John Kelman on Jaco and The Legendary Live Tapes

John Kelman at All About Jazz has written a lengthy and excellent article/review about the new Jaco documentary and The Legendary Live Tapes. If you want to know what these releases entail, you can’t do better than John, who has always had a sympathetic ear when it comes to Weather Report.

I haven’t seen Jaco yet, but I stopped by my local record store yesterday and actually found one copy of The Legendary Tapes on the shelf. I’m an old school guy and I like physical media. Besides, The Legendary Tapes comes with a nice booklet with lengthy notes written by Peter Erskine. I grabbed it, although the $59.99 sticker price gave me pause, considering that I could have ordered it at Amazon for $15 less. But I like supporting the local record store, so I forked over the cash (well, I handed them my credit card). I listened to the first two tracks on the way home thinking, “This is great! Fascinating takes on familiar favorites.” I parked the car and hit the eject button on the CD player and… the CD got stuck. Argh!

Victor Bailey

For several years Victor has suffered from a form of muscular dystrophy that has affected his legs. If you’ve seen him perform in recent years, you saw him sit on a stool on stage and use a cane (and later a motorized scooter) to move about. Recently, his condition took a significant turn for the worse, which he announced on his Facebook page on October 30:

To everyone who has been wondering why you haven’t seen or heard from me, it’s time for me to let you know what’s going on. Quite simply, I am just not in the best of health. I have been dealing with a form of muscular dystrophy called Charcot Marie Tooth disease for the last 25 years. You’ve all seen me using a cane as my legs are getting weaker. Now it is affecting my upper body. My arms and hands are very weak and at this point in time too weak to perform. I need help with all daily living activities, so for the past three months I have been living at an assisted living facility in Newton, Massachusetts. I have taken a leave of absence from teaching at Berklee College of music and from touring. Right now, I could use your prayers and positive vibes. I will be keeping you guys updated on my condition. It is possible that I can get stronger again, so please send me positive energy. I’ll keep you posted.

Victor later indicated that he had suffered a “mini stroke” that affected his breathing. On November 10 he wrote, “I’m finally out of the hospital. Can’t say I’m ‘better.’ My breathing is better but I still have a long way to go. I’m now in a rehab facility and will be working on my strength and stamina for as long as it takes.”

A fundraising campaign has been set up at YouCaring to help Victor with his medical expenses. I encourage you to give what you can. I wish Victor the best and hope for a recovery that allows him to resume performing and teaching.

The Jaco Documentary is here!

Jaco: The Film

My guess is that most Jaco Pastorius fans are aware of the Jaco Pastorius documentary that has long been in the works. I think there were some aborted efforts at this years ago, but when Metallica bass player and Jaco fan Robert Trujillo got involved that this project really picked up steam. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s here. The documentary has been screening in select theaters, and later this month the DVD and Blue-ray will be released. All the reports I’ve seen indicate that the filmmakers have done a great job. A friend of mine saw it in Seattle earlier this week and said, “I loved this movie. I also wish I could go back in time and save Jaco.” I’m sure that’s a sentiment that we all share.

You can pre-order the DVD or Blu-ray from Amazon, or pre-order it direct from the filmmakers here. There is also a companion soundtrack album scheduled for release at the same time. The release date is November 27, which is also Record Store Day (and “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving.) That means, hopefully, that you’ll be able to find the documentary in your favorite record store if you prefer the old-fashioned experience of actually going to a record store, like I do. :-)

The Legendary Live Tapes: 1978-1981

Hey, we have something new from Sony Legacy! I know that Peter Erskine has long had an interest in seeing some of this material get released. Thanks to Tony Zawinul’s efforts, representing the Zawinul Estate, to get Sony on board, there’s a treasure trove of previously unreleased live music in store for us Weather Report fans. The Legendary Live Tapes: 1978-1981 is a four-CD set of live recordings of the Jaco-Erskine band, primarily culled from soundboard recordings by Weather Report’s live sound engineer, Brian Risner. It’s due for release on November 20, but you can pre-order it on Amazon here.

Here’s the official blurb:

Weather Report’s The Legendary Live Tapes features four discs of sensational unreleased performances all “completely, totally, unapologetically and insanely live” recorded by the legendary jazz group from 1978 to 1981.

Formed by one-time Miles Davis sidemen Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter in 1970, Weather Report defied categorization in the 15 years they recorded together. Inspired by their “electric” collaborations with Davis, Zawinul and Shorter would lead Weather Report into unpredictable territory, from free-jazz to structured but sprawling multicultural jazz-rock. Though Zawinul would reject the “fusion” genre the band are so often associated with “We don’t fuse nuthin’, we just play from the heart,” he once said their music would serve as a landmark for jazz revolution and evolution in the 1970s and 1980s.

The dramatic addition of electric bass virtuoso Jaco Pastorius to the lineup in 1976 led to an even more energetic and daring Weather Report, who would even score a crossover hit in 1977 with “Birdland.” A year later, drummer Peter Erskine joined the fold, creating one of the band’s most notable lineups; that lineup would expand to a quintet with the addition of percussionist Bobby Thomas, Jr. in 1980.

These two lineups, responsible for some of Weather Report’s most important moments, are chronicled in this four-disc set, sourced from never-before-heard soundboard tapes recorded by longtime live mixing engineer Brian Risner. Produced by Erskine and executive produced by Joe Zawinul’s son Anthony, this package uniquely showcases Weather Report’s extensive prowess as a band, opting not to replicate the ebb and flow of a standard Weather Report set at the time, instead offering a uniquely curated experience that captures the dazzling directions the group took at the arguable height of their powers.

Here’s the track listing:

CD 1
1. 8:30
2. Sightseeing
3. Brown Street
4. The Orphan
5. Forlon
6. Three Views Of A Secret
7. Badia / Boogie Waltz
8. Wayne Solo
9. Jaco Solo (Osaka 1980)

CD 2
1. Joe And Wayne Duet (Tokyo 1978)
2. Birdland
3. Peter’s Solo
4. A Remark You Made
5. Continuum / River People
6. Gibraltar

CD 3
1. Fast City
2. Madagascar
3. Night Passage
4. Dream Clock
5. Rockin’ In Rhythm
6. Port Of Entry

CD 4
1. Elegant People
2. Scarlet Women
3. Black Market
4. Jaco Solo (Osaka 1978)
5. Teen Town
6. Peter’s Solo (Osaka 1978)
7. Directions

Bruce Lundvall / Bob Belden

Last week, Bruce Lundvall and Bob Belden died on back-to-back days, May 19 and 20. Lundvall was 79 years old; his death was due to complications of Parkinson’s disease. Belden was just 58. He suffered a massive heart attack earlier in the week and was on life support systems until his death three days later.

Lundvall’s career in the record business spanned more than fifty years. In his youth he was a frustrated saxophonist, and after serving in the Army he wanted nothing other than to work in the music business, specifically jazz music. He managed to obtain an entry level position at Columbia Records in 1960, and by the mid-seventies he ascended to the presidency of the label, overseeing its operations during Weather Report’s heyday. His love of jazz lead him to sign Natalie Cole, Wynton Marsalis and saxophonist Dexter Gordon, resulting in Gordon’s late-career renaissance. He also signed Herbie Hancock, whose second Columbia album, 1973’s Head Hunters, became the biggest selling jazz album up to that time.

In 1979, Lundvall spearheaded the Havana Jam, a three-day series of concerts in Havana, Cuba featuring American and Cuban musicians. Weather Report led off the first night’s concert. Lundvall later started the Elektra Musician label and then moved to Blue Note, where he presided for 25 years and revitalized the historic but then-dormant label. By all accounts, Lundvall was beloved by musicians of all genres.

Bob Belden was a saxophonist, producer and historian. With respect to Weather Report, he is probably best known for producing the Forecast: Tomorrow boxed set, as well as remastering and reissuing several Weather Report titles for Sony Legacy. Belden also produced the Miles Davis The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions and The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions boxed sets. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of Miles’ recording sessions, as well as a deep appreciate for Cannonball Adderley, Joe and Wayne. (He also produced the Cannonball Adderely compilation Cannonball Plays Zawinul for Capital.) Those of us who appreciate Weather Report, Cannonball and late-sixties/early-seventies Miles Davis have lost a true champion and scholar of their work.

Belden also composed and recorded his own music, notably the ambitious Black Dahlia–probably his signature work–and his collaborations with trumpeter Tim Hagans and keyboardist Scott Kinsey. Most recently, he performed in Iran with his group, Animation, playing tunes by Miles, Herbie Hancock, and Belden himself. It was the first time an American had played in Iran since 1979.

RIP, Bruce Lundvall and Bob Belden.

B.B. King

[Cross-posted from Zawinul Online]

B.B. King died on Thursday at the age of 89 years old. He was a true legend in American music, claiming the mantle of King Of The Blues for six decades. He was also one of the hardest working men in the music business–something that Joe must have appreciated. It is said that in 1956 King performed an astonishing 342 one-night stands. He maintained a vigorous touring schedule well into his eighties.

There are two connections between King and Weather Report that I am aware of. Back in the early days of Weather Report, the band would sometimes open for popular acts such as The Ike & Tina Turner Revue, Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention, or Fleetwood Mac. Their music didn’t always go over well with these audiences, who were there to see the headliner and not some “spacey” jazz band, as so many reviewers referred to Weather Report.

B.B. King and Weather Report

In the summer of 1973, Weather Report performed as the middle act on bill that included The Climax Blues Band and the headliner, B.B. King and his nine-piece band. Having won a Grammy in 1970 for his recording of “The Thrill Is Gone,” King was very popular at the time; in fact, he was the most popular blues artist there had ever been. More than 3,500 fans came to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center to see him, but had to sit through the opening acts first. According to one review, by the time King hit the stage, the audience had “first been rocked into a frenzy” by the U.K. based Climax Blues Band, but was “bored to varying degrees” by “The Weather Report,” who played songs that were “much too long and featured soloists who were imaginative, but often out of reach of their audience.” Eric Gravatt was “a very steady drummer,” and Dom Um Romão “looked like an overly ambitious Swiss bell ringer as he performed a continuous shake-along with the rest of the group.”

The second connection has to do with Earl Turbinton, who turned in such a beautiful performance on soprano sax on Joe Zawinul’s 1971 eponymous album. Turbinton hailed from New Orleans, where Joe got to know him while he was a member of Cannonball Adderley’s band. I wrote about that here. As I said in that article, Turbinton–who died in 2007–often said that he was asked to be a part of the original Weather Report, but turned down the offer in favor of touring with B.B. King–a gig that would have been more steady and financial secure. The Weather Report story is highly improbable, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all that Joe and Earl talked of forming a band after recording Zawinul in August 1970.

RIP, B.B. King.

Jaco Pastorius and Record Store Day

Jaco Pastorius Record Store Day Poster

Tomorrow, April 19, is Record Store Day, and Jaco Pastorius figures prominently.

First up, we have a new Jaco Pastorius album release, available tomorrow only at participating independent record stores. I have no idea if the stores where I live will participate, but I’ll be checking it out.

The new release is Modern American Music… Period; The Criteria Sessions. The album contains the demo tracks that Jaco made in 1974 at the age of 22, which have either never been officially released, or previously released only in edited form. These tracks — with drummer Bob Economou, pianist Alex Darqui, steel drums players Othello Molineaux and Sir Cederik Lucious and percussionist Don Alias — led to Jaco’s first album, and you hear the early “demo” versions of many of the songs that Jaco later recorded. John Kelman of All About Jazz has a lengthy review.

In addition, Metallica bass player Robert Trujillo’s long awaited documentary about Jaco is the official film of Record Store Day, although it isn’t expected to be completed until late this year. You can hear Trujillo talk about Jaco and the documentary in an NPR interview that was published today. You can also follow the progress on the film at their Facebook page.

And finally, Jaco is the subject of the official Record Store Day poster (pictured above), which will be given away at select stores while supplies last. For more information, see the Record Store Day news release about Jaco.

Update: My local record stores did participate, and I saw both the CD and vinyl album at the stores. Didn’t see any posters, although by the time I made the rounds they may have already been taken.

“Five jazz concerts I wish I had been at”

Gabriel Solis has a post on the Oxford University Press blog titled, “Five jazz concerts I wish I had been at.” Coming in at number four is Weather Report Live in Tokyo, 1972. Indeed, I bet a few us wish we could have been there.

As Solis writes, “Recordings of this music can only begin to capture its range. Even on high fidelity equipment, the silences are not as heavy as they would have been in the concert hall, not as pregnant with expectation, and the band at full volume is not as overwhelming. In some sense jazz performances are always a bit of a ritual, but this seems like an immersive experience of another level.”

A friend called this album “savage” Weather Report. And I always liked what Joe said later, “Let’s hit ’em hard, right from the first note.” Indeed, they did.

Check Solis’ article for the other live albums he chose.

Catching Up With Herschel Dwellingham

Herschel Dwellingham

I recently interviewed Herschel Dwellingham, one of the drummers who performed on Weather Report’s third album, Sweetnighter. I’ll be updating that page soon, but in the meantime, here’s some background about Herschel himself.

Weather Report fans who know him solely from his work on Sweetnighter may not know that in the sixties and early seventies, Herschel was quite active in the soul and R&B scene in the Boston area, having arrived there in 1963 to attend the Berklee School of Music after graduating from high school in Bogalusa, Louisiana. By the time Weather Report came calling, he was a much-in-demand session drummer, and would soon move to New York to work with top-notch arranger-producers such as Phil Medley (writer of “Twist & Shout” and “One In A Million”), Bert Keyes (Stephanie Mills), Paul Leka (Harry Chapin), and Bert De Coteaux (Sister Sledge and the Manhattans). He and his wife also started their own production company, Helva Records.

One of the earliest tunes Herschel produced in Boston was “Young Girl,” sung by little known Frank Lynch. A few years ago, contemporary R&B artist and Boston native Eli “Paperboy” Reed told the story of “Young Girl” in a post on The Southern Soul List Yahoo group:

[Herschel] became THE arranger, producer and session drummer for basically all the R&B and soul records that came out in Boston between 1963 and 1973. He also was the band leader and drummer at the biggest and best Boston soul club at the time, The Sugar Shack, in addition to writing and arranging commercial jingles at Ace Recording Studios in Boston’s famed combat zone.

Herschel really transformed the soul scene in Boston by combining the southern sound he had gotten growing up in Bogalusa (about 70 miles north of New Orleans) with the formal training he received at Berklee. In fact, the first record he produced in Boston was a cover of a big New Orleans hit, “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” which had been recorded by singer Danny White. Herschel’s version is a great example of that combination of styles and was sung brilliantly by Billy Thompson, and arranged by Herschel’s friend from Berklee, Alf Clausen, who later went on to garner much fame for arranging and writing for The Simpsons television show!

“Young Girl” single

“Young Girl” was recorded in late 1967 and was the second record Herschel ever produced, after the Billy Thompson record. He and the singer, Frank Lynch, had known each other for a few years and after a local DJ failed to follow up on a promise to record Lynch, Herschel decided he would produce him himself. He wrote the song “Young Girl” along with the b-side of the single “People Will Make You Say Things.” This time Herschel did the horn and string arrangements himself, in addition to producing and playing drums. His friend Alf Clausen was involved again, playing the distinctive french horn part on the session! Herschel recorded the song on his own dime and then brought it out on his label, My Records, which he co-owned with his wife, Alva, and Boston area record store impresario Skippy White.

As soon as the record came out in 1968 it was given pick hits by Billboard, Cashbox, and several other trade magazines. “Young Girl” was on its way to taking off before fate intervened. On a Friday night, Frank Lynch was playing with Herschel and his band at the famous Boston club, Paul’s Mall. At the time, Lynch was living with his aunt, with whom he had recently moved in with after living with Herschel and his wife for almost two years. After the gig, Herschel was driving Frank home and said that he was acting “funny” and kept talking about death and about how he knew he was going to die.

That night, Lynch got into an argument with his aunt which escalated into a physical fight. A neighbor called the police who, in the process of arresting Frank, broke his arm. He was taken, along with another prison, to Mass. General Hospital and an armed police officer was stationed there to guard both prisoners. Apparently Frank was still in an odd state because when he came out of the bathroom he started waving a towel at the police officer in a threatening manner. The other prisoner decided to join in and they both advanced toward the officer. The cop shot Frank three times in the head at close range, killing him instantly.

After that night, there was an uproar in Boston’s black community. Frank Lynch’s family sued the city of Boston along with the Boston Police force, but their case was unsuccessful. Boston was still a very racially divided city in 1968 and no one was surprised by the verdict.

Fast forward 40-some years and “Young Girl” was re-discovered by Eli Reed. As Herschel tells it, “Eli found it on the floor of Skippy’s record shop after Skippy had moved out. He took it home and got interested in me and the song. When he got a deal with Capital Records, he told what made the deal go was that they loved the song, and he re-recorded it. He copied my arrangement for Frank Lynch just the way I did it originally. And I just got an email from a music supervisor that it’s going into a new movie, [Kevin Costner’s] Black and White.”

Nowadays, Herschel’s back home in Bogalusa, running his current record company, Bogue Magic City Records. “We started it in 2004,” Herschel recently told me. “I’m an owner. Mary Starr, with whom I’m married to now, is one of the owners. And the singer Marlena, who was Molly Holt from the Rascals, is one of the owners. Right now we’ve got something like 50 releases and 30-some artists. We’re an Internet record label and we’ve been doing pretty well.”

Sweetnighter has had a lasting impact on Dwellingham. “I go to places around the country and they say ‘Herschel Dwellingham’… Even in L.A.… I played the Whisky A Go-Go and people must have known I was going to be there. A lot of drummers were there. Drummers come out wherever I go. That one little album [Sweetnighter] must have put me on the map. Even in Europe. I was in Frankfort and I did master classes and private teaching. It was just unbelievable. My wife and my friends say I really don’t realize what I did and how important to drumming my playing was. I’m just a country boy who doesn’t think nothing about that. To me, I was just trying to make money to feed a wife and three little kids. That’s what I was doing. I didn’t think I was making history or fame or anything. Just trying to keep money in the house.

“When Zawinul was in town at the Blue Note, I was playing somewhere else on the same night, so I couldn’t get there. So I called and asked for him. They said he’s on stage, call back in ten minutes. I called back and said, ‘Tell Joe Zawinul that Herschel Dwellingham is on the phone.’ I thought, this guy isn’t going to remember who the hell I am. But he came to the phone and said, ‘The Boogie Woogie Waltz man!’ I said, ‘You remember me?’ He said, ‘Man, are you kidding?! There wouldn’t be no Weather Report if it wasn’t for you.’ That’s what he called me, The Boogie Woogie Waltz Man. We talked and we were trying for me to come to L.A. and do another album with him, and then he got sick.”

Herschel with DJDJ and Herschel

Herschel keeps busy producing a variety of artists from his Bogalusa office and studio. “We have a young girl named Annie Gambino that Marlena and I have been writing and producing for. I’ve got a new Tony Williams, he’s nine years old. His name is DJ; I call him DJ the drummer. I just started teaching him the [Berklee percussion teacher] Alan Dawson system. He’s got a good groove, his tempo is solid, he doesn’t speed up or anything, and he’s going to be a great drummer.” For Herschel, it’s a part of passing down the tradition. “As a kid, I used to watch the great Earl Palmer, and that’s how I got interested in being a drummer. Earl gave me a set of sticks, and I just gave another little guy that I’m teaching a set of sticks. When I go places and I see young people who are enthused and want to play, I keep a bunch of brand new sticks that I give them.

“The latest artist I produced is a 16-year old girl, Marce, who’s going to be another Whitney Houston. She’s dynamite–got the chops and everything. We recently did a Christmas song for her that Marlena and I wrote it, and we put it out on iTunes and all the Internet stores. Early this year there will be a new release from Marlena, a new album by Timothy Wilson, and another song from Marce.

“I also have my own album, Enlightenment. I play all the instruments and Marlena sings. Everything on it is me. And there’s a song called ‘I Thank You Joe’ dedicated to Joe Zawinul. It’s what I think Joe’s style is.

“I’ve got a growing production company and record company, and we’re busy producing and writing,” Herschel concludes. It sounds like life is good for the Boogie Woogie Waltz Man.