By the way, George is the author of The Last Miles: The Music of Miles Davis 1980-1991, the most comprehensive look at the final decade of Davis’s music. Highly recommended. Of interest to Jaco Pastorius fans, George recently posted interviews with drummer Lenny White and Japanese photographer Shigeru Uchiyama at his website, both of whom speak about their interactions with Jaco. (Shigeru also contributed many photographs to my book.)
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!
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.