"'I like potatoes so much that, finally, I look like a potato from head to foot.' I'm just improvising the words with the music. 'And all this is okay as long as I don't have to look at the potatoes from the bottom up.'"
Zawinul's newest label, Zebra Records, released World Tour last year to outstanding reviews. After more than a year on the road, the Syndicate is off until June. Zawinul says that after he returns from his trip to Africa, he'll continue to work on his latest opus, the musical story of the evil that was Mauthausen.
"Let me tell you about the performance there [last August 8]," he says, "because it's the most important thing I've ever done. We had a soft drone note for an hour to start, with 37 tons of speakers set up, holograms against a wall 60 meters high, a poet reading letters from the inmates, candles being lit. The piece isn't done to whine or to accuse--but to stun, to make sure this horror is not forgotten. There were a lot of bad people in Austria at that time, bastards, but I'll tell you--most of the folks had nothing to do with it.
"I improvised it in two hours, but my preparation was months and months. Some parts are hard to listen to. Check this out--no matter what was going on at this place, the beatings, the tortures, they always had a band out there to play. And they [the Nazis] were laughing when they were beating up the people, killing people. But all the fucking musicians survived--jazz musicians, man."
Zawinul describes the end of the performance:
"After the memorial hymn, I was the only one on the bandstand with the narrator [Frank Hoffman]. I lit a little candle. Two hours after it was over, people were still sitting there, crying. This was something I had to do, even if it hurts. Everybody got to stand for something in life."
With that, Joe Zawinul pours two small glasses of Slivovitz plum brandy, toasts his visitor, and slugs his shot down.