A friend recently told me that she ordered a copy of Elegant People from one of the local bookstores who had it in their inventory. That surprised me a bit, because I really didn’t think brick-and-mortar stores would stock a book about a 1970s jazz band. But one of the benefits of having your book published by a publisher, as opposed to self-publishing, is that you just might find a copy at your local Barnes & Noble. Here it is, sharing shelf space with Mariah Carey, Garth Brooks, and Jimi Hendrix. I have to admit, I was tempted to move it to the Oprah’s Book Club table. (Don’t ask me about the “meaning” of Mariah Carey—I haven’t read her book.)
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 or handling the day-to-day chores of road life, like going shopping at 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.
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!
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.