Category Archives: Wayne Shorter

Remembering Weather Report’s 1972 Tour with Santana

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So in keeping with my “fifty years ago today” theme, I should have written this post in mid-December. Oops! Still, it’s worth highlighting these unique gigs, even if a month late, so here goes.

In December 1972, the rock group Santana was fresh off a 19-concert, 27-day jaunt across Europe when it returned to the United States for a short tour that kicked off in New Orleans on December 9. At the time, Santana was hugely successful commercially—its previous two albums had hit #1 on the commercial charts—and it had just released its fourth studio album, Caravanserai. That record was a departure from Santana’s previous work, emphasizing improvisation and open-ended structures. In that endeavor, Carlos Santana and his musical partner Michael Shrieve were influenced by “all sorts of funk and jazz stuff,” but especially Miles Davis, Weather Report and Herbie Hancock. So a concert pairing with Weather Report wasn’t completely outlandish even though Weather Report was still essentially an avant garde jazz group at this point. And given that both were signed to Columbia Records, it was probably welcomed by the label.

I have contemporaneous confirmation for four shows: New Orleans; Dallas; Lubbock, Texas; and Tuscon, Arizona. A website visitor remembers a show in San Antonio, Texas, and there may have been one in El Paso as well. They were arranged by Bill Graham, the San Francisco–based promoter who was an early supporter of Santana’s, and who accompanied the troupe on this tour. (Brian Risner remembers him always being first off the airplane and immediately on the pay phones, conducting business.) When Graham asked Santana who he would like to have as the opening act, it took him “less than a second” to say Weather Report.

Santana was especially enamored with Wayne’s playing, and he and other band members would listen to Weather Report’s sets from the side of the stage each night. However, it wasn’t the happiest of tours for Weather Report. They got about 45 minutes of stage time in front of crowds that weren’t there to see them, and the response could be rather rude. Even Carlos found it uncomfortable when people would scream “Santana” while Weather Report was playing, as he related in his autobiography, The Universal Tone. “I wanted to go onstage, grab the mike, and say, ‘Hey, shut the fuck up! This is Weather Report—this is Wayne Shorter. You’re embarrassing me!’” He thought that maybe Santana could open the shows instead, but Graham dissuaded him of that idea, explaining, correctly, that people would leave as soon as Santana was done.

I have one review from these shows (from Tucson) and it confirms the audience’s attitude toward Weather Report.

The unknown and the well-known—that’s what it was at the Community Center Arena last night. Santana and Weather Report. Who has ever heard of Weather Report? Well, now Tucson has. They weren’t well received at all and it’s difficult to say why. I’m sure they won’t be forgotten.

None of Weather Report’s five men spoke a word—not even to introduce their songs, if that’s what you call them.

It was very free-form music, the success of which depends upon how well the musicians can interact with one another spontaneously. All of this added up to a set pervaded with subtle, fleeting, morsels of music followed by tense moments of waiting for them to do it again. I waited gladly, but “boos” could be frequently heard between numbers along with the cheers of the few but vociferous devotees.

Maybe the day will come when teenagers can trust a group with a balding piano player.

After that show, Santana recalled going up to Wayne and finding him “a little cool to me. I could tell that opening for Santana was not his favorite experience.” Nevertheless, Wayne took away some lessons that he recalled 35 years later in a JazzTimes article by George Varga.

There was a big snowstorm [in Lubbock]. And even after the storm let up a little and we went to the venue, we didn’t see any cars in the parking area, just a few buses. Then we went inside and the place was packed! We, as Weather Report guys, kind of realized, “People will get here super-early, even in a snow storm, to hear Santana.” This kind of affectionate crowd, with that degree of dedication, was something we didn’t see in a straight jazz-oriented setting.

Beyond the music, I could see in Carlos’s eyes and even in the attitude of the guys in the band that there was a humanistic approach to almost everything they did and were doing. I noticed that they were not like a band, but like a family. And I just couldn’t help but see this tremendous, reciprocal respect from Carlos to the band and from the band to Carlos. Of course we’d heard about him from Woodstock. But when we signed with Columbia Records, Carlos was the number one record-seller. Where Carlos was a challenge for us was to try to achieve that kind of audience, to gather that kind of audience in those kinds of numbers, to hear what we were doing. Carlos’s fame, audience-wise, ignited our imaginations to see if we could do that our way and accomplish that kind of audience recognition. We considered our music [to be] storytelling and almost very visual.

Another byproduct of this tour was the friendship that developed between Miroslav Vitous and Santana bass player Doug Rauch. The latter introduced Miroslav to former Sly and the Family Stone drummer Greg Errico, and the three of them would jam at Errico’s house in the San Francisco Bay Area. This would eventually lead to Errico joining Weather Report in June 1973.

The day after the Tuscon gig, everyone took a charter flight to San Francisco, where Graham gave Weather Report two more gigs at Winterland, opening for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention the first night and B.B. King the second night. The San Francisco crowd seemed more receptive to the band than those of the Santana tour. Philip Elwood, the longtime music writer for the San Francisco Examiner, wrote that Weather Report was “the first new-sounds, or ‘jazz,’ group to have ever gotten a Winterland rock crowd really turned on.” The band turned in “a perfectly beautiful short set. Their ability to indicate rhythmic integrity and use dynamic surprise to perfection made their music exciting while still artistically valid. . . . If you are going to Winterland tonight be sure to hear Weather Report. Incredible.”

Weather Report performed with Santana at least one other time, at the Cleveland Coliseum in 1976. John McLaughlin’s Shakti was also on the bill. (Weather Report and Shakti did a number of joint concerts that year.) Over the years, Wayne and Santana also performed at several benefit concerts and a friendship developed, culminating in them touring together in 1988. Their performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival tour is preserved in CD and DVD form (Live At The 1988 Montreux Jazz Festival by the Carlos Santana–Wayne Shorter Band). And of course, one other Weather Report–related Santana connection is that he played on Weather Report’s final album, This Is This, effectively substituting for Wayne, who had already begun his post–Weather Report career and was unavailable for all but a cameo on that record.

Wayne Shorter: Zero Gravity

There’s a new documentary project underway about Wayne titled WAYNE SHORTER: ZERO GRAVITY. According to project’s website, “ZERO GRAVITY is an intimate portrait of an artist who has influenced music for over six generations. Wayne Shorter continues to break through the imposed limitations of jazz with even more innovative compositions and recordings than he has achieved in the last 50 years. The inception of ZERO GRAVITY began in 2006 and principal photography is now in progress. Join us in celebrating Wayne Shorter’s life and musical legacy by pledging to help us complete this film by 2014.”

The production team is using crowdsourcing to raise funding. You can contribute to the project at their PledgeMusic site.

In other news, the Jazz Journalist Association voted Wayne a three-time winner in the 17th annual JJA Jazz Awards voting in the categories of Lifetime Achievement in Jazz, Small Ensemble of the Year, and Soprano Saxophonist of the Year.

“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.

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