Vintage Keyboard Instruments

Great Electronic Keyboard Players

Herbie Hancock
Joe Zawinul
Bernie Worrell
Brian Eno
Peter Gabriel
Keith Emerson
Chick Corea
Sly Stone
John Medeski
Liam Howlett
Stevie Wonder
Thomas Dolby
Steve Winwood

Electronic Music Guide

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Joe Zawinul

Great Electronic Keyboard Players


Joe Zawinul belongs in a category unto himself -- a European from the heartland of the classical music tradition (Vienna) who learned to swing as freely as any American jazzer, and whose appetite for growth and change remains insatiable. Zawinul's curiosity and openness to all kinds of sounds made him one of the driving forces behind the electronic jazz-rock revolution of the late '60s and '70s -- and later, he would be almost alone in exploring fusions between jazz-rock and ethnic music from all over the globe. 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. Zawinul also has became a significant composer, ranging (like his idol Duke Ellington) from soulful hit tunes to large-scale symphonic jazz canvases. Yet despite his classical background, he now prefers to improvise compositions spontaneously on to tape, not write them out on paper.

At six, Josef Erich Zawinul started to play the accordion in his native Austria, and studies in classical piano and composition at the Vienna Conservatory soon followed. His interest in jazz piano, initially influenced by George Shearing and Erroll Garner, led to jobs with Austrian saxophonist Hans Koller in 1952 and gigs with his own trio in France and Germany. He emigrated to the United States in late 1958 after winning a scholarship to Berklee, yet after just one week in class, he left to join Maynard Ferguson's band for eight months, where Miles Davis first took notice of him. Following a brief stay with Slide Hampton, Zawinul became Dinah Washington's pianist from 1959 to 1961, and then spent a month with Harry "Sweets" Edison before Cannonball Adderley picked him to fill the piano chair in his Quintet. There Zawinul stayed and blossomed for nine years, contributing several compositions to the Adderley bandbook -- among them the major pop hit "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," "Walk Tall" and "Country Preacher" -- and ultimately helping to steer the Adderley group into the electronic era. While with Adderley, Zawinul evolved from a hard bop pianist to a soul-jazz performer heavily steeped in the blues, and ultimately a jazz-rock explorer on the electric piano. Toward the end of his Adderley gig (1969-1970), he was right in the thick of the new jazz-rock scene, recording several pioneering records with Miles Davis, contributing the title tune of Davis' In a Silent Way album.
After recording a self-titled solo album, Zawinul left Adderley to form Weather Report with Wayne Shorter and Czech bassist Miroslav Vitous in November 1970. Weather Report gave the increasingly self-confident Zawinul a platform to evolve even further as his interest in propulsive grooves and music from Africa and the Middle East ignited and developed. He gradually dropped the electric piano in favor of a series of ever-more-sophisticated synthesizers which he mastered to levels never thought possible by those who derided the instruments as sterile, unfeeling machines. Weather Report eventually became a popular group that appealed to audiences beyond jazz and progressive rock, thanks in no small part to Zawinul's hit song "Birdland."

When Zawinul and Shorter finally came to a parting of ways in 1985, Zawinul started to tour all by himself, surrounded by keyboards and rhythm machines, but resurfaced the following year with a short-lived extension of Weather Report called Weather Update (which did not leave any recordings). Weather Update quickly evolved into another group, the Zawinul Syndicate, which over the span of a decade has been tilting increasingly toward groove-oriented world music influences. Zawinul has also shown renewed interest in his European roots, collaborating with fellow Viennese classical pianist Friedrich Gulda from 1987 to 1994, producing a full-blown classically-based symphony Stories of the Danube in 1993, and following the near-disastrous Malibu fires of 1994, moving from California to New York City in order to be closer to Europe. In 2002 he released Faces & Places, his first studio album in several years and one that boasted an international roster of supporting musicians.

Though he continues to explore new musical paths at an age when most jazzers are long set in their ways, Zawinul's influence upon jazz has waned in recent years due to the jazz mainstream's retreat from electronics back to acoustic post-bop. But Zawinul's uplifting, still-invigorating later music may make him a prophet again if global music infiltrates the jazz world.
--Bio Courtesy of

Visit the Official Joe Zawinul Web Site

Heavy Weather - Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter didn't truly fulfill Weather Report's artistic and commercial potential until they brought on-board a bassist who could function as an equal partner in the musical equation, like co-founder Miroslav Vitous, whose main shortcoming was his inability to play funk. In renegade bassist Jaco Pastorius, the band found a formidable composer and improvisor, who possessed deep roots in funk and R&B, yet was equally at home in modern jazz and Afro-Cuban settings. Not coincidentally, the presence of this innovative fretless bassist on Heavy Weather gave Weather Report the rhythmic/melodic dimension it had been missing since Vitous's departure, as evidenced by his voice-like declamations on Zawinul's ballad "A Remark You Made." On Zawinul's chart-topping, big band-styled arrangement of "Birdland," Pastorius provided the kind of big, sweeping orchestral gestures the tune required, while on the shifting canvas of Wayne Shorter's "Harlequin," the bassist's ability to articulate complex chords allowed him to function as a string section unto himself. And on his own "Havona," Pastorius not only soloed with horn-like artistry, but combined with drummer Alex Acuna and percussionist Manolo Badrena to give Weather Report its funkiest rhythm section ever. --Chip Stern
Weather Report 8:30 - These live recordings offer an honest, well-rounded perspective of the Weather Report experience, and Joe Zawinul's relative prominence as their coleader and composer, circa 1979. On an arrangement such as "Brown Street," it's clear that Zawinul's vision of electronics was based in great part on his Austrian folk roots and in the varied native musics of South America, Africa, and the greater global village. This edition of Weather Report, featuring former big band drummer Peter Erskine and fretless bass innovator Jaco Pastorius, offered Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter a stable environment in which to fashion a group sound, although by this time, as witnessed by his solo turn on "Slang" and his prominence on every chart, Pastorius had attained cult status based in equal parts on his impeccable musicianship and his sometimes over-the-top flamboyance. Yet for all their forays into funk and the Third World, Weather Report remained at its core the most jazz oriented of all fusion bands. 8:30 is notable for the dancing, syncopated lines of Shorter's composition "Sightseeing," in which the composer lets it all hang out in a virtuoso turn on tenor saxophone that proves that the rumors of his creative demise were grossly exaggerated. --Chip Stern
Joe Zawinul + the Zawinul Syndicate - This live 2-CD set is the fruit of a 1997 Zawinul Syndicate world tour. Powered by Abidjanian drummer Paco Sery and either long-time Zawinul associate Victor Baily or Richard Bona on bass, the group attains critical mass from the start, cooling down only when a change of pace is warranted.-- Jazz Times
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Check out this vintage footage of Joe Zawinul with Weather Report playing Black Market. Notice how the lead synth keyboard is reversed!! Classic phased Rhodes sound, Oberheim 4-voice to his right and Arp 2600 to his right.

If you are a Joe Zawinul fan then perhaps you will enjoy my CD as well.
The Satellite Orchestra is the latest project from Los Angeles keyboardist Rodney Lee. The music is a cinematic journey into soulful live electronica with Lee navigating from a Fender Rhodes electric piano. The CD was released in Sept. 2006 and features Rico Belled on bass, Allen Lightner on percussion, Dino Soldo on bass clarinet and flutes, Dave Karasony on Drums, and vocalists Jody Watley, Jeff Robinson, and Wade3.
The Satellite Orchestra is like a chance meeting of Massive Attack, Zero-7, and Herbie Hancock.

" I have always believed that an album is a trip..not just music to wash the dishes to, but a place to go.. a journey to take.. an album goes to a place in your soul that maybe you forgot was there...or maybe you never discovered.. The Satellite Orchestra is such an's music you feel...make sure to bring your headphones." -DJ Jedi

Weather Report: The Best Of Weather Report - sheet music at
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