Author Archives: curt

“Jazz shouldn’t have any mandates”

Wayne Shorter, speaking to NPR in February:

Jazz shouldn’t have any mandates. Jazz is not supposed to be something that’s required to sound like jazz. For me, the word ‘jazz’ means, ‘I dare you.’ The effort to break out of something is worth more than getting an A in syncopation. This music, it’s dealing with the unexpected. No one really knows how to deal with the unexpected. How do you rehearse the unknown?

Peter Erskine’s New Book, No Beethoven

no-beethoven

Peter Erskine has written a gem of a new book. No Beethoven is his autobiography and “chronicle of Weather Report,” which he has published as an ebook, available from iTunes for the iPad. It’s a must-read for Weather Report and Zawinul fans, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the existing biographies of Wayne, Joe and Jaco. The book is packed with Peter’s stories and behind-the-scene anecdotes about the band, Joe, Wayne and Jaco — not to mention tons of photos.

Those stories are artfully interspersed with Peter’s narrative of his own life. As he recounts in the early chapters, he took to drumming at an early age and was something of a child prodigy, gaining admission to the Stan Kenton summer jazz camp at the age of seven despite the 14-year minimum age requirement. By the time he was 18, he was on the road with the Kenton Orchestra. Three years later, he quit to go back to school, but that was short-lived as a summer tour with Maynard Ferguson wound up turning into two years. It was with Maynard that Jaco first heard Peter, and that encounter ultimately lead to Erskine joining Weather Report in the summer of 1978.

At the time, they were finishing up the recording of Mr. Gone and getting ready for a tour of Japan. Erskine recounts in detail his first rehearsal with the band, Joe’s band rules (which really only consisted of one rule); his participation on Mr. Gone; and his “homework,” which consisted of book reading.

Peter’s relationship with Joe is a central theme throughout No Beethoven, and his insights into Zawinul’s personality are priceless. There are other books about Joe — Brian Glasser’s In A Silent Way being the obvious one — but No Beethoven offers a more personal take, one that gives us a more human portrayal of Joe than we’ve seen elsewhere. As Peter says in the book, “[Joe] was gruff and he could be rough as well as scatological and hyperbolic in the extreme. He was also a sweet and very funny man. Easily the most intense musician I’ve ever know.” All of that comes through in Erskine’s telling.

Having said all that, this is much more than a book about Weather Report. I must admit that when I first got it, I scanned through the pages looking for the Weather Report stuff. But I wound up going back and reading it from start to finish and thoroughly enjoyed it. Peter’s writing style is engaging and along the way he imparts pearls of wisdom about being a musician and about life. There’s plenty of material about Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Steps Ahead, and the many great musicians Peter has worked with over the years.

No Beethoven will eventually be available for the Kindle, Nook and Sony e-readers. German and Japanese translations are also in the works, as well as a CD-ROM version of the book to be released in Japan later this year. But for now, owners of iPads have a treat in store for them.

Radio String Quartet Vienna

posting-joe

radio.string.quartet.vienna. has released their new album, Posting Joe, Celebrating the Music of Weather Report-Live, a collection of Zawinul / Weather Report tunes uniquely interpreted by the quartet. It is available from iTunes or from Amazon Germany.

Founded in 2003, r.s.q.v. consists of Bernie Mallinger (violin), Asja Valcic (cello), Cynthia Liao (viola) and Igmar Jenner (violin). The background for the album is described in the press release from ACT Music:

Ever since r.s.q.v was founded in 2003, it has been innovatively broadening the spectrum of the string quartet. The idea to dedicate the fifth album “Posting Joe” to the great jazz genius from Vienna was not new. “Although we have never had a specific plan,” Liao says, “Zawinul’s music has always been there. Already after our Mahavishnu album, which made us internationally known, we were about to start a Zawinul project. But then we became engaged with “Radiotree” together with accordionist Klaus Paier. Even so, the album included two r.s.q.v versions of Zawinul’s pieces.”

However, the expansion of the idea was postponed due to a proposition by the irresistible Rigmor Gustafsson, which resulted in the album “Calling You”. After this project the urge to work with material of their own was even greater. Their own compositions of dream interpretations on “Radiodream”, released in 2011, on which Igmar Jenner replaced Johannes Dickbauer on violin, marked the last tessera of r.s.q.v’s extraordinary work hitherto.

After that the timing was perfect to go about a project that had long been postponed. Not least due to an invitation to play at an updated Zawinul biography presentation by Brian Glasser in London and an invitation to the “Zawinul Music Days” in Vienna by Zawinul’s former manager Risa Zinke. There was a further advantage to the project as well. Valcic: “Not only had Zawinul been in our hearts for ages, but we had also been thinking of doing a live album for a long time, since our concerts had developed certain dynamics of their own in comparison to the studio recordings.”

That is why the second part in all “Radiodream” concerts was dedicated to Zawinul. “We recorded at least eight of these sets. That way we could choose performances that we were completely satisfied with.” Recordings from all over Europe are combined into a Zawinul homage – from the legendary Music Association in Vienna, from Pori in Finnland, from Zagreb, Warsaw, Zürich and Ravensburg. On “Posting Joe” r.s.q.v. is sending musical declarations of love to one of the greatest jazz musicians of all times.

A video teaser has been posted at YouTube, which I have included below. You can also download a free bonus track, “The Juggler,” from the r.s.q.v. Facebook page.

UPDATE: John Fordham at The Guardian has posted a five-star review of Posting Joe.

Joe Zawinul’s New Orleans Connection

I have written a new article exploring Joe’s relationship with Willie Tee and other musicians from the Crescent City. If you’ve ever wondered about the Willie Tee who wrote the song “Can It Be Done?” on Domino Theory, or who some of the seemingly unknown musicians on Joe’s 1970 album Zawinul were, then this article helps to answer those questions.

Mysterious Travellers

Wayne on the title Mysterious Traveller:

Mysterious Traveller meant that comet Kohoutek [the overhyped celestial event of 1973/74], which was a mysterious visitor–so we had that cover of a comet over Madagascar. It was a mystery about where was it born, and that means our life too, here we are: all mysterious travelers. The title also came from a radio show that came on every Friday when I was growing up: this guy got on a train and told you a story.”

JazzTimes, June 2002

The New Annotated Discography

Look! It’s a new version of the discography. Things hadn’t changed around here in quite a while; 2005, to be exact. Since then, the web has changed considerably, and the discography needed to change with them. The type became smaller and smaller as computer screens increased in resolution, and modern web browsers failed to format the pages properly. It was looking pretty bad.

So at the end of 2012 I took the plunge and re-implemented the discography using WordPress. I’m pleased with the results. Now it looks good on modern browsers — Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 and 10 — and it probably looks lousy on old browsers (Internet Explorer 7 and 8). Just the opposite of the way it used to behave! And it also adapts to the screen size; it’s eminently readable on iPads and iPhones. I like that.

Although my immediate goal was to move the site to more robust underpinnings, there have been some content updates as well. In particular, I reworked the Weather Report (1971) page to more accurately reflect the events leading up to the formation of the band.

Some of you will notice that I still haven’t included compilations or the albums that were released after the demise of the band. Of course, there have been several notable additions to Weather Report’s officially published discography, especially documenting the band’s live performances, such as Live And Unreleased and the trio of concert issues produced by the Zawinul estate in 2011. We’ve also been treated to official versions of video that had previously circulated underground among the unofficial recording collectors. I do intend to get to these at some point, but the focus here has always been to tell the story through the albums the band made while it existed.

One of the joys that has come out of this site and its sister site, Zawinul Online, has been the opportunity to speak with many of the musicians whose music I love. I interviewed Joe Zawinul on several occasions, both at his home in Malibu and by telephone. I have also interviewed Wayne Shorter, Miroslav Vitous, Alphonso Johnson, Peter Erskine, Ndugu Chancler, Jim Swanson (Weather Report’s last keyboard tech), and the Chief Meteorologist, Brian Risner. Along, the way I penned liner notes for two albums, wrote a long feature article about Joe for Wax Poetics, and this site has been acknowledged as a source in three books. I feel lucky.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the new, improved annotated discography. If you have any feedback, feel free to leave a comment or contact me via the Contact page.

Cheers,
Curt