Joe Zawinul has died. I true giant of music has left us. Beyond the hype that surrounded the likes of Pavarotti, Zawinul was a phenomenon who kept his feet on the ground. Last year, I failed to go and watch him live when I was in Switzerland. I regret that I missed this last chance to see him live! While he did many recordings, he and the musicians he played with were at their best when on stage. He was a master of improvisation and hence he played with the greats like the Adderley Brothers, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis.
I saw them in 2003 at Cape Town's North Sea Jazz Festival. It was a marvellous encounter. He was playing with musicians from the four corners of the world - a true world music. Rhythm all over. A master of the piano, he generously shared his knowledge of music with other musicians and poured his money into developing musicians.
Fabio Freire, a Brazilian composer and musician living in Switzerland, told me that like Amadeus Mozart, Zawinul revolutionised how music was played. He made the synthesizer a staple of modern music. I have a tape of a recording when he was the pianist of the Adderley brothers - his playing and composition kept the audience in trance. Before he played with the greats of Jazz in the US, he studied classical music at the Conservatory in Vienna and later developed the synthesizer and his own brand of music, jazz fusion.
In a world struggling to keep genuine leadership afloat, he stands out as a one of those strong and quiet ones.