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A Musical Portrait by Joe Zawinul

This wonderful documentary by Mark Kidel drills into the late, great keyboardist Joe Zawinul’s philosophical dictum amid the filming of his childhood neighborhood in Vienna and seaside home in Malibu, California. Kidel also provides live footage of Zawinul performing with the Zawinul Syndicate at the 2004 grand opening of his Vienna venue "Birdland," and other locations.

Zawinul beat the punching bag outside his Malibu home while discussing the virtues of staying in shape, due to his hefty touring schedule. Like his former employer Miles Davis, the artist was a fan of pugilism, which might parallel his penchant for taking the bad with the good: a perspective that surfaced in his early years via the Nazi bombings that routinely occurred during WWII.

One of the many interesting aspects of this documentary pertains to Zawinul's use of the vocoder, which was a major component of his electronics-based keyboard arsenal. Essentially, he admits to his shortcomings as a vocalist, and describes how the vocoder alters the tonal components of one's voice. He also demonstrates and discusses a few motifs and indigenous musical instrument samples at his Malibu home studio. And in other regions of sight and sound, Zawinul converses about his propensities to explore a wider tonal range above and beyond the acoustic piano, evidenced by his electric keys work for Davis and subsequent formation of Weather Report.

Zawinul was engaging in world music before the catch-phrase became a subset of the jazz or pop vernacular. These notions are reaffirmed via his integration of African and Caribbean percussion elements into Weather Report and with the Zawinul Syndicate. He also cites British pianist George Shearing as a primary influence and from an auto, points out the building in Vienna where he composed "In A Silent Way."

Towards the end of the documentary, Zawinul asserts that "music is a holy thing," and elaborates upon the core concepts of music and how it breaks borders and serves as a unifying force. No doubt, his glaring ingenuity and universal persuasions will continue to serve as a mine of inspiration for countless musicians. (Essential viewing.... )

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joe Zawinul
  • CD Title: A Musical Portrait
  • Genre: Jazz DVD / Video
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: Arthaus Musik
  • Rating: Four Stars
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