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Zawinul's Blueprint

Jeff Tamarkin, associate editor of JazzTimes magazine explores the continuing legacy of Joe Zawinul, the innovative and distinctibe keyboardist and composer who died in 2007. The Zawinul Legacy Band, founded and produced by Joe's son Tony Zawinul, performs in Zankel Hall this Saturday, March 8 at 9:30 PM as part of Vienna: City of Dreams.

Joe Zawinul’s death in 2007 indisputably robbed the jazz world of one of its most innovative and distinctive keyboardists and composers. So monumental was his loss that upon Zawinul’s passing, the president of Austria—where Zawinul was born in 1932—issued a statement calling him a “music ambassador who will remain unforgettable to us all.”

That is the mission of the Zawinul Legacy Band: to ensure that Joe Zawinul’s music thrives and grows even with its namesake gone. When the quintet makes its first Carnegie Hall appearance in Zankel Hall, it will draw from Zawinul’s deep catalog and beyond—but one thing it won’t do is imitate. The music that Zawinul created with Weather Report (the groundbreaking band he co-founded in 1970 and steered till the end more than a decade later),the Zawinul Syndicate, and under his own name provides a blueprint for the Zawinul Legacy Band—not something meant to be reconstructed piece by piece.

“We don’t have to invent anything, per se, and it’s not a copy band,” says Tony Zawinul, Joe’s son, who founded and produces the Zawinul Legacy Band. “We have great music in our repertoire. All we have to do is use what we bring in as virtuosos and play in our own style. We’re playing the music of Joe and Weather Report, but we keep it fresh. That’s how we pay tribute to my dad.”

Formed in 2012, some of the Zawinul Legacy Band musicians played with Joe, others did not; each considers him a major influence. “This band had great chemistry right from the first rehearsal,” says Tony. “They all know the music and have such great respect for Joe that they’re willing to take a back seat to the music to make it work. We’re doing this organically, just like Joe did when he started Weather Report and the Syndicate, letting the music speak for itself.

“Joe had such an impact on so many different levels that his music still deserves to be heard,” Tony continues. “When I started this, I wasn’t sure how it was going to sound in the context of today. But when I heard it, the music sounded as fresh as when it was new.”

The Zawinul Legacy Band is, of course, excited about its debut at Carnegie Hall. “We’re just going to go out there and play,” says Tony. “It’s been a long time since the Zawinul name has been present in New York City, so this should be a nice welcoming.”

© 2014 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Jeff Tamarkin is the associate editor of JazzTimes magazine.

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