Category Archives: Fifty Years Ago Today

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.

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.



Fifty Years Ago Today—Oct. 22, 1971

On Friday, Oct. 22, 1971, Weather Report played the Beacon Theatre, opening for Dr. John the Night Tripper on the first of two back-to-back nights. (The ticket stub above is from the second evening.) This was Weather Report’s first public appearance in New York City—where Joe, Wayne, and Miroslav all lived—and it was also the band’s first gig with drummer Eric Gravatt.

The booking came courtesy of Bow Wow Productions, which leased the theater for a series of concerts in the fall of 1971. One of Bow Wow’s principals was Wayne’s sister-in-law Maria Booker, the wife of bassist Walter Booker. The Booker home was a lively gathering place for musicians and Maria was intent on presenting jazz to support its popular music headliners. In addition to Weather Report, other jazz acts who performed at the Beacon that fall were Herbie Hancock, Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis—all friends of the Bookers.

Nowadays we think of the Beacon as a premier concert venue, but in 1971 it was still primarily a movie house. Having opened nearly forty-two years earlier, it was also showing some wear and tear, so Bow Wow sought to spruce things up a bit. According to an account in the Village Voice, they “[tried] to do right by having foxy looking usherettes, decent sounds, and a band and dancers on the sidewalk at Broadway and 7th Street to boost the neighborhood’s karma a few notches.” Wear and tear or not, the Beacon’s acoustics, which were created for live music accompaniment of silent films, made it one of the band’s favorite venues and Weather Report would return several times over the years.

Of course, the main draw of this show was Dr. John, and Weather Report, being more of an avant garde jazz band veering toward the freer side of things, probably wasn’t a good fit with Dr. John’s audience. The reviews of Weather Reports’s performance were mixed, but one member of Dr. John’s band stood in the wings listening to their set. He remembers it to this day.

“Those guys were killing it on that gig,” guitarist Kenny Klimak told me. “I thought they were amazing. But what I’ll never forget [is that] when they walked off stage at the end of their set Zawinul started bitching at the guys as soon as they were out of the audience’s view, and he continued bitching all the way up several flights of stairs to their dressing room. At least that’s what it sounded like to me. That one instance made me a better musician because I thought what they just played was incredible, but clearly I wasn’t hearing what Zawinul was hearing—he was hearing something more. That made me want to up my game.”

For more about Weather Report’s early days, check out my book Elegant People: A History of the Band Weather Report.