An Ode to Peter Erskine

So I want to talk a little about Peter Erskine, who I first met in 2006. As I recall, we had exchanged some emails up to that point, and he knew about my website, which led me to asking if I could interview him about his experience with Weather Report. He told me that he would shortly be coming to the Bay Area to perform with Japanese saxophonist Sadao Watanabe at Yoshi’s, and suggested that we meet at his hotel in Oakland’s Jack London Square. There we had a two-hour conversation before walking over to the club, where I met up with Brian Risner, who was mixing sound for Watanabe. I hung out with Brian in the engineer’s booth and listened to the show.

At the time, the only other Weather Report musician I had interviewed was Joe Zawinul. In speaking with Peter, I was interested in filling in some of the gaps in my “annotated discography” website. I really didn’t have the idea of writing a book. So it was generous of Peter to spend so much time with me. I think maybe he recognized that I was interested and sincere. It reminds me of something Joe said to me the first time I interviewed him. Surprised that I seemed to know a lot about his career, he stopped me at one point and said, “How do you know these things?” “Well, I’ve done my research.” “You are interested and interesting,” he said, which led to even more conversation. Maybe Peter recognized that I was “interested.”

Over the years, we stayed in touch. When I got serious about my book, he allowed me to interview him twice more at his own home. Beyond that, Peter is the Weather Report musician I could ask any question via email and get a response. Sometimes I would ask some pretty general questions, just seeking to get the perspective of a musician of his stature, or to get a sanity check about something or other. Peter answered every time. He also allowed me to use his photos, and he open doors to other contributors to the book, such as photographer Shigeru Uchiyama. Fast forward to today, and my book is in print and Peter was gracious enough to write the foreword. I thanked Peter for various things in the book’s acknowledgments, but I failed to explicitly thank him for writing the thoughtful foreword. Can you say faux pas? What a dummy!

Of all the former Weather Report musicians, Peter is the most like a historian of the band. For one thing, he carried a camera with him while he was in the band, and he captured a lot of photographs, some of which have made their way around the internet many times over. I believe he also maintained a journal during his Weather Report years, which informed his own book. Beyond his personal involvement in the band, Peter is extremely knowledgeable about the Weather Report’s music before his membership and after.

Peter’s book, No Beethoven: Autobiography & Chronicle of Weather Report, is a must-have for Weather Report fans. He provides a perspective on Weather Report that you won’t find in any other book, including my own. (The other books that should be on a serious Weather Report fan’s bookshelf, aside from my own and Peter’s, are Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter, Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius, and In a Silent Way: A Portrait of Joe Zawinul.)

One of the cool things about Peter’s book is that it captures Joe’s sense of humor better than any other. This is often conveyed in amusing anecdotes that Peter relates from hanging out with him, like going to a department store in Japan. I love these bits of insight into Zawinul. It’s a little more personal than you’ll find elsewhere. There are more than a few laugh-out-loud stories.

I remember that I bought Peter’s book mainly to read about his Weather Report experiences, but I was soon sucked into the whole story. The chapters alternate between a chronological biography and chapters about Weather Report. Peter has been involved in a lot of music that I like, so it was great to read about that in addition to Weather Report. Peter has an engaging, conversational writing style. As befits a world-class drummer, he has exquisite timing; he knows where to put the beats in his sentences. Along the way he imparts pearls of wisdom about being a musician and about life.

If you have yet to purchase Peter’s book, I highly recommend the Apple Books version. It’s a good example of what can be done in the digital format. It is very well presented and chock-full of photographs–over a thousand in all, hundreds of which are of Weather Report. It even includes video and audio snippets. (This may also be true of the Kindle version–I don’t know.)

Anyway, Peter, with appreciation, thanks for all that you have done.

Publication Day!

Brian Risner with his copy of Elegant People

Today is publication day for Elegant People, at least here in the United States. I know that it is delayed two months in the United Kingdom. Not sure why they do that, nor what the date is in other parts of the world.

I do know that friend of the website Martin Jarosch, who lives in Germany, got his copy a couple of days ago. After digging in, he wrote, “Thank you for this fantastic book.” I said I was glad that he is enjoying it, and he replied, “I am actually devouring it.” Martin is definitely a fan of the band. I wrote this book for people like him, so it’s gratifying to hear his response.

The attached photo is of Brian Risner, aka the Chief Meteorologist, holding an advance copy of Elegant People that I sent him. Brian was a big help in bringing this book to fruition. “The Old and New Testaments according to Curt Bianchi,” he wrote me. “This will become the de facto reference bible for Weather Report and modern jazz history.” I’m glad we made it to the finish line, Brian!

Fifty Years Ago Today

Penn State Daily Collegian

Weather Report’s first public performance took place fifty years ago today, on June 9, 1971, at Penn State University. (About two weeks earlier the band gave a preview performance to members of the press at Columbia Record’s Thirtieth Street Studios.)

The Penn State performance was presented by the university’s jazz club and admission was free. At the time, the club numbered about 150 members. Joe later remembered there being about 170 people in attendance–so most of the jazz club and a few others. This would have also been the first time Dom Um Romão performed with Weather Report other than at a rehearsal shortly before this gig.

On the right is page 3 of the June 2, 1971, issue of the The Daily Collegian, which includes a display ad for Weather Report’s upcoming performance.

Announcing my new book!

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book, Elegant People: A History of the Band Weather Report. Timed to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Weather Report’s debut album, it is available for pre-order now at Amazon and booksellers everywhere.

This book has been years in the making. My first interview with Joe Zawinul was in 2003! But it wasn’t until 2014 that I got serious about the idea of writing a book about Weather Report. Since then, I’ve interviewed or corresponded with over eighty individuals connected with the band, including nearly all of the musicians who performed with Weather Report either live or on record. Some of them spoke about their time with Weather Report for first time. As a fan of the band, it has been a thrill to hear their stories firsthand.

Also speaking as a fan, I wrote this book based on what I think all of us want to know: How did the band function? How was its music was made? What was it like in the studio and on the road? What was the cultural context in which this music was made?

The result is a definitive, clear-eyed history, which looks at the band and its members through an objective lens. But don’t take my word for it. Here is a portion of the book’s foreword, written by Peter Erskine:

Elegant People sheds more than just some light on the inner workings of the band, and the minds and souls that created it. Curt Bianchi has shown the kind of perseverance, determination, and moxie necessary to pierce the veils of mystery and misinformation that have plagued other recountings of the band’s history and ways. This book is the first telling of Weather Report that did not make me cringe, and it actually taught me something new about the band with each turn of the page.

Curt is a fan, and no doubt being a fan is a necessary attribute to take on such a story. More than that, Curt Bianchi is diligent, ethical, a great interviewer as well as storyteller. Elegant People tells a story that has long needed telling. As Jaco once said: “This shit is correct, man.” As Wayne Shorter told me: “Peter! BIG BANDS!” And, as Joe Zawinul told anyone and everyone: “This is the greatest band in the history.”

From start to finish, Elegant People tells the story beautifully.

You might ask, what’s different about the book from this website? Well, pretty much everything! You may have noticed that I haven’t been updating this site very much lately. That’s because all of my efforts have gone into the book. Think of it as a greatly expanded version of this website, backed by all-new firsthand accounts from everyone involved, plus a good dose of background to put everything in context.

A few details:

  • Hard cover
  • 504 pages
  • 79 photographs, many of which have never been published before
  • Fully sourced and annotated with endnotes
  • Thorough, multi-level index
  • Bibliography and discography

I’m confident that you’ll enjoy it and I look forward to hearing from you after you’ve read it!

Advance praise for Elegant People

“Really, an amazing book. Many thanks. Wow… a great work, thank you.”
–Peter Erskine, author of No Beethoven: An Autobiography and Chronicle of Weather Report

“Many congratulations on producing a highly readable, superb work on the band. This has clearly been a labor of love.”
–George Cole, author of The Last Miles

Elegant People manages the impressive feat of being both exhaustive and hugely entertaining. I’m amazed at the stories and details I’ve gleaned as I’ve read this phenomenal effort. I’m certain you’ll be just as impressed.”
–Anil Prasad, founder of Innerviews: Music Without Borders

“I loved every bit of it.”
–Rick Mattingly, writer, editor, teacher, and drummer/percussionist.

Interview Subjects for Elegant People

I interviewed the following people for Elegant People: A History of the band Weather Report:

Alex Acuña, Arma Andon, Victor Bailey, Chuck Bazemore, Lou Beach, Gene Bertoncini, Bob Bobbing, Maria Booker Lucien, Steve “Muruga” Booker, Bruce Botnick, Darryl Brown, Barbara Burton, Bob Cavallo, Ndugu Chancler, Mino Cinélu, Frank Cuomo, Herschel Dwellingham, Guy Eckstine, Wayne Edwards, Greg Errico, Peter Erskine, Ed Freeman, Bob Glassenberg, Gary Grainger, Eric Kamau Gravatt, Gerry Griffith, Skip Hadden, Omar Hakim, Alan Howarth, Billy Hart, Kristjan Järvi, Alphonso Johnson, Steve Khan, Scott Kinsey, Bill Laswell, David Less, Roy McCurdy, Dave McMacken, Alison Mills Newman, Airto Moreira, Alphonse Mouzon, Nan O’Byrne, Nicholas Payton, Brian Risner, José Rossy, Roger Powell, Jim Swanson, Wayne Shorter, Janis Siegel, Bradie Speller, Robert Thomas Jr., Chester Thompson, Ralph Towner, Jerri Trandem, Jack Trompetter, Miroslav Vitous, Narada Michael Walden, Andrew White, Ishmael Wilburn, Joe Zawinul, and Risa Zincke.

In addition to those interviewed, I corresponded with several others, including Brad Blanchard, Bobby Colomby, Frank Colón, Johnny Conga, Heinz Czadek, Darius Fischer, Rob Freeman, David Friedman, Laurie Goldstein, Sonny Greenwich, Jamey Haddad, Kenny Klimak, Sabine Kabongo, Alyrio Lima, Mark Mawrence, Vince Mendoza, Mike Nock, Dan Phillips, Doug Ramsey, John Sanna, Tom Stroud, and Jim Wilke.

From the Dust Jacket

It’s been said that Weather Report was the leader in a field of one, such was the band’s preeminence in the jazz-rock genre. Founded in late 1970 by three stars of the jazz world—keyboardist Joe Zawinul, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and bassist Miroslav Vitous—Weather Report went on to become the most unique and enduring jazz band of its era, with a style of music wholly its own.

Elegant People: A History of the Band Weather Report is the first book to tell the band’s story in detail. Based on years of research and dozens of interviews with musicians, engineers, managers, and support personnel, Elegant People is written from an insider’s perspective, describing Weather Report’s transformation from a freewheeling, avant-garde jazz band whose ethos was “we always solo and we never solo” to a grooving juggernaut that combined elements of jazz, funk, Latin, and rhythm ’n’ blues.

Fueled by Zawinul’s hit tune “Birdland” and the charismatic stage presence of legendary electric bass player Jaco Pastorius, Weather Report took on the aura of rock stars. By the time Zawinul and Shorter mutually agreed to part ways in 1986, Weather Report had produced sixteen albums, a body of work that ranks among the most significant in jazz.

Sample Pages

Elegant People Sample Pages

Introducing the Weather Report Live Performance Database

Ever since John Sanna’s website threeviews.com went offline, we haven’t had an online resource enumerating Weather Report’s live performances. In addition, I’ve done a bunch of research for a book I have written about Weather Report (more on that very soon), and I’ve documented many more performances than John had, especially those in the United States. So I’m finally bringing this information online. You can access the database by clicking “Gigs” in the header above, or by clicking here.

The database includes all Weather Report performances of which I am aware. Unless otherwise indicated, performances are documented from newspaper advertisements, reviews, posters, ticket stubs, or other ephemera.

In some cases, performances are included without documentation based on their inclusion in previous lists, such as threeviews.com. Undocumented performances are indicated by an asterisk (*) following the name of the venue. The hardest performances for me to document are those that took place in Europe and South America.

I don’t have a way for visitors to add their own documentation directly (ticket stubs, etc.), but I would love to include anything that you would like to share. In order to do so, shoot me an email using the Contact page.

Anyway, head on over and check it out. You can add comments to individual performances–for example, recollections of ones that you attended.

Update

I have added a search feature so that you can search for performances by venue, city, state, or country. And just for fun, I have added an “on this day” feature in the sidebar that shows the Weather Report performances that occurred on this day.

Chick Corea, 1941-2021

In a Facebook post today, Chick Corea’s family announced that he died on Tuesday, February 9. The news came as a shock. His death was due to rare form of cancer which was only discovered very recently. He was 79 years old.

Corea enjoyed one of the most distinguished careers in jazz. As Ted Panken wrote for his Downbeat obituary of Corea:

It’s quite possible that no jazz musician ever conceived, composed and/or performed with more top-notch bands than pianist-keyboardist-composer Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea, who was born on June 12, 1941. An NEA Jazz Master who won 23 Grammy awards, and a treasure trove of Downbeat Readers and Critics poll honors, Corea’s conception of jazz was, as he told Downbeat in 2017, “a spirit of creativity.” He continued: “Great art is made when the artist is free to try whatever techniques he wants, and combine things any way he wants. That makes life interesting and a joy. I try to live that way as best I can. I don’t always succeed. I would like others to acknowledge my freedom to be myself and try new things any time I want to, and I try to treat other people that way.”

Chick Corea was one of the musicians I gravitated to when I was a teenager. Among the first LPs I bought was Return to Forever’s Where Have I Known You Before, which was released in 1974. And one of the first concerts I attended was Return to Forever’s performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles for the Romantic Warrior tour. That show left an impression, that’s for sure. This was the classic RTF lineup, with Lenny White, Al Di Meola and Stanley Clarke, at the height of its powers and popularity. I remember walking out of the hall in awe, asking my music teacher, “Do you think they are the best musicians on their instruments?!” My teacher offered me a gentle response. “They are some of the best, yes.”

In 1981 I had the pleasure of sitting right next to Chick when he performed a benefit show at Pasquale’s, a tiny jazz club in Malibu. I could have reached over and touched the piano keys. That was a cool vantage point to watch a master at work. A few years later I saw Chick’s band at Disneyland, where I sat in the front row of a sparsely attended theater. (I wonder if he got annoyed with me taking photos during the show. I wish I could find those slides now!) There were other shows—the duets with Herbie Hancock and the first RTF reunion tour, among others—but the Dorothy Chandler performance stands out as one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen by any band.

Although he was several years younger than Joe and Wayne, Chick came up in much the same musical environment. Around 1968 Chick replaced Herbie Hancock in Miles Davis’s band, joining Wayne on the bandstand. It was a time of experimentation for Davis, leading to the albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, which are largely credited with launching the jazz-rock movement of the 1970s. Along with Corea and Wayne, Zawinul was a major contributor to those albums, too, composing “In a Silent Way” and “Pharaoh’s Dance,” the latter of which consumed the entire first side of the Bitches Brew double-LP.

In addition to the piano, Corea was an excellent drummer. At one point early in his career he more or less gave up the piano in favor of the drums because he grew tired of having to play on pianos that were in poor condition. That changed in 1967 when he got the gig with Stan Getz, whose stature afforded high caliber instruments. Chick was one of the musicians Wayne called upon for his 1969 album Super Nova, where Wayne asked him to play drums and marimba. Airto Moreira, who later played on Weather Report’s first album, was also on the Super Nova sessions.

“I got to the studio early and when I walked in there was a guy practicing drums and he was playing some incredible stuff,” Airto remembered. He asked producer Duke Pearson if it was Jack DeJohnette, who was also in the studio. “No, that’s Chick Corea,” Pearson replied. Having just arrived in New York from Brazil, Airto thought if the piano players in New York are this good on drums, imagine what the real drummers must be like! “I said, ’Oh my God, I’m going home!'” Airto recalled. “‘I left the studio and started walking down the street, but Flora [Purim, Airto’s wife] had come with me and she said, ’You have to go back and play.’ So I went back and did the session and it ended up being an incredible session with some beautiful music.”

At around the same time, Corea called upon Weather Report’s third co-founder Miroslav Vitous for his album Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, which is now considered an essential work in the jazz piano trio cannon. Miroslav’s participation came about from living at Walter Booker’s apartment in New York, where Corea came by to jam, along with many others. “I had just met Miroslav,” Corea remembered, “and we were doing some more free kind of stuff together, me and Miroslav.” As a result, Corea called him for the date.

Chick’s band Return to Forever was one of the jazz-rock heavyweights back when jazz-rock was the dominant force in jazz. For a handful of years RTF was right up there with Weather Report in terms of popularity, and the bands shared a handful of gigs in 1973 and 1974. At the earlier shows, Weather Report opened for Return to Forever. Bradie Speller, a percussionist who sat in with the band for a November 1973 gig in Ohio, remembers it being “a disaster.” Return to Forever “knocked the ball out of the park, and then we came on and Butch [Ishmael Wilburn] was playing so strong that he pushed a hole into the kick drum itself. Fortunately, Dom Um [Romão] had a drum set on stage and he jumped off the percussion and onto the drums. It was not the same, so we had trouble.”

By the fall of 1974, Mysterious Traveller had been released and Weather Report didn’t want to take second billing anymore. They abruptly pulled out of a concert in Lewiston, New York (near Buffalo), complaining that newspaper ads failed to give them equal billing to Return to Forever. According to Variety, the audience was told of the no-show just before showtime. Return to Forever played for an extra hour to make up for Weather Report’s absence, while about 100 of the 1200 attendees requested refunds. (A few days later Weather Report was listed first in ads for their joint Cleveland concert.)

In June of last year, Chick posted this photo on his Facebook page. It was taken in June 1984.

Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, Wayne ShorterJoe Zawinul, Chick Corea, and Wayne Shorter, June 1984.

“Joe Zawinul—what a monster!” Chick wrote. “He was a mad scientist with the electric keyboards; he could really make them talk. And Wayne Shorter, my God–two of my heroes. They were co-leaders of Weather Report during the ‘Fusion Era’ in the 70s. Weather Report, Return to Forever and Mahavishnu Orchestra were 3 of the big touring groups at that time. Amazing musicians and great friends.”

Rest in peace, Chick. Thanks for all the great music.

Andrew Nathaniel White III, 1942–2020

Andrew White

Andrew White—saxophonist, oboist, bassist, educator and scholar—passed away on Wednesday, November 11. He was 78 years old. White is best known to Weather Report fans for playing electric bass on Weather Report’s third album, Sweetnighter. He also played English horn on the band’s previous LP, I Sing the Body Electric.

When I think of Andrew White, the first phrase that comes to mind is “one of a kind.” There truly was no one quite like him in the jazz world, if not the world at large.

For nearly fifty years he ran Andrew’s Music from the same unassuming house in Washington, D.C. He never entered the computer age, never had an email address, and didn’t use a cell phone. If you wanted to contact him, you either had to call his home (which invariably resulted in getting his answer machine, one of his few nods to the modern age), or you had to write him a letter and send it via postal mail.

Whenever I wrote him, I addressed him as:

Mr. Andrew White
President, executive producer, producer, editor, collaborator, transcriber, copyist, recording supervisor, arranger, accountant, publicist, typist, engineer, composer, performer, author, manager, booking agent, package handler, mail boy and janitor

I got these titles from his books. It’s how he described the various roles he undertook while running the one-man shop that he used to produce and sell his own records and publications. He billed himself as “the most voluminously self-published artist in the history of the music business (so I’ve been told),” and his catalog listed thousands of items for sale from Andrew’s Music.

White was recruited by Joe and Wayne to play electric bass on Sweetnighter because Joe had seen him with the Fifth Dimension on television. Zawinul thought White could provide the funky underpinnings that he wanted for Weather Report’s new music. Before the Fifth Dimension, White played bass in Stevie Wonder’s band. These gigs paid well, and they bankrolled his other activities, including making his own records and faithfully transcribing hundreds of John Coltrane solos.

He also sold a transcription of his bass part on “125th Street Congress.” “That’s one of my biggest bass transcriptions in terms of sales,” he told me in 2017. “And every time Columbia puts that record out, people look on there to see who the bass player is, and it’s me. And then they start calling me. And I say, well, if you want to play like me, you buy that transcription. I’ve been selling that transcription for thirty years.”

White was a music scholar, graduating cum laude from Howard University in 1964 with a major in music theory and a minor in the oboe. He continued his academic career at the Paris Conservatory of Music, Dartmouth College, and the State University of New York, and became the principal oboist for the American Ballet Theatre Orchestra in 1968. But he also had a bawdy sense of humor that was unfiltered by the norms of polite society. One of the forty-odd LPs he self-produced was Far Out Flatulence: A Concerto for Flatulaphone, which consists of 56 minutes of White farting into a microphone.

While jazz was White’s primary love, he was never fully accepted as a jazz artist of stature. In a 2019 Jazz Times profile, White said, “My whole career started out, even in 1960 when I came to Washington, with a severe handicap, which is, I was told very early on that I had no commercial viability,” he says. “My saxophone sound has too much resonance in it, and I was told it would not register well on recording tape, so I couldn’t make good records-and they wouldn’t even know what to do with the records anyway. So I’ve been off in the corner ever since. But nobody ever said I couldn’t play.

“Nobody was knockin’ on my door, so I knocked on my own door, because I had the resources from [professionally performing] rock ‘n’ roll. There are other fellas in my ilk like Coltrane and Eric Dolphy and Ornette [Coleman], they probably didn’t have the resources to do it themselves, and if they did who knows what we could have had from those cats, because they were working under what they call professional supervision. I’ve done all this myself, so I’ve never had anyone tell me what won’t sell,” he laughs in his deep, distinctive guffaw. “I put it all out myself and it’s done well for me, but then I’m not ambitious either. I’m happy with the sales I get, which wouldn’t impress somebody else who would tell me what won’t sell and who probably wouldn’t put it on the record. And who knows how much music that Coltrane had, and all those cats, who never got to even play it in the studio because somebody told them, ‘Well, we don’t need this.’

“I was considered an oddball just like they were. I think Coltrane and Eric and Ornette, to a lesser degree, they didn’t have so much resonance in their sound that it wouldn’t register well on tape.”

If that lack of acceptance hurt Andrew, you wouldn’t know it by talking to him. He was a cheerful man with a big, hearty laugh. He conducted himself with the satisfaction of having done things on his own terms. I will miss him.

Herschel Dwellingham’s Soul Bass

Soul Bass Album Cover
Fans of Weather Report’s Sweetnighter album know the name Herschel Dwellingham. He’s the drummer that brought the funk. A few years ago I wrote a post updating readers about Herschel’s current activities. Now he has produced a new album called Soul Bass, utilizing his Sweetnighters Band. As the band’s name suggests, the inspiration comes from his experience playing on Sweetnighter. But Soul Bass is a very different kind of album, one that highlights Herschel’s love of R&B and his own writing and arranging. In addition to Zawinul classics such as “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” and “Boogie Woogie Waltz,” as well as Wayne’s tune, “Palladiium,” you’ll find a bunch of Herschel’s original material on Soul Bass, some of it dating back to his days before Sweetnighter when he was a fixture in Boston’s R&B scene.

The Sweetnighters BandThe Sweetnighters band on the last day of recording at Studio In The Country, Bogalusa, Louisiana.

Herschel asked me to write the liner notes for Soul Bass, which I was happy to do. I have reproduced them below. You can find the album itself on Apple iTunes. You can also find the tunes on YouTube, and I believe a CD is in the works.

In February 1973, Herschel Dwellingham got a call from Bob Devere, a producer at Columbia Records, inviting him to a recording session. This wasn’t unusual–Herschel was doing a lot of sessions in those days–but when he arrived at Connecticut Recording Studio a few days later, he realized that this one would be different. For in the studio were legendary jazz musicians Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter, along with the rest of their band, Weather Report.
Upon seeing them, Herschel’s first thought was, “These guys want to play with me?” At the time, Weather Report was an avant-garde jazz band, whereas Dwellingham was known for his R&B grooves. It seemed like an odd pairing.

But unbeknownst to Herschel, his sound was exactly what Zawinul was looking for and together they spent several days recording Weather Report’s third record, Sweetnighter. With Dwellingham providing the funky underpinnings the album sold over 300,000 copies and proved to be the turning point in Weather Report’s fortunes. Years later, Joe would greet his old friend as “the Boogie Woogie Waltz man,” a reference to the album’s best known track. “There wouldn’t be Weather Report if it wasn’t for you,” Zawinul would say.

Forty some odd years later, Herschel had a dream in which Zawinul, who died in 2007, urged him to start a new group dedicated to performing some of Joe’s old tunes, as well as showcasing his own writing. In the past, such dreams had led to some of Dwellingham’s most successful projects, so this was something to take seriously. In response, he assembled a topnotch thirteen-piece band populated by many of his favorite musicians, some of whom he’s known for decades, and augmented them with a full string section and guest vocalists. Together they recorded Soul Bass, an album consisting of two of Zawinul’s best-known pieces, one of Wayne Shorter’s, and a clutch of Dwellingham originals, all dressed in luxurious string and horn arrangements and tasty grooves.

The leadoff track is “Big Girl,” the first of two Dwellingham-penned instrumentals. Listeners who know Herschel only from his drumming would be unaware that his real passion is writing and arranging his own music—something he’s done since high school. This tune dates back to Herschel’s college days and features a fine tenor sax solo by multi-instrumentalist Ed Pazant and the trumpet work of Cullen Knight. Both are among Herschel’s oldest musical associates. Pazant died not long after this recording, and Herschel has dedicated this album to him and Zawinul.

“Boogie Woogie Waltz” was the centerpiece of Weather Report’s Sweetnighter album–a thirteen-minute groove with a lot of improvising around a handful of melodic themes. Dwellingham’s version is more to the point, expanding the orchestration behind the melodies and providing another platform for Pazant, this time on soprano sax. As with the Weather Report version, Herschel grounds the tune by rapping out every beat on his snare drum, while his bass drum never deviates from emphasizing the and-one.

The soulful ballad, “Cold Spot,” features vocalist Marlena Lady Black Lace, formerly known as Molly Holt of the Rascals. Her musical association with Dwellingham goes back many years and this tune has long been among their favorites. The lyrics explore the heartache of unrequited love, and Marlena delivers an emotive performance worthy of the tune’s message, emphasized by the sustained tones of Tony “Strat” Thomas’ electric guitar.

“Flex-a-ble” is Dwellingham’s take on soul-meets-rap. With its chromatic melodies and deliberate rhythm, it sounds as if it could be at home in a 1960s secret agent movie. But just as listeners get comfortable with that vibe, into the mix comes the rapping of Kenyell Brown. The point, Dwellingham says, is that you can’t be rigid in life and in love. Sometimes you have to compromise and learn to be flexible.

Joe Zawinul’s tune, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” was a surprise instrumental hit for Cannonball Adderley in 1967. It quickly rose to number eleven on the Billboard pop chart and within weeks two vocal versions, each with different lyrics, were also released. At one point, all three of them occupied spots on the R&B singles chart. Here Dwellingham fashions it as an R&B powerhouse, with full-throated horns and a vocal chorus, and after Michael Lemmler’s Hammond B-3 intro, the band hits a toe-tapping groove behind Beverly Crosby’s stirring vocal. An added bonus is the baritone sax solo played by Roger Lewis, a founding member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

“Palladium” is Dwellingham’s nod to Zawinul’s musical partner, Wayne Shorter. It originally appeared on Weather Report’s 1977 album, Heavy Weather, which also includes “Birdland,” Joe’s well-known ode to the famous New York City jazz club of the same name. “Palladium” is its counterpart, named after the Palladium Ballroom, which was located just down the street from Birdland. In the 1950s it was the epicenter of the mambo craze that took the country by storm, and Wayne spent many evenings there as a young man, dancing to the likes of Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez, and Machito. Dwellingham’s arrangement lends the tune an easy going Latin feel. Dig the conga work of Kahlil Kwame Bell.

“Soul Bass” is another Dwellingham instrumental, with fine solos by Ed Pazant on flute and Cullen Knight on trumpet. The tune is based on a catchy drum-and-bass groove that Herschel improvised in his home studio. He wrote the melody and chart the day before the rest of the musicians arrived for the recording session. As with all of these tunes, Dave Ellis is rock solid holding down the bottom on electric bass.

Closing out this collection is the ultra funky “What I Got, I Got,” a throwback to Herschel’s Boston days when he led the house band at the Sugar Shack, then the city’s biggest and best soul venue. Dwellingham originally recorded this tune in 1971, with lyrics written and sung by Maurice Rice. Here Eli “Paperboy” Reed delivers a vocal straight out of that era, while “Strat” Thomas wraps a searing guitar solo around the melody. This is Boston soul, Dwellingham style.

Decades after its release, Sweetnighter continues to have a lasting impact on Dwellingham. Numerous hip-hop artists have sampled it, and Joe Zawinul went so far as to say it contains the first hip-hop beat.

“That one album put me on the map,” Herschel says. “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 nothin’ 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 anything. I was just trying to keep money in the house.”

It’s safe to say that Herschel did more than that. And now Soul Bass gives us a broader taste of his musical range—his love of soul and R&B, and his affinity for arranging for large ensembles. Let’s hope there’s a sequel.

Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, RIP

Leon “Ndugu” Chancler passed away last night after a battle with cancer. He was 65 years old.

Of course, Weather Report fans know Ndugu as the drummer on the band’s fifth studio LP, Tale Spinnin’. His involvement was pure serendipity. The band was rehearsing for the album at the same time that Ndugu was recording a Jean-Luc Ponty album just down the street. One day they all emerged from their respective studios at the same time and met up on the sidewalk. “Ndugu, what are you doing in the next two days?” Zawinul asked. Chancler said he was wrapping up his session with Ponty, but would be free the following week. “Come and do a session with Weather Report,” Joe suggested. It went so well that Zawinul wanted to hire him in the band, but Chancler was committed to Santana and turned him down.

Ironically, his initial reaction upon hearing Tale Spinnin’ was that he didn’t like it. “I didn’t like the drum sound,” he told me in an interview. “That was my first reaction. The reason being is, I didn’t feel like, at that point, I didn’t have the Weather Report drum sound. I played great, but I thought I had the session sound versus the Weather Report sound. And all it was, I was used to hearing non-session drummers play with Weather Report, and I was used to that sound and not a more polished studio sound. I really liked it, but at the time I thought it was very different from Weather Report.”

Like many fusion drummers of the 1970s, Ndugu was an extremely versatile drummer, well versed in all styles. He began his professional career as a teenager and toured Japan and Europe with Miles Davis when he was 19. After spending much of the ’70s on the road with the likes of Miles, Santana and George Duke, he began concentrating on studio and production work, playing on a diverse range of albums including Herbie Hancock’s Mr. Hands, Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bad, Kenny Rogers’ We’ve Got Tonight, and Frank Sinatra’s L.A. Is My Lady. He counted among his production credits included work with Tina Turner, Santana, George Duke, The Bar Kays, and the Dazz Band. His credits are vast and include innumerable movie soundtracks and television shows.

Ndugu was a big proponent of music education and for many years was a professor at the University of Southern California’s Thorton School of Music. Peter Erskine, who is the Director of Drumset Studies at USC, posted a remembrance of Ndugu on Facebook. I don’t think he’ll mind if I reproduce it here.

Ndugu’s passing leaves the world a poorer place, with a giant hole at USC’s Thornton School of Music where he taught for so many years. I can’t think of anyone who made bigger musical marks and in so many different genres — George Duke, Miles Davis, Carlos Santana, Weather Report, Michael Jackson, Patrice Rushen, plus countless gigs as the drummer in jazz festival all-star bands … I know I’m leaving out many, many names. But it was in his work as an educator and advocate for technical achievement that set him apart. Ndugu was tireless in his insistence that drummers know their rudiments. That combination of old-school strictness with his open musical mind (plus experience) resulted in a steady stream of excellent players coming out of his studio, and a world-wide group of inspired drummers who benefitted from his gospel. He long-served as a vital conscience to our drumming world.

I’ll miss him on campus. I’ll miss him at PASIC. I’ll miss his exuberance, both on and off the drums. I’ve been a fan since his 1975 recording of George Duke’s “I Love the Blues, She Heard My Cry” album … first time I ever heard such hip drumming like that. It was some new stuff. On second thought: Nudugu left the world a far greater place. We are all going to miss him. Condolences to his family, friends, and everyone who knew him. RIP, Ndugu, and thank you for all of the passion and the music.

Friday Music to Release Live in Tokyo on Audiophile Vinyl

Weather Report Live In Tokyo
Good news for vinyl fans. On February 17, Friday Music will release Weather Report’s Live In Tokyo on on 180 Gram translucent red audiophile vinyl, retaining its original gatefold format. It will join three previous Weather Report releases from Friday Music: the first Weather Report album, Sweetnighter, Black Market, and Heavy Weather.

Friday Music has become a major producer of vinyl products, including many entries in the progressive rock arena. You can pre-order Live In Tokyo now. Here’s a bit of the press release from Friday Music.

Friday Music is pleased to announce for the very first time on audiophile vinyl Live In Toyko by Weather Report. Mastered impeccably by Joe Reagoso at Friday Music Studios, this amazing classic truly shines in the audiophile vinyl domain. Pressed at R.T.I., this brilliant masterwork truly resonates as you remember from years ago.

To enhance your limited anniversary edition album experience, this first time audiophile vinyl release is also for a very short time being offered on translucent red audiophile vinyl in a first time gatefold cover presentation, featuring the rare original album cover design.

Welcome back and celebrate the music of Weather Report with their amazing Live In Toyko … an audiophile first time vinyl release, only from your friends at Friday Music