Category Archives: Fifty Years Ago Today

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.

Fifty Years Ago Today—July 19, 1971

On July 19, 1971, Weather Report began a weeklong stand at the Jazz Workshop in Boston. Aside from the June appearance at Penn State, these were Weather Report’s first public performances in the United States. Club gigs like this—in which the band performed two or three sets a night, several nights in a row—would be typical of Weather Report’s early years until college campuses began dominating their itinerary midway through 1973.

Interestingly, the advanced publicity and billing for the band’s appearance favored Joe Zawinul. For instance, the Boston Globe described the band as “Weather Report (Joe Zawinul),” and the Boston Herald promoted Weather Report with a photograph of Zawinul, under which the caption read:

Joe Zawinul, composer of “Bitches Brew” [he composed “Pharaoh’s Dance,” not “Bitches Brew”] and “Mercy, Mercy” and for years featured with Cannonball Adderly [sic], has teamed up with Wayne Shorter, formerly with Miles Davis to form the jazz group called “Weather Report.” Thy [sic] will be appearing at the Jazz Workshop tomorrow through July 25.

I think the reason for this is that Zawinul hired Sid Bernstein to manage him before forming Weather Report, after which Bernstein also took on the band. Back in those days, Billboard ran a year-end supplement called “Talent In Action,” which contained an encyclopedic list of U.S. recording artists who appeared on one or more of the Billboard charts during the previous year. Each entry included the artist’s recordings, awards, significant personal appearances, booking agent, and personal manager. In the December 1971 issue, Bernstein was listed as Joe’s personal manager as well as Weather Report’s. (Wayne Shorter and Miroslav Vitous were not listed at all.) I believe Joe’s relationship with Bernstein predated Weather Report to when Joe was mulling over options on the heels of recording his eponymous album in August 1970.

Here’s another interesting thing about those “Talent In Action Listings”: Weather Report was described as an instrumental group of four members (no permanent percussionist?), whereas Zawinul was described as a vocal and instrumental group of five. But back to the Jazz Workshop…

Although heavy rains saturated the Boston area on Monday’s opening night, the club was filled to capacity. It was a small room with a bar at one end and a stage at the other, with rows of chairs separating the two. As it was located about a half mile from the Berklee School of Music, many of those in attendance were Berklee students. One student in those days, James Bogard, described how the club catered to the school’s pupils:

Berklee students with school ID were allowed to attend performances on a limited, standby basis, usually on week nights. Even though the drinking age in Massachusetts was 21 at the time, the club allowed underaged Berklee students to sit along the north wall of the room and order soft drinks. There was a cover charge [for Weather Report it was $2.50 on weeknights, $3:00 on Friday and Saturday] and a two-drink minimum per set, but this was a wonderful experience to hear these musicians we were studying and wanted to emulate. Though most of us knew we would never achieve that goal, it was very inspirational and awe inspiring to hear these masters in person.

By this time, there would have been a buzz around Berklee regarding Weather Report. Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, and Miroslav Vitous would all have been familiar names to the students (and faculty). Weather Report’s debut album had already been released, and it had received write-ups from the major music magazines, including Down Beat. Consequently, the Boston Globe observed that “the music was greeted with an awed respect by the audience of young musicians,” adding, “It is obvious from this week’s attendances that the young have found a new sound that they like.”

A curious thing about this gig is that Barbara Burton played percussion with the band. She had participated in the studio sessions that produced Weather Report’s eponymous album, but most of her tracks weren’t used after Zawinul invited Airto Moreira to overdub additional percussion parts. After Airto refused Zawinul’s entreaties to join the band, he recommended a friend and elder from Brazil, Dom Um Romão, who joined Weather Report for its first gig at Penn State University, as well as their subsequent trip to Europe in late June. But for reasons unknown, he was replaced by Burton for this gig.

When I interviewed Burton, she remembered the Boston gig as being at Paul’s Mall, an understandable error considering that the Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall were separate rooms in the same building, and run by the same folks. They operated concurrently, with Paul’s Mall booking less jazz-oriented acts. (The music rooms were in the basement; the building also housed a restaurant and movie theater upstairs.) Burton also described the gig as taking place before Weather Report’s debut album was released, which is another misconception. We know that Burton played these specific gigs on these dates because a contemporaneous account in the Boston Globe cites her by name, “augmenting the drum parts with horns, scrapers, bells, and assorted gear.”

While Burton enjoyed playing with the band, there were some circumstances that gave her pause. For instance, she claims to have not gotten paid. “I remember the night we played in Boston for one week, and it was so odd,” she told me. “My husband, the last night, overheard Joe and the club owner discussing how they were not going to pay the band. And they didn’t.”

“The club didn’t pay the band?” I asked.

“They didn’t pay us,” Burton reiterated.

“Now, who didn’t pay you? Joe?”

“Joe didn’t pay us for a week’s work.”

“What was his rationale for that?”

“Well, he said that the club owner said that they didn’t make enough money, but the place was packed every night.”

Indeed, according to the Boston Globe and Boston Herald, the club was full throughout Weather Report’s stand. A band that didn’t get paid wasn’t going to be a band for very long, so there must be more to this story. Just speculating, but perhaps the full-fare audience was not so large, with Berklee students filling out the crowd at a reduced rate, leading to a shortfall at the box office. In any event, Burton’s Weather Report career didn’t go any further. After Boston, Dom Um returned, remaining a part of the band until late 1974.

As for the performances themselves, Ernie Santosuosso wrote in the Boston Globe:

The first impression one gets of [Weather Report’s] sound is percussion, lots of it. . . . However, when you rivet your ears to the music, you discover that the group is playing three-tiered sound, certainly not simplistic, but impressive in its execution.

On one level, Zawinul operates almost unobtrusively, through undeterred. Shorter, either on soprano or tenor, plays at a higher and more discernible stage with impeccable phrasing, all the more surprising in this semi-free [Mouzon] and Barbara Burton form setting. Vitous, add still another layer of sound to this intricate kaleidoscope. Zawinul hardly dominates. If there is any one musician who commands the spotlight, it is Shorter, but his artistry and the role his reeds fill command the attention.

The Boston Herald‘s Charles Guiliano noted there was “none of the Adderley funkiness” that one might expect Zawinul to bring to the table. Instead, he described the music as closely paralleling Miles Davis’s current group. He went on to say, “The playing of Zawinul and Shorter was always perfectly wedded. Zawinul drives the group with ethereal effects on his Fender Rhodes electric piano. He gets a wide range of textures beyond the limits of conventional keyboard, and at times tontally complements Shorter’s reed work. Wayne Shorter played in a tasteful, almost sparing manner which generated its own drive.”

Guiliano wasn’t too impressed with the drumming and percussion, choosing to focus much of his review on Joe. “Zawinul can swing when he wants to,” Guiliano wrote. “He also writes some brilliant melodies and these are the elements that are most resolved about Weather Report. At this point, some of the free-form experiments just don’t hold water. Zawinul seems to know what he wants in his head but is having trouble relating it within the group, where the content is diluted in individual interpretations.”

From that description, it seems clear that he was under the impression that this was Zawinul’s band, doesn’t it?

Fifty Years Ago Today—July 5, 1971: The Concert That Wasn’t

So fresh on the heels of performing at the Third International Music Forum in early July, Weather Report flew back to the States for a Monday afternoon concert at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 5. As I described in my book, Elegant People, this was viewed by Columbia Records as a sort of coming-out party for Weather Report, whose debut album had been released a month or so earlier. Also on the bill were Miles Davis and the British progressive rock outfit, Soft Machine.

With that lineup, this would have been a great concert to attend, right? Except it got canceled after gate-crashers stormed the stage on Saturday night, destroying the equipment on stage and causing a near-riot. As a result, the City of Newport put an end to that year’s festival, which was forced to relocate to New York City the next year after it became persona non grata in Rhode Island. Later in the year, Weather Report participated in a benefit concert to help recoup some of the losses incurred by George Wein, the festival’s organizer.

Associated Press report about the cancelation of the 1971 Newport Jazz Festival.

Fifty Years Ago Today (More or Less)

[Second in an ongoing series highlighting significant events in Weather Report’s history on their fiftieth anniversary. The first post in the series covered Weather Report’s inaugural public performance.]

The second public performance of Weather Report that I know about took place at the Third International Music Forum, held in the lakeside resort town of Ossiach, Austria. The exact date isn’t clear, for reasons that I will explain below. But first, a bit about the festival itself.

Third International Music Forum

The “3. Internationales Musikforum Ossiachersee 1971,” as it was titled in German, was organized by Friedrich Gulda, a world class concert pianist with broad musical interests, and a friend of Joe’s going back to the early 1950s. Two years older than Zawinul, Gulda was also born in Vienna, and came to prominence by winning the prestigious Geneva International Music Competition in 1946 at the age of 16. Gulda made his United States concert debut at Carnegie Hall in 1950. While there, he found time to pursue his interest in jazz, visiting the clubs in New York and bringing jazz records back to Austria. For jazz musicians in Austria, Gulda’s tales about what he saw in New York, and the records he came home with, served as a lifeline to the jazz world at large, and reinforced the almost mythological standing of the jazz club Birdland to his fellow countrymen.

Gulda had organized the first two music forums in 1968 and 1969 (there was no event in 1970), and for the third festival he envisioned a significant gathering on an international scale, spanning eleven days, and presenting all kinds of music, including classical, exotic, folklore, pop, jazz, and electronic music. Some referred to it as the “Woodstock of Carinthia.” Among the headliners were Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, Weather Report, and Gulda himself.

Not everyone was happy with Gulda’s ambitions. The large crowds the festival attracted so overwhelmed the bucolic village of Ossiach (population approximately 500) that it wasn’t invited back. At one point Gulda was confronted in a local tavern and called an asshole to his face—something he later laughed off to the assembled press.

The exact date of Weather Report’s Ossiach performance remains a mystery to me. You can find unofficial recordings on the Internet that claim the date was July 27, but the festival took place from June 25 through July 5, so July 27 can’t be right. That led me to speculate that maybe the date was off by a month, making it June 27, which would fit within the festival’s schedule.

However, I have a partial reproduction of the festival program, which was originally posted as part of a piece about Pink Floyd’s performances in Austria (of which there were six over the years). Only the program pages pertaining to Pink Floyd were posted, including a page showing the festival calendar for June 25 to July 1. The next page, which would have described the remaining days, wasn’t posted. (We were so close to unraveling this mystery!) Based on this, we see that Weather Report wasn’t listed on any performances through July 1. So either Weather Report wasn’t included in the program (unlikely, though maybe it was a late addition), or it would have performed after July 1.

Third International Music Forum program excerptThird International Music Forum program excerpt

We also know that Weather Report was scheduled to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island on the afternoon of July 5. To make that date, the band would have had to fly back to the United States no later than July 4, implying that Weather Report performed at Ossiach on July 2 or July 3. Furthermore, Ossiach is about a four-hour drive from Vienna, where the nearest international airport is located, so it seems likely that Weather Report performed on July 2, traveled to Vienna on July 3, and flew back to the United States later that day or on July 4. I hate unresolved questions like this, so if anyone out there has more definitive information, let me know!

Despite the uncertainty of the date of Weather Report’s gig, we do know they were there because there is surviving video of the band at Ossiach. In the video below, Weather Report makes an appearance at the 1:34 mark, where you see all of the band members setting up for their concert. Later, at 2:20, we see them in action.

Another snippet of video can be found at YouTube (with Gulda nodding along):

I understand that video of Weather Report’s entire Ossiach performance exists, and was at one time was posted on YouTube, but has since been removed. You can find the audio on YouTube, however. In addition, a triple-LP, Ossiach Live, was released in 1971 and includes Weather Report’s performance of “Eurydice.”

It seems likely that Weather Report could have played other dates while in Europe, perhaps at clubs, but no information to that effect has surfaced. We know that Weather Report performed at Penn State University on June 9 (according to Zawinul, this was in fact the band’s first public performance), so there would have been time for Weather Report to do some gigs in Europe leading up to the Music Forum.

Weather Report would make another trip to Europe in 1971, late summer. More about that later.