With its mixture of electronic instrumentation and jazz sensibilities, Weather Report became the jazz-rock, or fusion, band against which all others were measured. For 15 years after the band’s inception in 1971, Weather Report was steered through personnel changes and compositional experiments under the auspices of co-leaders keyboardist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Both musicians had been accomplished performers and composers, veterans of the hard-bop era of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Ten years later when the styles of rock began to merge with jazz, both men had front row seats playing with Miles Davis on his groundbreaking fusion albums, In a Silent Way— for which Zawinul composed the theme song—and Bitches Brew. During the band’s heyday of the mid-to-late 1970s, when the group included bass virtuoso Jaco Pastorius, Weather Report was fundamental in taking jazz out of the clubs and into arenas. Zawinul and Shorter laid the band to rest in 1986 and ten years later announced that Weather Report would record and tour once again. Months later, however, another announcement signaled the end to those plans.
Members include Josef Zawinul (born July 7, 1932, Vienna, Austria), keyboards, 1971-86; Wayne Shorter (born August 25, 1933, Newark, N J), saxophone, 1971-86; Mirslav Vitous (born December 6, 1947, Prague, Czechoslovakia), bass, 1971-73; Alphonse Mouzon (born November 21, 1948, Charleston, SC), drums, 1971; Airto Moreira (born August 5, 1941, Itaiopolis, Brazil), percussion, 1971; Eric Gravati, drums, 1971-72; Dom Urn Romao, percussion, 1971-73; Ishmael Wilburn, drums, 1972; Alphonso Johnson, bass, 1973-75; Ndugu (born Leon Chancier, 1952); Chester Thompson, drums, 1975-76; Jaco Pastorius (born John Francis Pastorius, December 1, 1951, Norristown, PA; died September 21, 1987, Fort Lauderdale, FL, bass, 1976-82; Alejandro Acuna (born December 12, 1944, Pativika, Peru), percussion, 1976-77; Manola Badrena, percussion, 1977; Peter Erskine (born June 5, 1954, Somers Pt., NJ), drums, 1978-82, 1986; Victor Bailey, bass, 1982-86; Jose Rossy, percussion, 1982-85; Omar Hakim, drums, 1982-85; Mino Cinelu, percussion, 1986.
Formed 1971 in New York by Zawinul, Shorter, and Vitous; signed to Columbia Records and released debut, Weather Report, 1971; Vitous left in 1973, replaced by Alphonso Johnson; a series of drummers and percussionists have recorded and toured, 1971-86; bassist Johnson left 1975, replaced by virtuoso bassist Jaco Pastorius; recorded album Heavy Weather in 1977, featuring the popular “Birdland”; Pastorius left 1979; group disbanded 1986.
Awards: Voted DownBeat Band of the Year by readers, 1971-78.
Addresses: Record company —Columbia Records, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211.
The path to Weather Report begins with the singular careers of Joe Zawinul, born in Vienna, Austria, and Wayne Shorter, a native of Newark, New Jersey. Zawinul arrived in America in 1959, the result of a scholarship to Boston’s Berklee School of Music. With the decision that a better classroom would be on the bandstand, Zawinul left Berklee after a few weeks to play piano for Maynard Ferguson’s band, where he first worked with Shorter, then Ferguson’s saxophonist. Shorter leftthe band after a month to play with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers while Zawinul was fired after eight months following conflicts with Ferguson.
Beginning in 1960, Zawinul embarked on a 19-month stint as singer Dinah Washington’s accompanist, and it was during this period that he first played an electric piano. “Dinah Washington and I toured with Ray Charles in 1960,” he recalled to DownBeat’s Conrad Silvert, “and we did a couple of tunes when both Ray and Dinah would sing and I’d accompany on Ray’s Wurlitzer electric piano.” Zawinul then went on to join alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderly’s group for nine years beginning in 1961. During his time with the group, he played the electric piano, and in 1966, one of his compositions was the band’s first hit, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.”
Shorter, meanwhile, was having considerable success with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers contributing such compositions as “Lester Left Town” and “Free for All” and acquiring the coveted role of the band’s musical director. In 1963 he left Blakey’s band and after recording a fewalbums as leader, Shorter joined Miles Davis’s band in 1964, filling the chair vacated by John Coltrane. Along with bassist Ron Carter, drummer Tony Williams, and pianist Herbie Hancock, Shorter was part of Davis’s seminal mid-1960s quintet that’s credited with bringing Davis back to the musical vanguard in jazz. “Those were all young guys,” Davis wrote in his autobiography, Miles: The Autobiography, “and although they were learning from me, I was learning from them, too, about the newthing, the free thing.” He added about Shorter, “When he came into the band it started to grow a whole lot faster, because Wayne is a real composer….. Wayne also brought in a kind of curiosity about working with musical rules. If they didn’t work, then he broke them, but with a musical sense; he understood thatfreedom in music was the ability to know the rules in order to bend them to your satisfaction and taste.”
In the late 1960s one of the ways to break the rules in jazz was in integrating electronic instruments. Zawinul was at the forefront of electronic instrumentation and Davis so admired the sound of his electric piano work in Adderly’s band and his compositions, that in 1969 he invited Zawinul to bring both to a recording session for Davis’s next album. One song Zawinul brought, “In A Silent Way,” became the album’s title tune and marked the first time Zawinul and Shorter played together since Ferguson’s band a decade earlier. Zawinul also contributed songs and playing on Davis’s second album that fused the elements of jazz and rock, Bitches Brew. It became the biggest selling jazz album ever.
Two years later, Shorter, who had left Davis’s group in the fall of 1969, was talking with Zawinul, who had just left Adderly’s band, and bassist Miroslav Vitous, who had just been freed up from duties in Herbie Mann’s group. The three decided to form a group that would take the music that came out of Davis’s fusion recording sessions and move it a few steps further. “We kind of always talked about doing something together,” Zawinul explained to Rolling Stone’s Bob Blumenthal, referring to himself and Shorter. “If we met in a club we used to talk about music… for a while we didn’t see each other at all; I was going one way with Cannon’s group, Wayne would be somewhere else with Miles. Then I heard Nefertit. [a 1967 Davis album featuring three Shorter compositions] and that’s when I felt Wayne was the guy I should do something with. He had the new thinking.”
The trio made a demo tape with stand-in drummer Billy Cobham, although Columbia Records signed them without even listening to it. Drummer Alphonse Mouzon and guest percussionist Airto Morirera were recruited and the band went into rehearsals. “Rehearsing was quite something,” Zawinul told DownBeat’. Dan Mor-genstern. “Every day when we got home we’d be exhausted, there was so much music going on.” Their debut album, Weather Report, was released in May of 1971 to much anticipation and fanfare. Here was a supergroup of jazz virtuosos, each superb soloists, who placed solos aside to emphasize the ensemble feel of playing, each instrument blending to supportthe theme of the composition. According to Zawinul, it was the compositions, after all, which were the essence of the band. “One thing made me certain we could be the greatest band in the world: the compositions,” he declared to Blumenthal. “Composing is always the thing that lasts, and I knew that both Wayne and I can write our asses off. And the playing is right behind.”
Mouzon left the band after the first tour and was replaced by Eric Gravatt with Dom Urn Romao handling percussion duties for the band’s next album, I Sing the Body Electric. With one side consisting of studio recordings and the other a live recording from Tokyo, Rolling Stone’s Robert Palmer called it a “beautiful, near perfect LP,” and went on to describe the band’s live side as “a group that has reorganized the role of the traditional rhythm section in an unusual way. Joe Zawinul uses his electronic keyboard like a hornplayer… to engage in a dialogue of equals with saxophonist Shorter. Vitous uses his bass as a third voice in this ongoing conversation, which often leaves drummer Gravatt to handle the rhythmic chores, a job he performs with style and grace.” DownBeat’. Gary Giddins declared, “there is no question that Weather Report is into something new and stimulating.”
The next album, 1973’s Sweetnighter, sold well but wasn’t as successful with the critics as the previous two efforts, and Gravatt was absent on three tracks, having left the group during recording. On that album, however, the group began to make the transition to synthesizers and electric bass, a move completed by the band’s next release, 1974’s Mysterious Traveller with drummer Ishmael Wilburn. Bassist and founding member Vitous was only heard on one tune, having left the band, to be replaced, for this album, by the layered textures of Zawinul’s synthesizers. “Synthesizers don’t complicate anything,” Zawinul insisted to Melody Maker’. Steve Lake. “Our music is so simple, man, and it’s getting more simple the more familiar we are getting with electronics. When the music is right synthesizers don’t sound like synthesizers. They just sound like some beautiful instrument which you can’t put your finger on.” Indeed, instead of being a cold, programmed sound, Rolling Stone’s Robert Palmer called it “the triumph of feeling over technology,” and proclaimed the album “reintroduces human proportion into the mix and is far and away Weather Report’s most complete and perfect statement.”
Bassist Alphonso Johnson was in the group by 1975 with drummer Ngudu appearing on that year’s Tale Spinning, an album that brought solos back into the mix. This was followed by 1976’s Black Market, the first album to include a volatile young bass player from Florida, Jaco Pastorius. “I met Jaco in Miami after one of our concerts,” Zawinul told DownBeat’. Silvert. “He was talking with a certain confidence and with such a knowledge of what’s going on, I figured there was a good chance he was really into something. Either he was an incredible musician or a fool.” Pastorius sent Zawinul some tapes and he was sufficiently impressed to invite him to play on the Black Market album on the song “Cannonball,” an ode to Zawinul’s old boss Julian “Cannonball” Adderly, also a Florida native. Zawinul thought Pastorius’s bass would give the tune “that Florida sound.”
Shortly after they recorded “Cannonball,” Pastoriuswas invited to join the group and added one of his own tunes, “Barbary Coast,” to the Black Market album. Now the band had three capable composers and Weather Report seemed unstoppable. The addition of Pastorius with his virtuosic sensibilities and flamboyant stage antics were well in tune with the direction the band was going. The first full album with Pastorius, 1977’s Heavy Weather, ranks among their best. Featuring their most well known tune, “Birdland,”—later a vocal hit for the Manhattan Transfer—HeavyWeather also incorporated Latin American sounds with an increasing blend of R&B. Reviewer Dan Oppenheimer of Rolling Stone credited Pastorius with anchoring the band. “He’s vital to them now,” Oppenheimer wrote, “because he fills up the music where it used to diffuse, which suits their apparent aims just fine.”
Weather Report followed up with 1978’s Mr. Gone, an album that brought drummer Peter Erskine into the mix and featured Zawinul’s new Prophet synthesizer, an ingredient he thought would help make Mr. Gone their best record yet. “This Prophet keyboard is an incredible machine,” Zawinul exclaimed to Rolling Stone’s Blumenthal. “It has what I’ve always needed to make the music come off. I have forty-four different programs, including a string sound that you will not know isn’t a symphony orchestra.” Unfortunately, Mr. Gone and the Prophet keyboard received a disappointing one star review from DownBeat. “Zawinul’s insistent multi-tracking distorts the sound,” the reviewer said. “… Zawinul’s use of his electronic keyboards is too rigid and confining, and it is as if in his attempt to free the band from the restriction of conventional acoustic instrumentation, he has established a whole new set of equally restrictive guidelines.”
A 1979 live album, 8:30, brought back some of the luster to Weather Report and showcased their impressive improvisational abilities. The group continued as a quartet for the next three years releasing two like-minded albums that failed to match their earlier work both critically and commercially. About 1982’s Weather Report, the last album to include Pastorius and Erskine, Rolling Stone’s J.D. Considine wrote, “More often than not… the members of Weather Report engage in a kind of push-and-pull performing that ends up blunting the music’s intensity.” Pastorius went on to form the 20-piece Word of Mouth band while Erskine left to do some solo recording and extensive session work.
In 1983 bassist Victor Bailey, drummer Omar Hakim, and percussionist Jose Rossy, formed the rhythm section of the band and the band in this quintetformat would record three albums: Procession, Domino Theory, and Sportin’ Life. The last Weather Report album, 1986’s This is Thi. featured the return of Peter Erskine, percussionist Mino Cinelu in the place of Rossy, and guest guitarist Carlos Santana. When the time came to tour in support of the album, however, Shorter toured with his own quartet leaving Zawinul to go out with a band he dubbed “Weather Update,” featuring Erskine, Bailey, percussionist Bobby Thomas, Jr., and guitarist Steve Kahn.
In the years that followed the 1986 breakup, Shorter recorded and toured with various musicians as a leader and Zawinul formed the Weather Report-influenced Zawinul Syndicate. In 1987 Pastorius died from injuries he received in a fight outside a bar in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. To the dismay of their fans, nothing in the post-breakup years indicated that Weather Report would ever reform. Then in April 1996, Down Beat reported that the band would record the following Fall and tour in the Spring and Summer of 1997. “We want to make a new record with newmusic,” Zawinul told DownBeat’s Zan Stewart. “And on the tour, we’ll probably play the new music, as well as recalling some of the old tunes.” For his part, Shorter affirmed that the time was right to reform the band. “When we were working on Weather Report, we always said that ours was the folk music of the future…. Now we’re in the future as opposed to being backthen…. By doing what [Joe and I] did, going on our separate paths, we gathered experiences, maybe stories that will, whether we want them to or not, manifest themselves on the new record.”
In July of 1996, Shorter lost his niece and Ana Maria, his wife of some thirty years, in the TWA Flight 800 crash off the coast of New York. A few months later it was announced that Weather Report would not be reforming, although no explanations were given or necessary. Shorter went on to win a Grammy for his 1996 album, High Life, while Zawinul was nominated for a Grammy as well, in a separate category, for the Zawinul Syndicate’s My People. While both musicians continue to make music that’s appreciated by fans and critics alike, it’s unknown whether Shorter or Zawinul will ever perform together again under the Weather Report banner. When asked by Down Beat. Larry Birnbaum in 1979 why Weather Report was still going strong while other fusion groups slipped away, Zawinul responded, “It’s because we’re saying what we’re saying and it goes on strong because it’s real and it’s genuine and there’s nothing false about it. It was always real, good or bad, but it’s real.” If Weather Report has anything left to say then, good or bad, at least it’ll be real.”
Weather Report, Columbia, 1971.
I Sing the Body Electric, Columbia, 1972.
Sweetnighter, Columbia, 1973.
Mysterious Traveller, Columbia, 1974.
Tale Spinnin’, Columbia, 1975.
Black Market, Columbia, 1976.
Heavy Weather, Columbia, 1977.
Mr. Gone, Columbia, 1978.
8:30, Columbia, 1979.
Night Passages, Columbia, 1980.
Weather Report, Columbia, 1982.
Procession, Columbia, 1983.
Domino Theory, Columbia, 1984.
Sportin’ Life, Columbia, 1985.
This is This, Columbia, 1986.
Carr, Ian, et al., Jazz: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides Ltd., 1995.
Case, Brian and Stan Britt, The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz, Harmony Books, 1986.
Davis, Miles with Quincy Troupe, Miles: The Autobiography, Touchstone, 1989.
Lyons, Len and Don Perlo, Jazz Portraits: The Lives and Music of the Jazz Masters, Quill, 1989.
DownBeat, May 27, 1971, p. 14; October 26, 1972, p. 30; June 1, 1978, p. 13; June 15, 1978, p. 21; July 1994, p. 60, 94; April 1996, p. 14; November 1996, p. 6.
Melody Maker, December 20, 1975, p. 33; October 15, 1977.
Rolling Stone, July 6, 1972, p. 55; September 27, 1973, p. 24; August 1, 1974, p. 50; May 5, 1977, p. 24; June 10, 1977, p. 105; December 28, 1978, p. 64; April 15, 1982, p.88.
Weather Report, American jazz-rock fusion group. Weather Report was the most successful of the jazz-rock fusion groups of the 1970s, groups that were influenced by Miles Davis’s forays into rhythmic, electrified music in the late 1960s. All 15 of their albums reached the pop charts between 1971 and 1986, and they scored a million-selling album with Heavy Weather.
Weather Report was formed in December 1970 by keyboard player Josef Zawinul (b. Vienna, Austria, July 7, 1932) and saxophonist Wayne Shorter (b. Newark, N.J., Aug. 25, 1933), both of whom had played in Miles Davis’s band. They added a rhythm section consisting of bassist Miroslav (Ladislav) Vitous (b. Prague, Czechoslovakia, Dec. 6,1947); drummer Alphonse Mou-zon (b. Charleston, S. C, Nov. 21,1948); and percussionist Airto (Guimorva) Moreira (b. Itaipolis, Brazil, Aug. 5, 1941); other than Zawinul and Shorter, the band’s personnel would change frequently. Signed to Columbia Records, the group released its first album, Weather Report, which reached the pop charts in July 1971.
Moreira left after the release of the first album and was replaced by Dom Um Romão; Mouzon left in 1972 and was replaced by Eric Gravatt. Weather Report then recorded its second album, I Sing the Body Electric, half of which came from a concert performed in Tokyo. The LP reached the pop charts in July 1972 and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Jazz Performance by a Group. Sweetnighter, the third album, entered the pop charts in May 1973 for a stay of almost four months.
Mouzon left Weather Report and was replaced by drummer Ishmael Wilburn for Mysterious Traveler, which entered the pop charts in June 1974 for a run of more than five months. The album also featured bassist Alphonso Johnson (b. Philadelphia, Feb. 2, 1951), who then replaced Vitous. Before the release of the 1975 album Tale Spinnin’, Wilburn was replaced by drummer Alyrio Lima, and Um Romäo by percussionist Ngudu (real name Leon Chancier); Tale Spinnin’ was the group’s highest-charting album yet. By the time of 1976’s Black Market, Ngudu had left and Lima had been replaced by drummer Chester Thompson. The album was notable for the appearance on one track of fretless bassist Jaco (John Anthony) Pastorius (III) (b. Norristown, Pa., Dec. 1,1951; d. Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Sept. 21,1987), who then replaced Johnson and became an important influence in the group.
Thompson departed, and Weather Report added two percussionists, Alex (Alejandro Neciosup) Acuña and Manola Badrena, for the seventh album, Heavy Weather, which spent five months in the pop charts following its release in March 1977 and sold a million copies. By the release of Mr. Gone, which entered the pop charts in October 1978, the group had been reduced to the trio of Zawinul, Shorter, and Pastorius. Drummer Peter Erskine (b. Somers Point, N.J., May 5, 1954) made the band a quartet for the double live album 8:30, which won the 1979 Grammy for Best Jazz Fusion Performance. The same unit stayed intact for Night Passages (1980), but by the time of the second album to be named Weather Report (1982), Pastorius had left and been replaced by bassist Victor Bailey; the drummer was Omar Hakim, and percussionist José Rossy had once again made the group a quintet. The album earned another Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Fusion Performance, as did 1983’s Procession.
In 1984 percussionist Mino Cinélu replaced Rossy, and Peter Erskine replaced his replacement around 1985, when Shorter temporarily left the group to be replaced by guitarist Steve Khan. Shorter returned for the reunion album This Is This in 1986, but after that Weather Report consisted of Zawinul, Erskine, and Khan and was renamed Weather Update. Even that group dissolved by 1988, when Zawinul organized a new band, the Zawinul Syndicate.
Weather Report (1971); I Sing the Body Electric (1972); Sweetnighter (1973); Mysterious Traveller (1974); Tale Spinnin’(1975); Black Market (1976); Heavy Weather (1977); Mr. Gone (1978); 8:30 (1979); Night Passage (1980); Procession (1983); Domino Theory (1984); Sportin’ Life (1985); This is This (1987).