Joe Zawinul

Joe Zawinul belonged in a category unto himself -- a European from the heartland of the classical music tradition (Vienna) who learned to swing as freely as any American jazzer, and whose appetite for growth and change remained insatiable. Zawinul's curiosity and openness to all kinds of sounds made him one of the driving forces behind the electronic jazz-rock revolution of the late '60s and '70s -- and later, he would be almost alone in exploring fusions between jazz-rock and ethnic music from all over the globe. He was one of a bare handful of synthesizer players who actually learned how to play the instrument, to make it an expressive, swinging part of his arsenal. Prior to the invention of the portable synthesizer, Zawinul's example helped bring the Wurlitzer and Fender Rhodes electric pianos into the jazz mainstream. Zawinul also became a significant composer, ranging (like his idol Duke Ellington) from soulful hit tunes to large-scale symphonic jazz canvases. Yet despite his classical background, he preferred to improvise compositions spontaneously onto tape rather than write them out on paper.