This just makes me smile.
Gabriel Solis has a post on the Oxford University Press blog titled, “Five jazz concerts I wish I had been at.” Coming in at number four is Weather Report Live in Tokyo, 1972. Indeed, I bet a few us wish we could have been there.
As Solis writes, “Recordings of this music can only begin to capture its range. Even on high fidelity equipment, the silences are not as heavy as they would have been in the concert hall, not as pregnant with expectation, and the band at full volume is not as overwhelming. In some sense jazz performances are always a bit of a ritual, but this seems like an immersive experience of another level.”
A friend called this album “savage” Weather Report. And I always liked what Joe said later, “Let’s hit ’em hard, right from the first note.” Indeed, they did.
Check Solis’ article for the other live albums he chose.
I recently interviewed Herschel Dwellingham, one of the drummers who performed on Weather Report’s third album, Sweetnighter. I’ll be updating that page soon, but in the meantime, here’s some background about Herschel himself.
Weather Report fans who know him solely from his work on Sweetnighter may not know that in the sixties and early seventies, Herschel was quite active in the soul and R&B scene in the Boston area, having arrived there in 1963 to attend the Berklee School of Music after graduating from high school in Bogalusa, Louisiana. By the time Weather Report came calling, he was a much-in-demand session drummer, and would soon move to New York to work with top-notch arranger-producers such as Phil Medley (writer of “Twist & Shout” and “One In A Million”), Bert Keyes (Stephanie Mills), Paul Leka (Harry Chapin), and Bert De Coteaux (Sister Sledge and the Manhattans). He and his wife also started their own production company, Helva Records.
One of the earliest tunes Herschel produced in Boston was “Young Girl,” sung by little known Frank Lynch. A few years ago, contemporary R&B artist and Boston native Eli “Paperboy” Reed told the story of “Young Girl” in a post on The Southern Soul List Yahoo group:
[Herschel] became THE arranger, producer and session drummer for basically all the R&B and soul records that came out in Boston between 1963 and 1973. He also was the band leader and drummer at the biggest and best Boston soul club at the time, The Sugar Shack, in addition to writing and arranging commercial jingles at Ace Recording Studios in Boston’s famed combat zone.
Herschel really transformed the soul scene in Boston by combining the southern sound he had gotten growing up in Bogalusa (about 70 miles north of New Orleans) with the formal training he received at Berklee. In fact, the first record he produced in Boston was a cover of a big New Orleans hit, “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” which had been recorded by singer Danny White. Herschel’s version is a great example of that combination of styles and was sung brilliantly by Billy Thompson, and arranged by Herschel’s friend from Berklee, Alf Clausen, who later went on to garner much fame for arranging and writing for The Simpsons television show!
“Young Girl” was recorded in late 1967 and was the second record Herschel ever produced, after the Billy Thompson record. He and the singer, Frank Lynch, had known each other for a few years and after a local DJ failed to follow up on a promise to record Lynch, Herschel decided he would produce him himself. He wrote the song “Young Girl” along with the b-side of the single “People Will Make You Say Things.” This time Herschel did the horn and string arrangements himself, in addition to producing and playing drums. His friend Alf Clausen was involved again, playing the distinctive french horn part on the session! Herschel recorded the song on his own dime and then brought it out on his label, My Records, which he co-owned with his wife, Alva, and Boston area record store impresario Skippy White.
As soon as the record came out in 1968 it was given pick hits by Billboard, Cashbox, and several other trade magazines. “Young Girl” was on its way to taking off before fate intervened. On a Friday night, Frank Lynch was playing with Herschel and his band at the famous Boston club, Paul’s Mall. At the time, Lynch was living with his aunt, with whom he had recently moved in with after living with Herschel and his wife for almost two years. After the gig, Herschel was driving Frank home and said that he was acting “funny” and kept talking about death and about how he knew he was going to die.
That night, Lynch got into an argument with his aunt which escalated into a physical fight. A neighbor called the police who, in the process of arresting Frank, broke his arm. He was taken, along with another prison, to Mass. General Hospital and an armed police officer was stationed there to guard both prisoners. Apparently Frank was still in an odd state because when he came out of the bathroom he started waving a towel at the police officer in a threatening manner. The other prisoner decided to join in and they both advanced toward the officer. The cop shot Frank three times in the head at close range, killing him instantly.
After that night, there was an uproar in Boston’s black community. Frank Lynch’s family sued the city of Boston along with the Boston Police force, but their case was unsuccessful. Boston was still a very racially divided city in 1968 and no one was surprised by the verdict.
Fast forward 40-some years and “Young Girl” was re-discovered by Eli Reed. As Herschel tells it, “Eli found it on the floor of Skippy’s record shop after Skippy had moved out. He took it home and got interested in me and the song. When he got a deal with Capital Records, he told what made the deal go was that they loved the song, and he re-recorded it. He copied my arrangement for Frank Lynch just the way I did it originally. And I just got an email from a music supervisor that it’s going into a new movie, [Kevin Costner’s] Black and White.”
Nowadays, Herschel’s back home in Bogalusa, running his current record company, Bogue Magic City Records. “We started it in 2004,” Herschel recently told me. “I’m an owner. Mary Starr, with whom I’m married to now, is one of the owners. And the singer Marlena, who was Molly Holt from the Rascals, is one of the owners. Right now we’ve got something like 50 releases and 30-some artists. We’re an Internet record label and we’ve been doing pretty well.”
Sweetnighter has had a lasting impact on Dwellingham. “I go to places around the country and they say ‘Herschel Dwellingham’… Even in L.A.… I played the Whisky A Go-Go and people must have known I was going to be there. A lot of drummers were there. Drummers come out wherever I go. That one little album [Sweetnighter] must have put me on the map. Even in Europe. I was in Frankfort and I did master classes and private teaching. It was just unbelievable. My wife and my friends say I really don’t realize what I did and how important to drumming my playing was. I’m just a country boy who doesn’t think nothing about that. To me, I was just trying to make money to feed a wife and three little kids. That’s what I was doing. I didn’t think I was making history or fame or anything. Just trying to keep money in the house.
“When Zawinul was in town at the Blue Note, I was playing somewhere else on the same night, so I couldn’t get there. So I called and asked for him. They said he’s on stage, call back in ten minutes. I called back and said, ‘Tell Joe Zawinul that Herschel Dwellingham is on the phone.’ I thought, this guy isn’t going to remember who the hell I am. But he came to the phone and said, ‘The Boogie Woogie Waltz man!’ I said, ‘You remember me?’ He said, ‘Man, are you kidding?! There wouldn’t be no Weather Report if it wasn’t for you.’ That’s what he called me, The Boogie Woogie Waltz Man. We talked and we were trying for me to come to L.A. and do another album with him, and then he got sick.”
Herschel keeps busy producing a variety of artists from his Bogalusa office and studio. “We have a young girl named Annie Gambino that Marlena and I have been writing and producing for. I’ve got a new Tony Williams, he’s nine years old. His name is DJ; I call him DJ the drummer. I just started teaching him the [Berklee percussion teacher] Alan Dawson system. He’s got a good groove, his tempo is solid, he doesn’t speed up or anything, and he’s going to be a great drummer.” For Herschel, it’s a part of passing down the tradition. “As a kid, I used to watch the great Earl Palmer, and that’s how I got interested in being a drummer. Earl gave me a set of sticks, and I just gave another little guy that I’m teaching a set of sticks. When I go places and I see young people who are enthused and want to play, I keep a bunch of brand new sticks that I give them.
“The latest artist I produced is a 16-year old girl, Marce, who’s going to be another Whitney Houston. She’s dynamite–got the chops and everything. We recently did a Christmas song for her that Marlena and I wrote it, and we put it out on iTunes and all the Internet stores. Early this year there will be a new release from Marlena, a new album by Timothy Wilson, and another song from Marce.
“I also have my own album, Enlightenment. I play all the instruments and Marlena sings. Everything on it is me. And there’s a song called ‘I Thank You Joe’ dedicated to Joe Zawinul. It’s what I think Joe’s style is.
“I’ve got a growing production company and record company, and we’re busy producing and writing,” Herschel concludes. It sounds like life is good for the Boogie Woogie Waltz Man.
Joe’s eldest son, Tony, who also manages the Zawinul estate, is crowd-funding a documentary about Weather Report. You can get the details here. Per Tony’s description:
The film’s amazing cast draws from the early days with Miroslav Vitous and then Alphonso Johnson to the addition of drummers like Chester Thompson and Alex Acuna and further evolving with Jaco Pastorius and Peter Erskine — and then the final years with Omar Hakim and Victor Bailey. Each incarnation of Weather Report was distinct, individually groundbreaking and electrified audiences around the world.
We’ll also hear from the music producers, record executives and managers, and from the generations of musicians who felt the impact of the band.
It’s a huge undertaking to unearth and record the 16 years of Weather Report’s storied history and your support and contributions will allow us to make this happen together.
There are a number of premiums depending on your contribution level. He’s reached about 50% of his funding goal so far. So go have a look and help get in production what promises to be a great piece on Weather Report.
Peter Erskine’s book No Beethoven is now available as a softcover book as well as a Kindle ebook, in addition to the iTunes version that was released earlier this year. The iTunes version has some audio/video goodies and a plethora of photos that I don’t know made it into the Kindle version, so there’s still a good reason to buy it via iTunes if you have the choice.
In any event, as I said then, this book is a must read for Weather Report and Zawinul fans. Get it if you don’t already have it.
Anil Prasad, the journalist behind the superb Innerviews website, has brought back his 1997 Zawinul interview after being absent from the site for a few years. It’s one of the best Zawinul interviews you’ll find anywhere. A wide-ranging conversation, it touches on Joe’s relationship with Jaco and Cannonball, among other things. You can read it here.
Anil also provides a bit of behind-the-scenes story about the interview:
A true touchstone of my music journalism career is back on the Web in an extended “director’s cut” edition: My extensive Joe Zawinul interview. It’s from 1997 and is one of the most extensive interviews Joe ever gave. It’s the first interview in which I felt I was able to truly hold my own against an incredibly powerful personality. I asked some tough questions and didn’t waver, as you’ll see. Joe is my favorite musician of all time, so this was quite an occasion. Funny story: Joe and I did a number of interviews which were compiled into this piece. During one of them, he said some of the most outrageous stuff imaginable, cutting down musicians and music industry people in the most incredibly brutal way. It was amazing stuff. I noticed while he was going off, that he was looking at the recorder. He actually picked it up, looked at it, and smirked at me several times as he was engaged in this verbal assault. I left going “Oh my God, I got Joe Zawinul on tape saying all this incredibly controversial stuff!” I went home. The tape recorder wasn’t running. The tape was blank. Joe knew it all along and said all this stuff he knew I would have no record of. For the record, ever since this event, I run two recorders for every interview I do. 🙂 Miss you Joe….
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.
radio.string.quartet.vienna. has released their new album, Posting Joe, Celebrating the Music of Weather Report-Live, a collection of Zawinul / Weather Report tunes uniquely interpreted by the quartet. It is available from iTunes or from Amazon Germany.
Founded in 2003, r.s.q.v. consists of Bernie Mallinger (violin), Asja Valcic (cello), Cynthia Liao (viola) and Igmar Jenner (violin). The background for the album is described in the press release from ACT Music:
Ever since r.s.q.v was founded in 2003, it has been innovatively broadening the spectrum of the string quartet. The idea to dedicate the fifth album “Posting Joe” to the great jazz genius from Vienna was not new. “Although we have never had a specific plan,” Liao says, “Zawinul’s music has always been there. Already after our Mahavishnu album, which made us internationally known, we were about to start a Zawinul project. But then we became engaged with “Radiotree” together with accordionist Klaus Paier. Even so, the album included two r.s.q.v versions of Zawinul’s pieces.”
However, the expansion of the idea was postponed due to a proposition by the irresistible Rigmor Gustafsson, which resulted in the album “Calling You”. After this project the urge to work with material of their own was even greater. Their own compositions of dream interpretations on “Radiodream”, released in 2011, on which Igmar Jenner replaced Johannes Dickbauer on violin, marked the last tessera of r.s.q.v’s extraordinary work hitherto.
After that the timing was perfect to go about a project that had long been postponed. Not least due to an invitation to play at an updated Zawinul biography presentation by Brian Glasser in London and an invitation to the “Zawinul Music Days” in Vienna by Zawinul’s former manager Risa Zinke. There was a further advantage to the project as well. Valcic: “Not only had Zawinul been in our hearts for ages, but we had also been thinking of doing a live album for a long time, since our concerts had developed certain dynamics of their own in comparison to the studio recordings.”
That is why the second part in all “Radiodream” concerts was dedicated to Zawinul. “We recorded at least eight of these sets. That way we could choose performances that we were completely satisfied with.” Recordings from all over Europe are combined into a Zawinul homage – from the legendary Music Association in Vienna, from Pori in Finnland, from Zagreb, Warsaw, Zürich and Ravensburg. On “Posting Joe” r.s.q.v. is sending musical declarations of love to one of the greatest jazz musicians of all times.
UPDATE: John Fordham at The Guardian has posted a five-star review of Posting Joe.
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