Category Archives: Fifty Years Ago Today

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.

Fifty Years Ago Today—Weather Report in Central and South America

Melody Maker, July 8, 1972.
Right after the Gaslight Au Go Go gigs, Weather Report flew to Mexico City to start a thirteen-concert tour of Central and South America. The tour was a byproduct of Joe Zawinul’s longstanding friendship with pianist Friedrich Gulda, a fellow Austrian two years older than Joe who also hailed from Vienna. By this time, Gulda was an international star—a “demigod” in Joe’s words—and the headliner of the tour. Weather Report served as the opening act, after which Gulda performed classical pieces on solo piano. He and Joe also played a piano duet each night.

One indication of Gulda’s star power at the point was that he flew first class while Weather Report flew economy. But Weather Report benefited from Gulda’s ability to dictate a relaxed schedule. “For us it was a very comfortable tour because Gulda didn’t want to play every day,” Joe recalled to Gunther Baumann (here translated from German to English). “In Costa Rica, we stayed for a week. The strange thing was, Gulda was nowhere to be seen outside the concerts with us. That he flew first class and we flew economy was okay, but otherwise, he kept to himself. But of course I’m very grateful to him: Through this tour, we were one of the most popular bands in America. In 1978, we performed at the great Luna Park arena in Buenos Aires, all alone. The hall had 18,000 seats, and they still had to carry in extra chairs. That was one of the most popular—and best—concerts that we’ve ever played. When we wanted to drive an hour to the hotel after the concert, Wayne and I had to be carried over the people. Hundreds of fans waited at the exit for us.”

Wayne Shorter was particularly taken with what he saw and heard on this tour. According to an interview that appeared in Melody Maker later that year, Wayne talked at length about his experiences in Central and South America and claimed to have written a tune inspired by the Aztec pyramids. In Rio de Janeiro, the band cut short its own performance so they could hop in a waiting cab to go see the Brazilian singer/songwriter Milton Nascimento. “He’s digging deeper than Gilberto or Jobim or anyone into certain areas of life and sensibility,” Wayne said. “I heard some things there that made me feel reincarnated!” A few years later, Wayne would team up with Nascimento to record Native Dancer, the only album Shorter made under his own name during the Weather Report years.

Meanwhile, some concert attendees, expecting to hear an evening of classical music, were put off by Weather Report’s style of music. According to one report from Argentina, “The reception of this group was not too good, because the audience here is not much on the avant garde side of things.” That said, some listeners came away as inspired by Weather Report as the band members were by the likes of Nascimento.

Alyrio Lima remembered seeing the band in Rio de Janiero. “They were here in Brazil and I had to go and see them,” Lima told me years later. “My friend was the stage manager for the theater where they were performing, so I got a front row seat, which in fact was a backstage pass. It was a superb performance by the band, especially from Wayne and the drummer Eric Gravatt. That night I decided to go to New York and see how I would manage playing with musicians of that level of art in form of beauty. I was a rock-influenced drummer and initially my wish was to meet Jimi Hendrix and play with him. After the concert in Brazil, it was a turning point because I saw great masters, musicians praying with their playing, at ease with the newness of that magical musical moment, of the fusion.”

Lima subsequently came to the U.S. as a student at the prestigeous New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. While there, he was introduced to Weather Report’s manager, Bob Devere, who ultimately called him for the Tale Spinnin’ recording sessions and the tours that followed.

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.