It says a lot about an artist, when his work remains relevant and influential after his passing. This is the case with Joe Zawinul, a musician whose name is synonymous with the evolution of jazz. From his days with the legendary Cannonball Adderley Quintet to forming Weather Report to his explorations with the Zawinul syndicate, the Austrian pianist defined the sound of jazz fusion, creating many masterpieces. After his passing, his son, Tony, a restless artist and director on his own, formed Zawinul Legacy, a band that celebrates the life and art of his father – and which is in Melbourne these days, playing at Bird’s Basement. Having the task of keeping his father’s flame, Tony Zawinul describes how this ‘explosive’ band ‘moves music forward’.
AustralianJazz.net: How did the Zawinul Legacy come to be?
Tony Zawinul: Actually, I had a conversation with my dad a few months before he passed away and he was talking about having the Zawinul Syndicate continue after him. But after he passed away, it just didn’t seem right to have the Syndicate continue without him, so I thought it would be better to honor him and his music having Zawinul Legacy instead. Also, having it marketed as Zawinul Legacy would open it up to more possibilities, like having different people rotating in the band, such as former members of Weather and Zawinul Syndicate as well as other artists.
AJN: In what way is it different from other tribute bands?
TZ: Well, I can’t speak for other tribute bands… I guess they all have their reasons; mine, basically, is keeping his music alive, showcasing new talent with older known talent and all of them telling their stories and experience either playing with my dad or just the ones that knew him personally and influenced by his music.
AJN: How does the band continue Joe Zawinul’s exploration in music?
TZ: My dad’s music has always sounded so fresh like it was written today, and when you really listen to his music you can hear the progressiveness of it.
Like he said, “music should be moving forward”.
AJN: How would you describe the band’s shows?
TZ: Explosive and exciting
AJN: One of the most common risks in such ventures is having musicians trying to recreate/ imitate someone’s playing. Was this something that you were concerned about?
TZ: That is absolutely correct, and of course I thought about it, but again, in this case, the music speaks for itself, and at this point it’s really all about the music. It was never my intention to recreate or imitate my dad’s playing, with Zawinul Legacy; in essence there is only one Joe Zawinul, and like I said let the music do the talking.
AJN: What does each band member contribute to the sound?
TZ: Well it’s a great band! Scott Kinsey, a great Keyboard player, who really knows my dad’s music, is probably in a tougher spot than the other guys, because in one hand, to play this music you really need a certain understanding, and on the other hand, you gotta have your own voice, so it is a tough balance; I think there are very few players that can handle it and Scott is one of them. On bass, you have Hadrien Feraud, the youngest member, a phenomenal bass player from Paris, who grew up listening to Weather Report and Jaco Pastorious, but he is taking it to the next level of bass playing and having his own voice which is so important. Then we have Katisse Buckingham on sax and flutes, a very diverse player; his voice brings a unique element that both the Syndicate and Weather Report never had. The newest member, drummer Kirk Covington, played with the Zawinul Syndicate, so he brings that experience. He’s a fantastic drummer; he also played with Tribal Tech with Scott, and he understands this music, but again without trying to recreate anything.
AJN: What is your personal aspiration regarding this band and your father’s legacy in general?
TZ: That my father’s music continues to inspire people, and especially the younger generation who are just learning abut this music.
AJN: When did you first realize your father’s significance as an artist?
TZ: I was eight or nine years old, when ‘Mercy Mercy Mercy’ came out and all my schoolmates were coming up to me saying how their parents saw my dad on TV or heard him on the radio; that was cool!
AJN: Do you feel the responsibility of dealing with the estate as a burden that fell on your shoulders?
TZ: Tough question. My dad appointed me executor of the estate before he passed. I think about my dad everyday, I never look at it as a burden, but rather as an honor to keep his legacy alive with tremendous responsibility. As a son, this is how I can pay back my dad for the life and wisdom , the character, the drive he taught me. He was cool!
AJN: What is the most important thing you’ve learned from him?
TZ: Be a human being first; doesn’t matter what you do in lif,e or how great or famous you become , you will always be a human being first, so who you are as a person matters.
AJN: What has been the best part of doing a documentary on Weather Report?
I was 12 years old when my dad and Wayne started Weather Report, and I knew all the guys since I was a tot, so now delving onto the stories is so surreal in one way but exciting as well since I was also a Weather Report fan and being able to reconnect with some of the guys I haven’t see in a long time like some of them it’s been like 40 years, so it’s emotional as well.
AJN: What has been the greatest challenge?
TZ: Getting the Interviews!
AJN: Which Zawinul composition best describes your current state of mind?
TZ: I would say right now “Gibraltar”.