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.