Category Archives: Obituaries

Alphonse Mouzon, RIP

Alphonse Mouzon, Weather Report’s first drummer, has passed away. He was 68 years old. In September he was diagnosed with Neuroendocrine Carcinoma, a rare form of cancer, and began treatment in late November. Although his prognosis was dire, he remained hopeful and upbeat throughout. My understanding is that he suffered a massive heart attack on Christmas day. I last spoke with Alphonse in April 2015. The first thing I remember about it was his voice: He had a rich, broadcaster’s voice, like he belong on radio.

Alphonse was one of those people who was born to be a drummer. He started banging on things when he was a toddler in Charleston, South Carolina. His family didn’t have much money, so he made his own drums out of boxes and tin cans. He used to tap dance on the front porch and play his homemade drums, earning pocket change. “People would throw nickels and dimes,” he recalled. “I never got any quarters!” In high school, he won the South Carolina state scholastic drum competition four years running, earning a scholarship to Florida A&M University. But he elected to forgo A&M in favor of New York City, partially on the recommendation of one of his idols, Cannonball Adderley. Arriving in the Big Apple at the age of 17, he quickly got his own place and found work with the Ross Carnegie Orchestra. He also studied medical technology at Manhattan Medical School and worked as a hospital orderly. Alphonse was a determined young man.

Shortly after moving into his own flat, he knocked on the basement door of the building across the street, where he heard a big band rehearsing. It was the Ross Carnegie Orchestra, a society band in which musicians from the best known jazz bands of the day moonlighted. Alphonse managed to sit in for a tune, and Carnegie was so enamored of his funky groove that he hired him as “second drummer” and roadie. From there, is career advanced rapidly. He took lessons from Bobby Thomas, whom he heard one night with pianist Billy Taylor. He managed to sit in on a tune with him, too. “I remember playing with him and calling my mom and saying, ‘I played with Billy Taylor! I played with Billy Taylor!'” His relationship with Thomas later landed him the gig as the pit band drummer for the show Promises, Promises.

“I guess I was playing in a place called Small’s, a jazz club in New York, and Bobby came to see me along with Harold Wheeler, who’s now the music director with Dancing With The Stars. Harold was 25, I was 19, and they introduced me to him, and they said, oh, they want me to do this show. Bobby was the drummer for Promises, Promises, but he wanted to go across the street to a TV show with David Frost, so they needed a replacement. So he brought Harold Wheeler to my gig. And that’s when I got that job at 19 years old. I was the youngest kid at that time on Broadway.”

Bobby Thomas was also a childhood friend of Wayne Shorter’s, and it was through Thomas that Alphonse got the call to record on Wayne’s album, Odyssey Of Iska, in 1970, which led to him being Weather Report’s first drummer.

After Weather Report, he played with McCoy Tyner, Larry Coryell’s Eleventh House, and recorded his own funk-rock albums, including Mind Transplant with guitarist Tommy Bolin. He eventually played with or recorded with a virtual who’s who of the music industry. He also made an appearance in the Tom Hanks film, That Thing You Do. He was known for his extravagant clothing, especially in the seventies. “I was Mr. Fashionisto,” he told me. “Because Miles Davis was a fashion statement, a Fashionisto. Also, Roy Haynes. All the cats. So I had my own stuff, too, with my leathers and stuff, and platform shoes. I took it more rock.”

A gofundme campaign has been set up Alphonse’s children to help defray funeral expenses.

RIP, Alphonse. We will miss you. Here’s a clip from 1971 in which Weather Report performs “Seventh Arrow” and “Umbrellas” from their self-titled debut album.

Victor Bailey, RIP

It is with sadness that I report that Victor Bailey passed away today. I first had the opportunity to speak with Victor in February 2014. I had been trying to connect with him in order to do an interview for some time. I’m not sure what finally caused him to respond to this stranger pestering him about Weather Report, but after he did we had a good hour and a half conversation. Back then he was still in relatively good health. His legs were failing him, so he used a scooter to get around on. I found him to be an extremely articulate and passionate man. When we talked, I initially joked that he was probably tired of talking about Weather Report. “No, actually, not in this day and age,” he said. “I’m a professor at Berklee College of Music and it needs to be talked about. You’ve got a generation of kids now who say they are fusion fans, and they don’t know who I am. They don’t know who Weather Report is. Some of them know who Jaco is. A couple of kids know “The Chicken.” It’s like playing saxophone. You learn some Coltrane, or you learn some Charlie Parker. If you play bass guitar, you learn something by Jaco. Kids don’t know who that is, don’t know who Weather Report is.”

Of course, Victor came into the band following Jaco’s departure. Those were big shoes to fill for sure, but he looked at it differently. “I don’t think I every really looked at it like I was filling somebody’s pair of shoes,” he once said. “I felt like I was making a new pair of shoes.” I always considered Victor to be a combination of Alphonso Johnson and Jaco. I mentioned that to him and he said, “Absolutely. Thank you for saying it. Nobody ever says that. Everybody always, when they mention influences, says Jaco, but Alphonso is in fact just as much an influence on me as Jaco. And he was an influence on Jaco himself. A lot of what Jaco did, with the fretless, with effects, with chorus and delay and distortion, some of the phrasing… a lot of the things that he did, Alphonso was a direct predecessor to it, and it never gets mentioned.”

Victor was one of Joe’s favorites and he’s the only musician with the distinction of playing in all of Joe’s bands: Weather Report, Weather Update, The Zawinul Syndicate, and the WDR Big Band with Joe Zawinul. When I spoke with him in 2014, he said, “Oh man, listen, I’ve had a blessed life. I’m not even religious at all, but if there’s a god and people are blessed, I’m blessed. I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do my entire life and continue to do so. And nothing anybody says changes anything. No criticism, no… anybody… I have always done and continue to do exactly what I want to do. I’m a really lucky guy.”

Below is a video Victor made a few months after he told me that. He will be missed.

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 appreciation for Cannonball Adderley, Joe and Wayne. (He also produced the Cannonball Adderely compilation Cannonball Plays Zawinul for Capital.) Those of us who are fans of 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.