Innovator of jazz fusion

Jazz legend Joe Zawinul, who soared to fame as one of the creators of jazz fusion and performed and recorded with Miles Davis, died Tuesday in Vienna, Austria. He was 75.

Zawinul had been hospitalized since last month and suffered a rare form of skin cancer.

Zawinul won widespread acclaim for his keyboard work on chart-topping Davis albums such as “In A Silent Way” and “Bitches Brew,” and was a leading force behind the jazz-rock fusion movement.

In 1970, Zawinul founded the band Weather Report and produced a series of albums including “Heavy Weather,” “Black Market” and “I Sing the Body Electric.” After that band’s breakup, he founded the Zawinul Syndicate in 1987.

Zawinul, who was born in Vienna and emigrated to the United States in 1959, is credited with bringing the electric piano and synthesizer into the jazz mainstream.

Trained at the Vienna Conservatoire, he played with Maynard Ferguson and Dinah Washington before joining the Cannonball Adderley Quintet in 1961. With Adderley, Zawinul wrote several important songs, among them the slow and funky hit “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.”

Zawinul then moved on to a brief collaboration with Miles Davis, at the time Davis was moving into the electric arena. It was Zawinul’s tune “In a Silent Way” that served as the title track of Davis’ first electric foray.

This past spring, he toured Europe to mark the 20th anniversary of the Zawinul Syndicate. He sought medical attention when the tour ended, the Viennese Hospital Association said in a statement last month.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer said Zawinul’s death meant the loss of a “music ambassador” who was known and cherished around the world. “As a person and through his music, Joe Zawinul will remain unforgettable for us all,” Fischer said in a statement.

Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer praised Zawinul’s “unpretentious way of dealing with listeners” and said he wasn’t “blinded by superficialities.”

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