It was heartening for me to see Joe Zawinul get a Grammy for Jazz/Best Instrumental album. I remember the great first album by the band he co-founded with Wayne Shorter: Weather Report. It had a tribute on the back cover by none other than the president of Columbia Records: the mighty Clive Davis, who went on to found Arista and then J Records.
In his encomium, Davis praised Weather Report as the most amazing band of the future, and right he was: Weather Report was without a doubt the most innovative and original band of the 70s and 80s. Zawinul introduced bassist extraordinaire, Jaco Pastorius, amazing drummers, world percussion and African singers, and Weather Report featured fascinating songs penned by the iconically brilliant Wayne Shorter.
When Norah Jones hit big on Blue Note Records, it was a surprise to jazz fans who always thought Blue Note was the home of straight-ahead jazz music. Yet Norah’s first cd was a pop cd, very light and sweet and hardly hard-driving. When other jazz labels started looking to sell more records (typical jazz records sell 3000-5000 copies– even in the good old days), they looked for fresh new vocalists, not instrumental jazz. Bands like the Zawinul Syndicate moved to smaller labels, got less publicity, and sold less records. Some people speculated—once again—that instrumental jazz was dead.
I sometimes worry that the audience for such adventurous music as Weather Report’s and the Zawinul Syndicate has dwindled. And so for me it’s refreshing to see Joe get a posthumous Grammy for this fine live record he recorded in Vienna, his birthplace.