Keyboardist Joe Zawinul, who played with Miles Davis and helped shape jazz fusion with his band Weather Report, died today (Sept. 11) in his native city of Vienna. He was 75.

Keyboardist Joe Zawinul, who played with Miles Davis and helped shape jazz fusion with his band Weather Report, died today (Sept. 11) in his native city of Vienna. He was 75.

Zawinul, voted best keyboardist 30 times by music magazine Down Beat's critics' poll, including this year, had sought medical attention last month after a tour. He died of a rare form of skin cancer, local news agency APA reported.

Growing up in Vienna's poor Erdberg district during Nazi rule, Zawinul first showed his talent by playing the accordion with his family. He later won a scholarship to the Vienna Conservatory. As a young man his friends were the late former Austrian President Thomas Klestil and pianist Friedrich Gulda.

In 1959, Zawinul won a piano scholarship at Boston's Berklee College of Music, where many careers in contemporary music began, before joining the bands of U.S. jazz stars Dinah Washington and later Cannonball Adderly.

Miles Davis first approached the budding pianist at New York's Birdland jazz club, wanting to hire him, Zawinul once told an interviewer. Zawinul turned him down but said that when the time was right, they would make history together.

And when the time was right, they did. Ten years later, Zawinul wrote "In a Silent Way," the title cut for Davis' 1969 album that is regarded as one of the trumpeter's first forays into jazz fusion. He played on and composed for Davis' "Bitches Brew" album in 1970, a chart-topping record considered revolutionary for the day and marking his crossover to a rock and pop audience.

Zawinul started Weather Report in 1970 with saxophonist Wayne Shorter. The band brought electric piano, synthesizers and African and Middle Eastern rhythms to mainstream audiences in a jazz setting.

Before its breakup in 1985, Weather Report released 17 albums. Its most famous song, "Birdland," released on the "Heavy Weather" album in 1977, won separate Grammy awards in three decades -- for the original version as well as for covers by Quincy Jones and Manhattan Transfer.

After Weather Report, Zawinul fronted the Zawinul Syndicate and launched a Birdland club in Vienna.


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