It may be a word overused but there isn't truly a more appropriate way to describe keyboardist/composer Joe Zawinul.
Austrian born, Joe Zawinul emigrated to the US in 1959 where he played with Maynard Ferguson and the great Dinah Washington before joining alto saxophonist great Cannonball Adderley in 1961 for nine years. With Adderley, Zawinul wrote several important songs, primarily the slow and funky hit Mercy, Mercy, Mercy which reached the top on the Billboard magazine Pop Charts in 1967.
Zawinul then moved on to a brief but fateful encounter and collaboration with Miles Davis, just at the time Miles was moving into the electric arena. It was Zawinul’s tune In a Silent Way, in fact, which served as the title track of Miles’ first electric foray, and Zawinul had a potent impact on Bitches Brew, as well.
He is one of a bare handful of synthesizer players who actually learned how to play the instrument, to make it an expressive, swinging part of his arsenal. Prior to the invention of the portable synthesizer, Zawinul's example helped bring the Wurlitzer and Fender-Rhodes electric pianos into the jazz mainstream.
After releasing his debut solo album on Atlantic in 1970, Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter put together what was to become the most important jazz group of the ‘70s and beyond, Weather Report. Drawing on the power and theatricality of rock and R&B, while maintaining allegiance to jazz and the pure spirit of improvisation, they tapped into the so-called fusion” movement of that decade while carving out their own unique niche. Bandmembers came and went, including Miroslav Vitous, Alphonso Johnson, Jaco Pastorius, Victor Bailey, Peter Erskine and Omar Hakim, but the band spirit prevailed over the course of 17 albums, including the ground-breaking album Black Market and the massively popular Heavy Weather, with Zawinul's infectious song Birdland. That song, in versions by Weather Report, Manhattan Transfer and Quincy Jones, won separate Grammy awards in three successive decades, and Weather Report itself won a Grammy for their momentous live album, 8:30.