of their music for a week on the radio. Last week an unsung great in the jazz world passed, pianist Joe Zawinul. Zawinul played a role in changing jazz in many different ways from the 1960s onward. I’m not a jazz biographer, but the song he is probably best known for (that he composed) is the bluesy “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” when he was playing in the ‘60s with the sax great Cannonball Adderly. One thing that made the song so fascinating was Zawinul playing the electric piano – my guess is that it was the first time an electric piano was used with a classic jazz ensemble. The tune has since been played zillions of times by other jazz, blues and rock artists. It also was the beginning of breathing new life into jazz at a time when it was getting pummeled by rock – the Stones, the Beatles, etc.

When Miles Davis made his foray into jazz fusion, it was Zawinul at the synthesizer leading the way. When the great band, Weather Report, was leading the jazz fusion charge in the ‘70s and ‘80s (and keeping jazz alive), it was Zawinul at the keyboards (and Wayne Shorter on sax). I saw Zawinul with Weather Report “back then,” but it wasn’t until I saw him a few years ago at Catalina Bar & Grill, a local jazz club, that I really got to experience what he meant when he said (paraphrasing): music is not about chords and notes. Music is about atmosphere – what you feel in and around you. I felt like I was in his livingroom that night.

With all that said about jazz fusion, yesterday I heard a solo acoustic piano rendition by Zawinul of “My One and Only Love,” recorded in 1965. Wow.

Posted by On The Mark

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