Author Archives: curt

Fifty Years Ago Today—April 19, 1972

New York Times review of Weather Report's performance at the Gaslight Au Go Go.
Less than three weeks after their first stand at the Gaslight Au Go Go, Weather Report was invited back for a return engagement. This time the New York press was well represented, with reporters from the New York Times, Variety, and the Village Voice all in attendance, so we have some firsthand reports of what Weather Report sounded like. Variety described Weather Report as “[bordering] on the far out. However, the quintet’s music carried the day.” The review also noted how Joe Zawinul used mallets on the piano strings, continuing his long-standing practice of wringing unusual sounds out of the acoustic piano.

The New York Times review was more extensive. Don Heckman, a musician himself and a longtime observer of the jazz scene, wrote that Weather Report “leaned strongly in the direction of avant-hard jazz. . . . Urged on by the keyboard ministrations of Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter’s stunning saxophone improvisations, the group stepped familiarly through the sometimes mazelike pathways of its music. Everything was grist for the mill; electronic noise effects, unusual percussion instruments, almost anything imaginable except vocal sounds.”

However, Heckman was most perceptive in his next two paragraphs. “It was good music, well-executed and magnificantly executed,” he wrote. “Yet one couldn’t help but feel that it was more enjoyable to the musicians than to the listeners. The inward focus that dominated everything, the sense of total inter-relationship at the cost of outward-going communication made it difficult to stay with what was happening.

“Music, after all, is a kind of celebration, and it should be the kind of celebration that brings players and hearers together.”

Zawinul would have read this review, and it would have struck a chord. While he enjoyed Weather Report’s freewheeling ways—at least to an extent—he was keenly interested in communicating with his audiences. His old boss, Cannonball Adderley, was a master at playing to his audiences without pandering to them.

It would be several more months before Joe resolved to change the band’s direction. In the meantime, Weather Report’s new manager Bob Devere kept them booked throughout the rest of the year, with over one hundred gigs in 1972.

Fifty Years Ago Today–March 30, 1972

Fifty years ago today, Weather Report opened a three-night stand at the Gaslight Au Go Go, a small club of about 300 seats on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. The Gaslight was primarily known for folk and rock, but since taking over the old Café Au Go Go location the previous April, it had hosted Miles Davis several times, as well as the first appearances of John McLaughlin’s new band, the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

This show was Weather Report’s first gig of its own in New York City, where the guys all lived. The previous fall Weather Report had opened for Doctor John and the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, but that was for someone else’s audience.

These were also the first shows since Weather Report had performed before large audiences in Japan, and the band probably had high hopes since the Gaslight tended to attract good crowds. It regularly advertised its gigs in advance in the Village Voice, but it appears that the club didn’t advertise this one until the day Weather Report opened (see photo from the Mar. 30 issue of the Voice). The late advertising, coupled with virtually no word-of-mouth buzz, led to a dismal showing. As Joe Zawinul remembered it, there were just fourteen people in the audience as the band kicked off its first set. It was, in his words, “a disappointment.” 

“The club owner was totally angry,” Zawinul recalled. “We had not been announced, so the people in the Village knew nothing of our appearance. But the development was interesting. The drummer Ron Jefferson came in, a sophisticated black man whose word was greatly respected in New York. Ron Jefferson heard the end of our first set and went to see us in the dressing room. ‘You are swing, you are what is happening now,’ he said. Then he went back. In the second set we already had forty or fifty people. When we stopped, Ron Jefferson came backstage and said, ‘I’ve been to every New York club and told everyone that there’s a band called Weather Report. People should come if they do not want to miss anything.’ When we arrived the next day to the club, the place was full. On the second set there were already queues in front of the entrance. All by Ron Jefferson.”

No one from the press came to review these shows, but the three-night stand went well enough that Weather Report was invited back to the Gaslight Au Go Go three weeks later for a four night engagement. This time, the press would be well represented.

Fifty Years Ago Today—Weather Report’s First Tour of Japan

On January 4, 1972, Weather Report launched its first tour of Japan with a concert at Shibuya Public Hall in Tokyo. It was the one of eight performances on the tour, five of which took place in Tokyo. The last of those concerts was recorded and released in Japan as the double-LP Live in Tokyo, parts of which also comprise the second side of I Sing the Body Electric, released later in the year.

Weather Report’s appearances were much anticipated by Japanese jazz fans. The group’s first album received several awards from Swing Journal (Japan’s leading jazz magazine), and CBS Sony rolled out the red carpet upon the band’s arrival at the airport, presenting each member with flowers and a limousine. At a press conference held the day of the first concert, the musicians were also given traditional Japanese umbrellas made of bamboo and oil paper—a nod to the band’s name.

Of course, one of the things the press wanted to know about was the band’s rather odd name. Wayne responded that it related to the their sound, which he said had no boundaries. Weather Report “can mean anything you want it to mean,” he said. “It’s sort of in neutral territory. It stretches and reaches into the imagination of the universe. It’s as boundless as the kind of music we play. It has a flow in the sound and it opens the doors for things to come. It’s not cramped.”

Without question the band was inspired by the first-rate music halls and large, respectful audiences for which they performed. “When we went to Japan,” Zawinul recalled, “we didn’t know what kind of a response we would get, but I couldn’t believe what happened. We thought, ‘What are we gonna do with these Japanese people, man?’ They’re so beautiful, such wonderful listeners, but laid back. That was their culture. So we said, ‘Let’s hit ’em hard, right from the first note,’ and we hit ’em hard.” Joe later told future Weather Report band members that their gig in Sapporo was the best one the band ever played.

All in all, it was a far cry from the club scene where most of Weather Report’s early U.S. appearances took place. There’s more about this tour in my book Elegant People: A History of the Band Weather Report.

As with all of Weather Report’s Japanese tours (there were seven in all), a souvenir program was produced, which you can view by clicking on the thumbnails below.

At some point I acquired some clippings from the March 1972 issue of the Japanese music magazine Ongaku Senka. They include a number of photographs from the tour, including one of the band members at their press conference, and another showing the on-stage production with “WEATHER REPORT” displayed in large letters behind the stage. Click on the thumbnails below for larger views.

Barry Harris, 1929–2021

Pianist Barry Harris died last week at the age of 91. According to his business partner Howard Rees, Harris’s death was caused by complications of Covid-19.

A “steadfast champion of bebop,” as the obituary in the Detroit Free Press put it, Harris was perhaps the best living exponent of the bebop style of jazz piano, revered by many for his playing and his generous spirit when it came to codifying the bebop language and teaching it to others.

Though he was never affiliated with a major educational institution, Harris was renowned for leading informal sessions in which he taught bebop to other musicians, starting in his home in 1950s Detroit, and later at various venues throughout New York City. Many significant musicians came under his tutelage, but Harris was welcoming to students at all levels. Eventually he taught clinics around the world. Harris maintained informal weekly sessions with students until just before his death. According to Mark Stryker, who wrote Harris’s obituary for NPR, Harris taught his last class, via Zoom, on Nov. 20.

Decades earlier, Joe Zawinul was one of the recipients of Harris’s generosity. When Joe settled in New York City in 1959, the city was full of excellent jazz pianists, none of whom, according to Zawinul, sounded like the other. Joe practiced with many of them, trying to soak up as much knowledge as he could. One style that he wasn’t exposed to in Austria was bebop, and there was no one better to practice bebop with than Barry Harris, who had preceded Joe in Cannonball Adderley’s band. They used to get together at a rehearsal room at Riverside Records, which was Harris’s label.

“Barry and I used to rehearse together a lot at that time,” Joe recalled in 1984. “It was kind of a one-sided relationship in one respect, though. I got a lot from him. Coming to jazz when and where I did, I missed the bebop thing, and that was the style of piano playing I wanted to learn. To my mind, Barry was about the closest there was to the pure bebop style—after Bud Powell, that is. Barry has got that down beautifully; he’s a superb musician. We used to spend all our time at Riverside Records’s studios, rehearsing. As I say, he gave me a great deal, and I will never forget it or be able to replay him for it.”

Around 1965, Harris was involved in an incident that motivated Joe to evolve his own personal style of playing. He related the story to me in a 2003 interview:

I was standing on the corner of 52nd Street and Broadway, which is right where Birdland was. And Barry Harris comes out of a cab, and says, “Joe! I gotta tell you something, man. It’s killing me, man!”

“Yeah, what is that?”

“The tune I just heard on the radio in the cab, it was Cannonball, and I swear to God I thought it was me playing, and then they announced it was you, man. Congratulations!”

I said, “Thank you, Barry.” And I was flattered for a minute. But when I thought about it, I said, well, now… What the hell does that mean, man? He’s already copying Bud Powell, and I’m copying him. What the hell is this? So I went home… I went home, right then and there, and put all my records in cellophane, and they are still in it, stashed away. And I never listen to music. I don’t listen to music, not even to my own. I listen to music now because I have to work on it. The moment it’s done, I don’t even know the name of the tunes. I really don’t.

Joe retained warm feelings for Harris throughout his life. But as the 1970s unfolded, Harris grew disillusioned with the music scene in general, which he expressed in a 1977 Down Beat profile. “Harris doesn’t go out to listen to other musicians very often,” the article stated, “explaining that ‘the music has no class now at all.’ ‘I don’t go to clubs much, ’cause musically I can’t deal too much with most of what’s going on—the commercialism, the avant garde musicians.’”

“I’ve been able to make it here (New York) a little bit, not much,” Harris added. “I make enough to send my family some money sometimes. The last few years I’ve been much luckier than I’ve been in my life, and I’ve still never made any money in my life. I’ve made a lot of records and I’ve never received a royalty check off a record in my life. And yet, everywhere in the world I’ve been, I’ve seen my records. It’s pretty weird . . .”

Like a lot of his contemporaries, Harris felt that the younger generations of jazz musicians had sold out the music. He made those feelings clear when he was part of a 1990 jazz piano roundtable that appeared in Keyboard magazine. “Right now, the word ‘jazz’ is like a garbage dump,” he said. “Everything that they can’t classify, they say—ploop!—‘Jazz.’”

When the other panelists brought up the subject of Weather Report in the context of defining jazz, Harris went off: “What kills me about those kinds of groups is that when someone has a jazz festival, they bring these cats together and call them a jazz group. See, I’m one of those people who believes that you cannot lie twenty-three hours of the day and be real for one hour. You can’t be untruthful to something, and then suddenly be this real person and show me that you can do it.”

The interview session went on:

Richie Beirach: Barry, the thing about Weather Report is that there’s no doubt about their jazz credentials. I loved that group; they did great music. But the emphasis was not on improvisation. It was on color, orchestration, and composition.

Harris: Zawinul and all those cats wrote certain tunes that showed their intent. I mean, if you wrote those tunes under the auspices of them being jazz tunes, then you knew they were leading somewhere funny. Joe Zawinul—oh, man, I hate to talk about that cat. It’s almost like we should be blessed because he brought his music to us from Europe.

Beirach: I saw him playing with Dinah Washington, though.

Harris: I know, but when I used to be over here on 46th Street, and I’d go to the studio and practice all day, Joe Zawinul was the first person to come in and stay with me all day [i.e., learning from Harris]. So when you mention those names, I’m real negative about them. I can’t call them jazz musicians.

Kirk Nurock: What you’re saying is fascinating, because it illustrates that this gray area is very controversial.

Harris: Oh, yeah. What makes me mad is that the musicians who were working, young cats—Herbie Hancock, all these cats—they were the ones who was working! They was working more than me! They were the ones who were really helping jazz! And they are the ones who went over to somewhere else. Now, that I don’t understand. They were making it with the music—they were making it!

Beirach: Well, they were making it in your eyes, but maybe it wasn’t enough for them.

Harris: Money, you mean.

Beirach: Well, money, exposure…

Harris: Money!
. . .
Harris: See, I get funny when you mention things like Weather Report.

Nurock: I noticed.

When the journalist Leonard Feather brought Harris’s comments to Joe’s attention later that year, Zawinul laughed it off. “I like Barry Harris,” he responded. “I have no problem with what people say. He is one of the finest, but he’s a copy of Bud Powell. I have arrived, you see. Last summer the Montmartre in Copenhagen they had a list of coming attractions. They had Betty Carter, and they identified her as a jazz vocalist. They bill some band and described it as a rock group. But with my name they had no description. They just said ‘Zawinul.’ Not jazz, not rock, just me. I am my own category.”

Of course, the beauty of it all is that the world is large enough to accommodate both Zawinul and Harris. The former learned bebop so that he could leave it behind in order to forge his own style, while the latter devoted his life to spreading the bebop gospel so that it continues to be played by new generations of jazz pianists.

Rest in peace, Barry Harris.

Harris photo credit: Mirko Caserta, A Day With Barry Harris, 2007.

Fifty Years Ago Today—Beacon Theatre Redux

On this day fifty years ago, Weather Report returned to the Beacon Theatre in New York City for the first of three nights over Thanksgiving weekend, serving as one of the opening acts for Ike and Tina Turner. Also on the bill were Banchee and the Quinames Band. The printed program indicated that the Herbie Hancock Sextet would also participate, but reviews of the shows do not mention him.

Unlike Weather Report’s previous appearance at the Beacon in support of Dr. John, these shows were sold out. However, a ticketing snafu and confusion about the show’s start time led to an overbooking situation. That, coupled with the long wait to see Ike and Tina Turner, caused the audience to boo when Weather Report took the stage. It was, in Variety‘s words, a “rude response.”

It would be almost five years before Weather Report returned to the Beacon, headlining a show with John McLaughlin’s Shakti as the opening act.

Below is the program for the Ike and Tina Turner shows at the Beacon.