“Joe Zawinul: A Musical Portrait” is a short documentary and performance
film by director Mark Kidel. It was originally released on the Arthaus
Musik label in 2005. Although it only lasts 58 minutes, it provides a
very informative and insightful look at the life, career and philosophies
of this noted keyboardist.
Shot in a very intimate style during 2004 at Zawinul’s residences in Malibu
and Vienna, this footage is interspersed with that of a performance
given at The Point in Cardiff, Wales by his group, the “Zawinul Syndicate.”
DVD viewers are rewarded with a look into his performances, and
opinions about music and life in general. Of course, Joe Zawinul is one
of the prime architects of “fusion” music which developed in the late
1960’s and early 1970’s, melding jazz with elements of rock and
world music. He was a major compositional force during the Miles Davis
“Bitches Brew” sessions, and shortly thereafter formed “Weather Report”
with saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter.
Born in 1932, Zawinul discussed growing up in Vienna and his
first-hand experiences in the 1940’s during World War II. Due to
his considerable abilities as a jazz pianist, he successfully emigrated
to the United States in the late 1950’s. For several years, he played
with Cannonball Adderley and other jazz greats.
However, it became apparent that Joe Zawinul was always a
“musician of the world,” a point brought home on this DVD by the
collection of improvised performances with vocalist Sabine Kabongo,
drummer Nathaniel Townsley III, guitarist Amit Chatterjee, Linley
Marthe on bass, and Manolo Badrena on percussion. This music is
influenced by jazz, but has a definite “world music” feel and few
boundaries. The environment is extremely positive.
A 15-minute bonus feature consists of two songs from the same gig.
Joe Zawinul died three years after this film was completed, making
this DVD both poignant and important. While all too brief,
“Joe Zawinul: A Musical Portrait” is highly recommended.