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Remembering Weather Report’s 1972 Tour with Santana

Advertisement for Weather Report's performance in Lubbock, TX. Check out the ticket prices: $4 in advance, $5 at the door!
So in keeping with my “fifty years ago today” theme, I should have written this post in mid-December. Oops! Still, it’s worth highlighting these unique gigs, even if a month late, so here goes.

In December 1972, the rock group Santana was fresh off a 19-concert, 27-day jaunt across Europe when it returned to the United States for a short tour that kicked off in New Orleans on December 9. At the time, Santana was hugely successful commercially—its previous two albums had hit #1 on the commercial charts—and it had just released its fourth studio album, Caravanserai. That record was a departure from Santana’s previous work, emphasizing improvisation and open-ended structures. In that endeavor, Carlos Santana and his musical partner Michael Shrieve were influenced by “all sorts of funk and jazz stuff,” but especially Miles Davis, Weather Report and Herbie Hancock. So a concert pairing with Weather Report wasn’t completely outlandish even though Weather Report was still essentially an avant garde jazz group at this point. And given that both were signed to Columbia Records, it was probably welcomed by the label.

I have contemporaneous confirmation for four shows: New Orleans; Dallas; Lubbock, Texas; and Tuscon, Arizona. A website visitor remembers a show in San Antonio, Texas, and there may have been one in El Paso as well. They were arranged by Bill Graham, the San Francisco–based promoter who was an early supporter of Santana’s, and who accompanied the troupe on this tour. (Brian Risner remembers him always being first off the airplane and immediately on the pay phones, conducting business.) When Graham asked Santana who he would like to have as the opening act, it took him “less than a second” to say Weather Report.

Santana was especially enamored with Wayne’s playing, and he and other band members would listen to Weather Report’s sets from the side of the stage each night. However, it wasn’t the happiest of tours for Weather Report. They got about 45 minutes of stage time in front of crowds that weren’t there to see them, and the response could be rather rude. Even Carlos found it uncomfortable when people would scream “Santana” while Weather Report was playing, as he related in his autobiography, The Universal Tone. “I wanted to go onstage, grab the mike, and say, ‘Hey, shut the fuck up! This is Weather Report—this is Wayne Shorter. You’re embarrassing me!’” He thought that maybe Santana could open the shows instead, but Graham dissuaded him of that idea, explaining, correctly, that people would leave as soon as Santana was done.

I have one review from these shows (from Tucson) and it confirms the audience’s attitude toward Weather Report.

The unknown and the well-known—that’s what it was at the Community Center Arena last night. Santana and Weather Report. Who has ever heard of Weather Report? Well, now Tucson has. They weren’t well received at all and it’s difficult to say why. I’m sure they won’t be forgotten.

None of Weather Report’s five men spoke a word—not even to introduce their songs, if that’s what you call them.

It was very free-form music, the success of which depends upon how well the musicians can interact with one another spontaneously. All of this added up to a set pervaded with subtle, fleeting, morsels of music followed by tense moments of waiting for them to do it again. I waited gladly, but “boos” could be frequently heard between numbers along with the cheers of the few but vociferous devotees.

Maybe the day will come when teenagers can trust a group with a balding piano player.

After that show, Santana recalled going up to Wayne and finding him “a little cool to me. I could tell that opening for Santana was not his favorite experience.” Nevertheless, Wayne took away some lessons that he recalled 35 years later in a JazzTimes article by George Varga.

There was a big snowstorm [in Lubbock]. And even after the storm let up a little and we went to the venue, we didn’t see any cars in the parking area, just a few buses. Then we went inside and the place was packed! We, as Weather Report guys, kind of realized, “People will get here super-early, even in a snow storm, to hear Santana.” This kind of affectionate crowd, with that degree of dedication, was something we didn’t see in a straight jazz-oriented setting.

Beyond the music, I could see in Carlos’s eyes and even in the attitude of the guys in the band that there was a humanistic approach to almost everything they did and were doing. I noticed that they were not like a band, but like a family. And I just couldn’t help but see this tremendous, reciprocal respect from Carlos to the band and from the band to Carlos. Of course we’d heard about him from Woodstock. But when we signed with Columbia Records, Carlos was the number one record-seller. Where Carlos was a challenge for us was to try to achieve that kind of audience, to gather that kind of audience in those kinds of numbers, to hear what we were doing. Carlos’s fame, audience-wise, ignited our imaginations to see if we could do that our way and accomplish that kind of audience recognition. We considered our music [to be] storytelling and almost very visual.

Another byproduct of this tour was the friendship that developed between Miroslav Vitous and Santana bass player Doug Rauch. The latter introduced Miroslav to former Sly and the Family Stone drummer Greg Errico, and the three of them would jam at Errico’s house in the San Francisco Bay Area. This would eventually lead to Errico joining Weather Report in June 1973.

The day after the Tuscon gig, everyone took a charter flight to San Francisco, where Graham gave Weather Report two more gigs at Winterland, opening for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention the first night and B.B. King the second night. The San Francisco crowd seemed more receptive to the band than those of the Santana tour. Philip Elwood, the longtime music writer for the San Francisco Examiner, wrote that Weather Report was “the first new-sounds, or ‘jazz,’ group to have ever gotten a Winterland rock crowd really turned on.” The band turned in “a perfectly beautiful short set. Their ability to indicate rhythmic integrity and use dynamic surprise to perfection made their music exciting while still artistically valid. . . . If you are going to Winterland tonight be sure to hear Weather Report. Incredible.”

Weather Report performed with Santana at least one other time, at the Cleveland Coliseum in 1976. John McLaughlin’s Shakti was also on the bill. (Weather Report and Shakti did a number of joint concerts that year.) Over the years, Wayne and Santana also performed at several benefit concerts and a friendship developed, culminating in them touring together in 1988. Their performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival tour is preserved in CD and DVD form (Live At The 1988 Montreux Jazz Festival by the Carlos Santana–Wayne Shorter Band). And of course, one other Weather Report–related Santana connection is that he played on Weather Report’s final album, This Is This, effectively substituting for Wayne, who had already begun his post–Weather Report career and was unavailable for all but a cameo on that record.

Fifty Years Ago Today—Weather Report At the Bitter End

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Fifty years ago today, Weather Report opened a two-night stand at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village. The club seated 230 people and according to contemporaneous reports, it was packed for Weather Report’s performances. The band had been working steadily throughout 1972, thanks to the booking efforts of Bob Devere, who took over Weather Report’s management early in the year. Many of these gigs were multi-day engagements at clubs, often for a week at a time.

What makes the Bitter End gigs notable is that according to Brian Risner this was Joe Zawinul’s first public performance with a synthesizer. Joe had owned his ARP 2600 for over a year—actually it was given to him by ARP “for evaluation”—but he regarded it as too fragile to travel with. However, given that the band was performing in town, Risner suggested that they bring it down to the club. Joe was reluctant at first, but Risner won him over, taking the synth to the Bitter End by taxi, wrapped in a blanket to avoid potential damage.

Dan Nooger reviewed the first night’s show for the Village Voice. “The atmosphere recalled a concert hall or art gallery on opening night,” he wrote.

I last saw the group a little over a year ago at the Beacon, when drummer Eric Gravatt and percussionist Dom Um Romáo had just joined. Their music then seemed rather formless, consisting mostly of undirected riffing, with only occasional sax or electric piano lines breaking through to the surface of the percussion-dominated sound.

Although their first number recalled the aimlessness of their earlier appearance, the rest of their material, drawn from their latest album I Sing the Body Electric, gave each musician sufficient solo space to construct cohesive statements. “Crystal,” which featured Josef Zawinul on synthesizer, was built around repeated cycles of ascending arpeggios, recalling Terry Riley’s experiments in the area of “trance music.” The high, keening sounds, offset by Romáo’s percussive effects, established a pervasively mysterioso atmosphere for a graceful, leaping tenor solo by Wayne Shorter that developed into a free-blowing conversation among all the players.

Nooger’s description of “cycles of ascending arpeggios” likely referred to the sample and hold feature of the 2600, which could automatically create repeating sequences of ascending or descending notes, or rapidly triggered random tones, depending on how it was configured. In surviving unofficial recordings from 1973, Joe can be heard using this feature, changing the 2600’s configuration as the notes played in order to vary the sound. Of course, Joe would add his own playing to the mix, as well as those of the other musicians, to create highly improvisational performances.

Nooger offered other insights about Weather Report’s performance that night:

Romáo garnered cheers from the crowd when he made the group’s only concession to theatricality (or perhaps simply our presence) by dancing down the center aisle while playing a metal-strong bow with an exotic gourd rattle. At the conclusion of the set, after the other men had filed offstage, Gravatt announced the band members—the first words spoken by any of the group—and that was that. Their music was mostly excellent, but their utter disdain for their obviously devoted listeners was a trifle disconcerting, though it didn’t seem to bother most of them.

Nooger was describing Romáo playing the berimbau, an instrument from Brazil that was little known in the United States at the time. In fact, it is said that Romáo was the first person to play a berimbau in public performance in the United States when he was with Sérgio Mendes’s Brasil ’66.

Nooger’s observation that no words were spoken other than Gravatt’s band introductions remained true of virtually all of Weather Report’s performances. After Gravatt left the band in June 1973, Wayne Shorter took over the introduction duties.

Nooger’s other observation—that the band seemed to hold “utter disdain” for their audience—wasn’t true, but it was a perception other reviewers hit upon as well. Earlier in the year, Don Heckman of the New York Times attended Weather Report’s performance at the Gaslight Au Go Go, writing that while the music was “magnificently executed,” he “couldn’t help but feel that it was more enjoyable to the musicians than to the listeners.”

These were sentiments that likely wouldn’t have sat well with Zawinul. As he would say a few years later, “For me, happiness has something to do with getting across to people.” Less than two months after the Bitter End gigs, Weather Report would record its third album, Sweetnighter, which would be an attempt to do just that.

As for the Bitter End, it’s still in business at its original location, 147 Bleecker Street, where a virtual who’s who of the music world has performed. The heavy wooden doors that have served as the club’s entrance since 1961 are now adorned with a plaque from by the City of New York proclaiming the Bitter End as an official historic landmark.

Chuck Bazemore, 1949–2022

Chuck Bazemore passed away on October 8. He was 73 years old.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Bazemore was a fixture in the city’s late-sixties / early-seventies soul scene. He excelled at playing the drums from an early age and was a member of the all-Philadelphia jazz band in high school. Upon graduation Chuck was invited to play with the Philadelphia Philharmonic. Instead, he hit the road as the drummer for the R&B vocal group the Delfonics, which was then riding high on the strength of its million-selling single “La-La (Means I Love You).” Bazemore subsequently toured with many of Philadelphia’s top vocal groups, including the Three Degrees, Patti LaBelle, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and the Tymes.

Though not a well-known name in Weather Report lore, Bazemore likely would have been the drummer on Tale Spinnin’ had a family tragedy not called him home. Since he neither recorded nor toured with Weather Report, his participation with the band has been something of a mystery over the years. Joe Zawinul referred obliquely to Chuck in a 1976 interview when he said, “With Tale Spinnin’ we didn’t have a band and we had to make a record, and we tried to get a band together, and we rehearsed all the music with the drummer, and by the time we came into the studio, the drummer freaked out, man. All of a sudden that pressure on him to follow our albums, like Mysterious Traveller, he just couldn’t handle it.”

There was a reason Bazemore “freaked out,” as Zawinul put it, which I discovered when I interviewed Chuck in 2017 for my book Elegant People: A History of the Band Weather Report. The following is our interview, lightly edited. I started off asking Bazemore how his involvement with Weather Report came about. (At the time, Weather Report had concluded its 1974 touring with drummer Darryl Brown and was preparing for its next album, Tale Spinnin’. Brown inquired about the future and was told that Joe and Wayne were going in a different direction and looking at “some studio drummers.”)

Chuck Bazemore: It all started when Alphonso Johnson gave me a call in Philadelphia. I went down to audition for Alphonso, and he called Weather Report and said, “We got a drummer.” That’s how we got started. So they flew me to California and I rehearsed with them for about three and a half months. We were working on an album, preparing to go into the studio.

Curt: Did you know Alphonso before this?

Chuck: Oh, yes I did. Me and Alphonso used to work together in Philadelphia. I can’t think of the name of the bands, but we knew one and other. Once you’re around Philly and you’re a good musician, everybody hears about you and everybody wants you. He knew later on that I went with the Delfonics, but I was still playing behind other people. I always liked jazz and fusion, but playing with the Delfonics and the other people I was working with—the R&B people and the blues people—was a different style. So Weather Report gave me time to stretch out—to lock in, but stretch out—to play my syncopated beats that I wanted to do, which was great. That’s how I got with them. I could improvise and I could also read music.

Curt: You were there in L.A. for three and a half months or three and a half weeks?

Chuck: It wasn’t three and a half weeks. I thought it was like three and a half months, but it could have been shorter.

Curt: Okay, so you were there for a while. Alphonso finding you must have been a relief to Alphonso. [laughs]

Chuck: Well, Alphonso really got most of the drummers there, like Chester Thompson—all the Philly guys, as a matter fact—Ishmael Wilburn and everybody else. All of us were well known in Philadelphia. Well known in California, too—not only just playing for Weather Report, but playing for everybody. I was a freelance drummer playing behind everybody. I wanted to play with Weather Report steady, but things happened with my family.

Curt: So what happened that you didn’t play on the album?

Chuck: While I was there, everything was great. Wayne Shorter and Joe, Alyrio Lima and myself, and Alphonso. Right before rehearsal we always sat down and talked around the table, had something to eat. That was great. This way you could feel one an- other and get the chemistry going. We studied our charts, studied the music, what we had to do. And they were trying to go into like a funk band. That’s why they called me. In Philadelphia I was known for my foot because I had a unique style. They called me “Heavy Sound” Chuck Bazemore.

So everything was going great, but as soon as I got into the recording studio, I got a call that my daughter had passed away. Her name was Casey Brooks. My thinking just went blank. Everything changed. After all that rehearsal I just couldn’t think. After Casey passed away, it took a hold on me. So I just flew back to Pennsylvania. I stayed in contact with the guys, just talking to them and everything, and said I would love to come back, but I just couldn’t do it.

Curt: That’s completely understandable. Did you go home immediately?

Chuck: No, I just felt like I had to go back home because all that rehearsing went right out the window. Once something like that happens, you can’t think right. I tried to finish the session but I was just thinking about my daughter who passed away. You know, if anybody goes through this, they know exactly what I’m talking about. After my daughter passed, everything went blank. I just freaked out and none of my recordings were released. They did everything with Ndugu Leon Chancler, which was good. I was happy for that.

In a subsequent telephone call, Chuck said that while he was in L.A., he got a call from Weather Report’s manager, Bob Devere, who told him that his pregnant wife was in the hospital. Bazemore flew back to Philadelphia excited, expecting to welcome a new daughter into the world. But there were complications with the delivery and Casey was stillborn. This version of events differs somewhat from his previous explanation, but I think they can be reconciled. Given this extra info, what likely happened is that Chuck was in L.A. for a period of time rehearsing material, returned to Philadelphia for the birth of his daughter, then came back to L.A. to do the recording sessions. However, upon his return he simply couldn’t concentrate given the gravity of what had happened, and wound up returning home without completing the recording.

Curt: The first time we talked, you said something about Joe telling you he wanted a funk style. What did he tell you?

Chuck: He was looking for a funk-style syncopated beat, and I was known for that. Not just playing a straight beat; like have a heavy foot and a lot of top, and working around everything. And Weather Report really helped me a lot, getting that way for jazz and fusion, because I was always a funk drummer. When I was with the Delfonics, I was like a “love” drummer. But I had different styles because my uncle was a jazz drummer and he taught me a lot. I didn’t play with a lot of jazz people until I got with Weather Report. I did some things with Pat Martino in Philadelphia, and that was good. And then I had an audition for Jean-Luc Ponty, but I didn’t take that because I wanted to stay with R&B.

Curt: When they called you out to L.A., was it your impression that you had the gig, that you were going to record the album and stay on and tour afterwards?

Chuck: Well, that was the intention, to go in the studio and record the album, and then go on tour. They were trying to go another route, to get the funk in, get that foot in. Because as you noticed from their past with other drummers, they had other drummers who they rehearsed with, but once when they go on tour, it’s not the same. A studio drummer and a touring drummer are different. A studio drummer will listen and lock in with everything. A tour drummer will do the same thing, but improvise. You’ve got to watch and listen because everything changes on stage and you can’t mess up. And that’s what happens with a lot of drummers. That’s why they had more than one drummer. They might have one drummer that can play, another drummer that can improvise and go around it. So they said, “Well, you know what, we need one drummer that can do everything.” I was both. I was a studio drummer and I was a funk drummer. Because I had a name out of Philly, everybody wanted me.

Curt: Did Joe give you a lot of direction in the sessions? He’s kind of notorious for being hard on drummers.

Chuck: Well, the main thing Joe said was, just listen. Because the music that we had, we went over and over and over, and everybody got it inside their heads. Sometimes you might improvise, throw something else in there, and you just listen and work around that, and eventually you’ll come back to where you want to be. Wayne would say, “Just go with the flow, like water.” He always said that. Now I understand exactly what he meant by that, but at the time he was saying it, nobody knew what he was talking about.

Curt: What do you think he meant?

Chuck: The flow of water. Like when the water flows, you just go with the flow of the water as he speaks. Like, you just blend in. Keep blending in and don’t leave. Don’t float under and just stay on top. [laughs] Whatever that means, only Wayne knows that. Wayne was like that. Really super nice guy, though. Really down to earth. You just got to be around him to understand him.

Curt: In terms of bringing the material to you guys, how developed was it? Or was it more or less developed on the spot in the studio.

Chuck: It was both ways, to tell you the truth. I know when I was with Alphonso, he was studying the music, and I would listen to the bass lines that he would play. And then when we went into the studio, I worked with that and listened to Joe to see what Joe’s playing, and listened to what Wayne Shorter’s playing, and then we all blended in. And Alyrio Lima just worked around everything with the percussion. Mostly, it was on the drummer. Everything was always on the drummer. That’s what Joe needed. He just wanted things to work around the drummer. That’s why he had so many drummers. Some worked out and some didn’t.

Curt: Did you ever play a gig with the band?

Chuck: No, it was only just rehearsing and going into the studio, just to have a funk album. Once I left Weather Report and went back down to Philly, I was playing behind everybody, but I was [playing] too busy because I was so used to working with Weather Report, playing different chops. Everybody loved it, but they said, “You’ve got to tone it down.” So I started working with a friend, Bennie Sims, who had a thing called the Jazz Experience. It was almost like Weather Report and the Yellowjackets. That was more my speed.

Curt: I understand your real name is John Bazemore. Where did the “Chuck” come from?

Chuck: My birth name is John Todd Bazemore, Jr. Chuck came from when I was little. I used to be fat, and everybody called me Chubby or Chucky. I grew up with that name and it stuck. No one from my family calls me John; everybody calls me Chuck and Uncle Chuck. When I go on Google, I can’t find my real name. Everything is under Chuck Bazemore, so I kept it. [laughs] Even the musicians, even my own family doesn’t know my name is John, because they’re used to calling me Chuck and Chuckie and Uncle Chuckie and Cousin Chuckie.

Chuck was always proud to be associated with Weather Report, as the accompanying photograph suggests. After his touring days ended, he remained in Philadelphia where he started a chimney sweep business while playing casual gigs on the side. Rest In Peace, Chuck Bazemore.

Fifty Years Ago Today—Weather Report at the Smiling Dog Saloon

On September 15, 1972, Weather Report made its way to Cleveland, Ohio, for the first of three nights at the Smiling Dog Saloon. The band was in the midst of a four-month stretch in which Bob Devere kept them regularly booked, primarily at jazz clubs, with some college and university dates thrown into the mix. So the Dog, as it was affectionately known to the locals, was just another date in a string of dates. And yet this gig would have ramifications for Weather Report that lasted well beyond these three nights in Cleveland, as we shall see below.

Opened in October 1971, the Smiling Dog was housed in an old bowling alley. Bowling was big in the Midwest, so it was unusual for an alley to fail to draw enough business to sustain itself, but this one did. Perhaps this is because it was located in a rather seedy part of town off Interstate 71. As local saxophonist Ernie Krivda remembered, “If you were going to open up a club and bring in jazz, the last place you would think of was this particular area of West 25th Street. It was rough.”

There was a motorcycle shop across the street where bikers hung out working on their motorcycles. The Dog’s owner, Roger Bohn, looked the part, attired in biker leathers and a bowler hat, with his hair pulled back in a long ponytail. But his looks belied a big heart, and many young musicians grew to love hanging out there.

Bohn ripped out the bowling lanes and replaced them with a stage and tables and chairs. In front, there was a bar and a game area with shuffleboard and air hockey games—holdovers from the bowling alley days. A biker-type known as Bear ran the front of the house, looking out for the young ladies who worked as barmaids because, as drummer Skip Hadden put it, “you never knew what was going to happen with that crowd.” Hadden also remembers being pressed into server as a bouncer when he wasn’t working in the house band; it was that type of place.

At first the Dog relied on local musicians and folk artists. Eventually, Bohn got the idea of booking touring jazz acts. At the time, there wasn’t a jazz venue in Cleveland, so there wasn’t any competition. Plus, a club in Cleveland would offer an additional way station for touring bands traveling between the East Coast and the Midwest, making it an attractive proposition to them. The first major jazz band Bohn booked was Weather Report. “I feel Weather Report is the heaviest jazz to happen in Cleveland in a long time,” Bohn told a local newspaper.

If he was going to be successful in his bid to draw national jazz acts, he needed to make a good impression with this show. Realizing he didn’t have the type of sound reinforcement Weather Report required, Bohn asked a couple of young musicians to help him out: Alan Howarth and Brian Risner. They were fixtures in the local rock scene and sometimes performed at the Dog. Howarth and Risner brought their own equipment down to the club and provided Weather Report with proper sound.

In fact, it was better sound than Weather Report was accustomed to. Howarth and Risner had an early form of Quad sound, for instance. They impressed the band so much that Bob Devere wanted to hire them as the band’s road crew. At age 24, Howarth was the older of the two, so he was probably given first consideration, but he wasn’t prepared to hit the road. Risner was, so Devere hired him as the band’s first roadie. He was 19 years old. At the end of the Smiling Dog engagement, he kept Weather Report’s equipment in his parents’ garage before driving it to the next gig.

Almost immediately, Risner assumed a much larger role with the band than that of roadie. In addition to setting up the band’s gear before gigs and packed it up afterward, he also handled travel logistics, getting the equipment on and off airplanes and arranging ground transportation. “Basically, I did everything,” Risner recalled. “They would book the hotels, but as far as getting the band around and getting them set up, and doing their sound, and keeping all the electronics going, I was it.”

Risner was a capable electronics technician and sound mixer, and he quickly became Joe’s righthand man. Joe now had a technical accomplice willing and capable of pushing the envelope. In many ways, they were partners; Zawinul supplied the musical vision, and Risner provided the technical expertise to help him bring it to fruition. Risner kept the ARP 2600s operating (not an easy feat considering they weren’t designed for the rigors of the road), built a custom on-stage mixer for Joe’s keyboard rig, outfitted Zawinul’s Rhodes electric piano with a superior sound system, and attended to countless other tasks.

Ultimately Risner became Weather Report’s recording engineer, supervising the recording of 1982’s Weather Report album, and recording Procession, which was released in 1983. Brian was the longest-tenured member of the band after Joe and Wayne, and they christened him the “Chief Meteorologist” on the Heavy Weather album jacket.

Alan Howarth joined the band in 1977. By then Joe’s keyboard rig had expanded to the point that it required a fulltime technician. Like Risner, Howarth was well-versed in electronics and was well-suited to this task. He guided Joe through the acquisition of the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 synthesizer, staying on for a couple of years before launching a career in motion picture sound design and music composition.

With the Weather Report gigs, the Smiling Dog became the jazz venue in Cleveland. Between 1972 and 1975, when the Dog closed, virtually every touring jazz band came through its doors, including Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Stan Getz, Sun Ra, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, McCoy Tyner, and Ornette Coleman.

Despite these names, the Dog perpetually operated on a shoestring budget. The club was always “hanging on by the skin of its teeth,” Bohn later acknowledged. Six months of unrelenting financial losses forced him to finally close the doors. “Good weeks were not enough to make up for bad weeks,” he said.

After Weather Report, Brian Risner toured with Miles Davis, among others, before settling in Los Angeles, where he specializes in sound design and sound editing for television and movie studios. When I mentioned to him that the fiftieth anniversary of his joining the band was upon us, he sent me this note:

Fifty years ago. You never know what door you’re going to walk through and what you’ll come out to on the other side. But once you do, there’s no turning back. There is no back, only forward. This was Joe and Wayne’s take on life and their music: moving forward—always moving forward.

I was twenty years younger than the masters. We explored new ideas and new music technologies. Joe was ready to be as big as The Who! From Sweetnighter thru Heavy Weather, and beyond to Procession, each album had different sonic textures and mixes.

Fifty years. Timeless music.

Forward.

Fifty Years Ago This Month—Weather Report at Ronnie Scott’s

Melody Maker, July 22, 1972.
Fifty years ago this month, Weather Report performed in London for the first time, holding forth for two weeks at Ronnie Scott’s Club. Their visit was highly anticipated. Melody Maker, Britain’s leading music weekly, called the band the “undisputed leaders at the crossroads where jazz meets rock,” and their engagement “possibly the most important date in London this week.”

These gigs, which began on July 17 and concluded on the 30th, came on the heels of a busy month for Weather Report. Bob Devere, the band’s new manager, kept them on the road for most of June, 1972, with week-long stints at the Jazz Workshop in Boston, the Esquire Show Bar in Montreal, and the Lighthouse in Southern California’s Hermosa Beach.

Melody Maker dispatched its lead jazz writer, Richard Williams, to review the London performances. He also interviewed Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter, resulting in feature articles of both in the coming weeks.

Williams’s review reads as follows:

Weather Report is quite plainly one of the most effective bands of its type in the world. Where fusions are concerned, they operate seamlessly and effortlessly in the limbo between the electronics of rock and the creative improvisational interplay of jazz.

Their opening sets at Ronnie Scott’s Club, London, on Monday night obviously impressed the audience—indeed, who could fail to be moved in one way or another by the extreme facility, empathy, and power of this quintet?

They moved through sequences of highly sophisticated compositions with a practised ease which made it hard to define where writing left off and improvisation began, and there’s no doubt that they managed to create a far more spontaneous atmosphere than the Mahavishnu Orchestra or the Miles Davis groups, both of which seem rigid by comparison.

Individually, all five are masters. Joe Zawinul comes over as the leader, intentionally or not, playing with fuzz-tone and Echoplex to produce alien sonorities on the Fender piano. I do wish, sometimes, that he’d make use of the instrument’s softer tonalities—as he’s done on record in the past, to great effect.

As it was, his hard sound often blotted out the unassertive qualities of Wayne Shorter’s soprano sax—although when Shorter’s bitten-off phrases did cut through, the sound was marvelous. His tenor-playing is rather more aggressive, with a wholly personal tone and a method of phrasing which at first sounds crabbed but later reveals itself as astonishingly subtle.

Miroslav Vitous is a young giant of the bass, and it would have been good to hear more of him, too—particularly that incredibly emotional arco tone. Drummer Eric Gravatt impressed me much more than previously: he’s a neat, compact player who responds immediately to the musical needs of the other players, and who can also steam away at the head of the group when required.

Brazilian percussionist Dom Um Romão added a lot to the rhythmic and tonal palette, and seems much more group-conscious than his better-known contemporary, Airto Moreira. His playing is completely organic to the group’s overall sound, and his traditional melody on the berimbau, incorporating a little dance, was one of the highlights.

But still, I found that they left me a little cold for long stretches. Perhaps it’s the element of electronic sophistication which puts me off—or maybe Zawinul should just go easy on the volume pedal. Whatever, Weather Report have no peers in their ability to create extraordinary textures, and they should certainly be heard.

There are a number of interesting observations in this review. Regarding Zawinul’s “hard sound,” Joe was at the time using a harsh, distorted sound on his Fender Rhodes electric piano, as can be heard throughout the Live In Toyko album, recorded six months earlier. That would change with Weather Report’s next album Sweetnighter, and in the ensuing years Joe would produce among the most expressive bodies of work ever produced on the Rhodes electric piano.

Miroslav’s “arco tone” was a reference to his playing acoustic bass with a bow, something he did to beautiful effect on “Orange Lady” from Weather Report’s debut album. Coupled with Wayne’s soprano, it was a sound that Down Beat editor Dan Morgenstern described as “quite beyond description.”

As for Dom Um Romão, many reviewers of Weather Report’s shows singled out Romão for praise, even if they didn’t know what instruments he was playing. The berimbau, for instance, was an instrument that most American writers were unfamiliar with at the time. In addition to his musical sensibilities, Romão added some showmanship to the band’s performances, often walking though the audience while playing the berimbau.

Lastly, there’s Williams’s observation that Weather Report “left me cold for long stretches.” He wasn’t the only one to write something like that in 1972. Perhaps, as Williams suggests, it was those harsh—and loud!—Fender Rhodes tones that presumably led to ear fatigue among listeners after a while. But maybe there was more to it than that, because at the end of the year Zawinul would move Weather Report in a new and funkier direction.