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Joe Zawinul: A Musical Portrait

Jerry D'Souza By

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Joe Zawinul
A Musical Portrait
Arthaus Musik
2008

Joe Zawinul was a man of many parts. Player of keyboards, composer, vocalist, and boxing enthusiast: he rolled them all into one. All of these are given a close look by director Mark Kidel on A Musical Portrait.

Zawinul was born in Vienna and brought up playing classical music. But there was a far greater calling for him one that was nudged by his natural curiosity. When he was around seven, he took the green felt from a billiards table and added it to the soundboard of his accordion, making it sound like a woodwind—perhaps not as loud but it satisfied the young inventor.

Zawinul moved to the USA in 1958 where he was caught up in the jazz scene, playing with Dinah Washington, Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis before going on to form Weather Report with Wayne Shorter.

Music took on several forms for Zawinul: jazz, rock, African, classical and Caribbean music. He integrated them and manipulated the music to forge his own sound. "I was always ready to do something else than play acoustic piano" he says. And so he took the keyboards into new dimensions. He used inverted scales to string a collection of melodies and to give them a different tone and presence from their usual character, and he used the vocoder to reshape his voice. His compositions were all the richer for his constant search for the unusual and for his experimentation in all areas of electronic music production.

Director Kidel takes the viewer on an intimate journey, profiling not only the later, renowned musician but the boy who grew up in Vienna. During interview footage, Zawinul talks about his childhood, the neighborhood where he grew up, and the impact of the war. "War is hell" he says, as his voice chokes.

The music on this DVD is performed by the Zawinul Syndicate, a band that was the culmination of a musical journey that eventually led him to bring all his influences into one congruent stream. As he succinctly summs it up: music connects.


Tracks:East 4th Street Band; Andalusia; In a silent Way; When There Was Royalty; Tower of Silence; Three Postcards; Y'Elena; All about Simon.

Personnel: Joe Zawinul: keyboards, vocals; Sabine Kabongo: vocals; Amit Chatterjee: guitar, vocals; Nathaniel Townsley III: drums; Linley Marthe: bass; Manolo Badrena: percussion.

Production Notes: 76 minutes.

Extras: 20 page booklet; trailer.

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