Joe Zawinul († 2007) was born in Vienna on 7 July 1932 and grew up not far from the mdw Campus in Vienna’s 3rd district. He eventually came to number among the 20th century’s most influential jazz musicians. And now, the big.mdw.band (dir. by Markus Geiselhart)—the University’s big band at the Department of Popular Music—has taken what would have been Zawinul’s 90th birthday as an opportunity to engage with his music and life’s work in a three-semester concert trilogy. This trilogy is not, however, oriented on the chronological development of Joe Zawinul’s career but rather on the big.mdw.band’s course syllabus, which stipulates a traditional programme in the winter semester and a modern programme in the summer semester.
Summer Semester 2022 – Zawinul 90 – The Music of Weather Report
In December of 1970, Joe Zawinul formed the band Weather Report together with the American saxophonist Wayne Shorter and the Czech bassist Miruslav Vitouš.
Until its breakup in 1986, Weather Report came to involve musical personalities like Jaco Pastorius, Peter Erskine, Alphonse Mouzon, and Victor Bailey. Weather Report is remembered as one of the most artistically significant and commercially successful jazz and fusion bands of the 1970s and ’80s, and its output continues to influence numerous musicians working in various styles.
Some of the big band arrangements heard in this programme were created by the American arranger Vince Mendoza and recorded live in Vienna by Joe Zawinul and the WDR Big Band at Joe Zawinul’s Birdland in October 2005 for eventual release on the CD Brown Street in 2006. The arrangement of the Zawinul composition “Man in the Green Shirt” was done by saxophonist Hans Salomon for the ORF Big Band and is held in the ORF Big Band Archive, which the ORF donated to the mdw five years ago. This entire archive has been accessible via the University Library’s catalogue since early 2022.
The arrangement of the Wayne Shorter composition “Palladium” is by the American Mike Tomaro. The arrangement of “Procession” is by Joe Zawinul himself and was done for the big.mdw.band. Also on the programme is my own arrangement of the number “Can it be done” (originally released on the Weather Report album Domino Theory) for big band and vocal ensemble. The Zawinul composition “Birdland” will be heard in a rendition together with the Department of Popular Music’s four-part vocal ensemble (soprano, alto, tenor, bass): this arrangement by the Australian composer and trombonist Daryl McKenzie combines the “Birdland” version by Manhattan Transfer with the big band arrangement of the Maynard Ferguson Big Band. “Birdland”, by the way, was nominated for a Grammy in three different versions: one by Weather Report as released on the album Heavy Weather (1977), one by Manhattan Transfer from the album Extensions (1980), and one by Quincy Jones.
The concert given by the big.mdw.band on 29 June 2022 at Schlosstheater Schönbrunn can be accessed at the mdwMediathek.
Winter Semester 2022/23 – Zawinul 90 – From Vienna, with Love
The present semester focuses on Joe Zawinul’s early career, for which reason part of the programme will be a flashback to Vienna’s jazz scene of the 1950s.
In Vienna, 1955 was the year that saw Joannes Fehring (born Johannes Fernbach) found his ensemble Orchester Joannes Fehring, in which the young Joe Zawinul was a member alongside figures such as trombonist Erich Kleinschuster and saxophonist Hans Salomon. Later on, in 1971, Orchester Johannes Fehring served as the basis of the ORF Big Band, which was active until 1982. From the ORF Big Band Archive, this programme includes numbers such as Hans Solomon’s “Salute to Miles”, which he wrote for Orchester Johannes Fehring. Salomon’s composition actually became known, however, through a recording by Germany’s Max Greger Big Band on its 1965 album Maximum. Around 1954, shortly before Orchester Joahnnes Fehring was founded, drummer Viktor Plasil had formed the combo Austrian All Stars, which included Joe Zawinul at the piano as well as Hans Salomon on alto saxophone, Karl Drewo on tenor saxophone, and Rudolf Hansen on bass. 1955 saw the addition of trumpeter Dick Murphy, and pianist Friedrich Gulda would also play with the combo on occasion later on. One of the numbers performed frequently by this ensemble was based on the Swedish folk song “Ack Värmeland Du Sköna” (which became a jazz standard known as “Dear Old Stockholm” after the American saxophonist Stan Getz arranged it for concerts in Sweden). This number, as well, will be played in an arrangement by Hans Salomon sourced from the ORF Big Band Archive. The number “From Vienna, With Love”, whose title we’ve taken as this semester’s motto, was released by Joe Zawinul on the album The Rise and Fall of the Third Stream in 1968. It’s probable, however, that this is actually a composition by Friedrich Gulda, who released a version of it entitled “Du und I” as part of his Golowin-Lieder on the album Wann I geh’. I’ve therefore created two arrangements of this number: an instrumental version as a programme opener, and a vocal version that we’ll be performing as an encore. This semester’s programme will also include numbers from the repertoire of Dinah Washington, the first important figure with whom Joe Zawinul performed in the US. And finally, we’ll be playing compositions that Zawinul wrote for the Cannonball Adderly Quintet—the group that ultimately propelled him to jazz stardom in America.
Summer Semster 2023 – Zawinul 90 – The Syndicate
Our Zawinul trilogy concludes with a focus on The Zawinul Syndicate, an ensemble that existed from 1988 until Joe Zawinul’s death on 11 September 2007. With this ensemble, Zawinul developed a type of music-making that diverged fundamentally from typical jazz, pop, and rock music concepts. Many of their pieces are of a “suite-like” character, structured by a more or less open sequence of melodies and key changes. They centre on strong grooves, with nearly every piece based on its own rhythemic composition that brings the guitar, bass, percussion, drums, and keyboard together to form an unmistakable polyphonic weave. Predetermined building blocks allow the arrangements and formal sequences to arise spontaneously. The second pillar consists of solo spots similar to classical cadenzas that every musician in the ensemble can shape in complete freedom in order present themselves musically. These spots can be placed between two pieces or between two sections of a single piece. The present winter semester has seen the beginning of work on this final part of the trilogy in collaboration with Paul Urbanek’s course “Pop & Jazz Bandprojekt”. There, a syndicate formation (keyboard, bass, guitar, drums, percussion) has begun working with notated material that provides a good combination of formal structuring and creative freedom, simulating the processes described above so that the participating musicians can let them unfold even more freely later on. The first step will be to work out the basic structures, grooves, riffs, and melodies as a group. Next comes a period of formal experimentation whose goal is to eventually enable spontaneous changes.
Finally, in the summer semester, this formation will join the big.mdw.band as its rhythm section, with the material developed during the winter semester being brought together in new arrangements to be performed by the complete big band without sacrificing the spontaneity of the syndicate pieces.
This working process will benefit particularly the rhythm section’s musical development by providing the important experience of reinterpreting an already-familiar programme in a different musical environment. And for the soloists of the big.mdw.band, this first-ever collaboration between the courses “Big Band” and “Pop & Jazz Bandprojekt” offers considerably greater latitude and time than previously for soloistic development and experimentation with solo performance.