Fifty years ago this month, Weather Report performed in London for the first time, holding forth for two weeks at Ronnie Scott’s Club. Their visit was highly anticipated. Melody Maker, Britain’s leading music weekly, called the band the “undisputed leaders at the crossroads where jazz meets rock,” and their engagement “possibly the most important date in London this week.”
These gigs, which began on July 17 and concluded on the 30th, came on the heels of a busy month for Weather Report. Bob Devere, the band’s new manager, kept them on the road for most of June, 1972, with week-long stints at the Jazz Workshop in Boston, the Esquire Show Bar in Montreal, and the Lighthouse in Southern California’s Hermosa Beach.
Melody Maker dispatched its lead jazz writer, Richard Williams, to review the London performances. He also interviewed Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter, resulting in feature articles of both in the coming weeks.
Williams’s review reads as follows:
Weather Report is quite plainly one of the most effective bands of its type in the world. Where fusions are concerned, they operate seamlessly and effortlessly in the limbo between the electronics of rock and the creative improvisational interplay of jazz.
Their opening sets at Ronnie Scott’s Club, London, on Monday night obviously impressed the audience—indeed, who could fail to be moved in one way or another by the extreme facility, empathy, and power of this quintet?
They moved through sequences of highly sophisticated compositions with a practised ease which made it hard to define where writing left off and improvisation began, and there’s no doubt that they managed to create a far more spontaneous atmosphere than the Mahavishnu Orchestra or the Miles Davis groups, both of which seem rigid by comparison.
Individually, all five are masters. Joe Zawinul comes over as the leader, intentionally or not, playing with fuzz-tone and Echoplex to produce alien sonorities on the Fender piano. I do wish, sometimes, that he’d make use of the instrument’s softer tonalities—as he’s done on record in the past, to great effect.
As it was, his hard sound often blotted out the unassertive qualities of Wayne Shorter’s soprano sax—although when Shorter’s bitten-off phrases did cut through, the sound was marvelous. His tenor-playing is rather more aggressive, with a wholly personal tone and a method of phrasing which at first sounds crabbed but later reveals itself as astonishingly subtle.
Miroslav Vitous is a young giant of the bass, and it would have been good to hear more of him, too—particularly that incredibly emotional arco tone. Drummer Eric Gravatt impressed me much more than previously: he’s a neat, compact player who responds immediately to the musical needs of the other players, and who can also steam away at the head of the group when required.
Brazilian percussionist Dom Um Romão added a lot to the rhythmic and tonal palette, and seems much more group-conscious than his better-known contemporary, Airto Moreira. His playing is completely organic to the group’s overall sound, and his traditional melody on the berimbau, incorporating a little dance, was one of the highlights.
But still, I found that they left me a little cold for long stretches. Perhaps it’s the element of electronic sophistication which puts me off—or maybe Zawinul should just go easy on the volume pedal. Whatever, Weather Report have no peers in their ability to create extraordinary textures, and they should certainly be heard.
There are a number of interesting observations in this review. Regarding Zawinul’s “hard sound,” Joe was at the time using a harsh, distorted sound on his Fender Rhodes electric piano, as can be heard throughout the Live In Toyko album, recorded six months earlier. That would change with Weather Report’s next album Sweetnighter, and in the ensuing years Joe would produce among the most expressive bodies of work ever produced on the Rhodes electric piano.
Miroslav’s “arco tone” was a reference to his playing acoustic bass with a bow, something he did to beautiful effect on “Orange Lady” from Weather Report’s debut album. Coupled with Wayne’s soprano, it was a sound that Down Beat editor Dan Morgenstern described as “quite beyond description.”
As for Dom Um Romão, many reviewers of Weather Report’s shows singled out Romão for praise, even if they didn’t know what instruments he was playing. The berimbau, for instance, was an instrument that most American writers were unfamiliar with at the time. In addition to his musical sensibilities, Romão added some showmanship to the band’s performances, often walking though the audience while playing the berimbau.
Lastly, there’s Williams’s observation that Weather Report “left me cold for long stretches.” He wasn’t the only one to write something like that in 1972. Perhaps, as Williams suggests, it was those harsh—and loud!—Fender Rhodes tones that presumably led to ear fatigue among listeners after a while. But maybe there was more to it than that, because at the end of the year Zawinul would move Weather Report in a new and funkier direction.
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.
Today, November 24, is the fourth anniversary of Darryl Brown’s death. He was 64 years old. In the pantheon of Weather Report drummers, Brown is not well known despite being the band’s full-time drummer from July 1974 to the end of that year. Actually, Brown isn’t well-known as a drummer at all, even though he toured with the likes of Weather Report, Stanley Clarke, Natalie Cole, and Grover Washington, Jr.
If you do a Google search you won’t turn up any articles or interviews about his musical career. The primary reason for this is that Brown left professional music behind in his late twenties to pursue his education, eventually obtaining a medical degree from Drexel University College of Medicine. He subsequently practiced medicine until his death, with music relegated to a hobby.
When I was doing interviews for my book Elegant People: A History of the Band Weather Report, I knew that Darryl was someone I wanted to talk to, but his lack of internet presence and his retirement from music made it difficult to track him down. However, I also knew that he had become a medical doctor and some sleuthing led me to a Darryl R. Brown, M.D., in Casa Grande, Arizona. On a hunch, I called his medical office and sure enough Dr. Brown was also a drummer who once played with Weather Report.
I think I was the first person to explore Brown’s Weather Report days in depth. Darryl was an intelligent, articulate man whose recollections greatly enriched my book. Five years later, I tried to get back in touch with him and found out that he had passed away. Such a gentleman. I was—and am—sad that he is no longer with us. Since little has been published about Darryl’s background and musical career, I want to use this post to fill in some of those details, most of which did not make it into my book.
Darryl was born and raised in Germantown, a neighborhood in Northwest Philadelphia with a rich cultural history. A number of musicians come from Germantown, including Weather Report’s second drummer, Eric Gravatt. Brown was a childhood friend of Stanley Clarke’s and there’s a photo at Clarke’s website of the two as teenagers with saxophonist Byard Lancaster, another Germantown resident who was ten years their senior. Here is what Darryl told me about his childhood and early professional career:
I started playing the drums when I was about seven, and I had a very diverse musical experience. On the one hand, I had a teacher by the name of Harry “Skeets” Marsh who used to play with Count Basie and Duke Ellington. At another time I studied with a guy by the name of Jake Hoffman, who was with the Philadelphia Orchestra. So because of that, I was exposed to a wide variety of music. Of course, in school I played in the band—the concert band, the orchestra, etc.—and in my house my mother played the organ and piano, and also played violin and sang in church.
I grew up in a part of Philadelphia called Germantown, and there were a lot of talented people living in Germantown. My mother and dad met the great organist Jimmy Smith at a car repair place and got to be friends with him. Jimmy Smith used to come over to our house and he would bring his latest recording on a reel-to-reel tape, with Wes Montgomery and Grady Tate. He would get on the organ and he’d sit me down at the drums. He got me started in jazz and basically showed me how to play. And actually, when I was thirteen I was featured in a concert with him out in New Jersey.
Larry Young—you probably remember him from John McLaughlin and Tony Williams—came to the house a few times to jam. And there was a local saxophonist, Byard Lancaster, who had gone to Juilliard and at one point played with McCoy Tyner. He encouraged me to get better and to play and explore all avenues of music.
There was a club in downtown Philadelphia called the Showboat. They had matinees in the afternoon. My mother and father got to know the owner there, and he allowed me to come into the matinees. And there I had an audition with Mongo Santamaría. I once sat in with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. As a matter of fact, he gave me a little cymbal that day, which was really cool. And there was a bagpipe player you may have heard of named Rufus Harley; he played there and let me sit in.
When I was fourteen I formed a band called the Latin Unit. Some of the guys were older than me. One was Arthur Webb, a flute player from West Philadelphia who was known for recording and playing with Ray Barretto. And there was a local percussionist named Peachy German, a bassist you may have heard of named Charles Fambrough, and a young piano player by the name of Stanley Clarke.
A little later—in high school or right after—I joined a band called Andy Aaron and the Mean Machine, and Stanley was the bass player; he had made the transition from piano. We used to do these cabarets, and Grover Washington, Jr. played with us at the cabarets and things like that. In the meantime, my parents were pounding on me to go college, but because I had these fortunate experiences while I was still in high school, they saw my talent and ability, and my burning desire to play music, and I think they kind of understood.
So after I finished high school, I went on the road with some local bands and ended up in Connecticut. And I guess got lucky. Natalie Cole was in Hartford, Connecticut, and she decided coming out of college to pursue music and have a band. So I auditioned for her band and played for her for while I was up there in Connecticut. I was around eighteen, and one day I got a call while I was in Connecticut from Grover saying, “Hey man, I want you, I’d like to hire you for my band.” So I moved back to Philly and played with him for a couple of years. From what Joe Zawinul told me, that’s the first time he heard about this “young and talented drummer.” From there, I came back to Philly and played in some local bands, including Good God, which opened for Weather Report a few times.
Brown joined Weather Report in mid-1974, just weeks after his twenty-first birthday. He got the gig by auditioning at Bob Devere’s house (Devere was the band’s manager at the time), after which Joe told him, “Man, you’ve got some big ears.” You can see him in action playing “Boogie Woogie Waltz” in this clip, which was originally filmed for an episode of the television program Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert that aired on December 14, 1974.
Darryl was Weather Report’s regular drummer for the rest of the year, but Joe and Wayne would often bring in other drummers who would join Brown on the bandstand. At one point, Ishmael Wilburn, who recorded on Mysterious Traveller and toured with the band before Brown, came back for a few gigs. But none of the other drummers stuck, which served to motivate Brown.
“There was one time they brought in another drummer from Philly, Emmanuel Hakim,” Brown told me. “He was a very talented drummer, but he played in small jazz trios and things like that, and we were playing like a hard core rock band. In fact, we even opened one time for ZZ Top; somebody thought we could play for that kind of audience. But the bottom line is, I remember Emmanuel playing and doing what he could, but I don’t think he had ever played that loud and that hard. When he finished he just said, ‘Damn!’ [laughs] And it was nice because he was somebody that I had watched. He was older than me, and he was in the band Mean Machine before me. And of course, that didn’t work out.
“And then they got this guy from Africa, and they sent him over, and for some reason he was under the opinion that he actually had the job. So, same thing, that didn’t work out. He even came over with his family, and they sent him back. So these things were happening, and at one point I didn’t like it so much because it told me they had eyes for somebody else potentially. But at the same time, as these guys were being rejected, I kept saying, ‘Well, I must be doing something right,’ because they’ve got to be comparing them to me. And obviously, if a guy came along that they thought did a better job, then they would probably hire him.”
Given this, it’s surprising that Brown wasn’t retained for the Tale Spinnin’ recording sessions, which took place in January 1975. Evidently Joe and Wayne wanted to try something different, and Brown’s status with the band was left hanging. Although he was never told whether he was in or out, his Weather Report days were over. As a consequence of not recording with the band, Darryl’s stint with Weather Report remained relatively unknown until my book presented it in detail.
So what happened after Weather Report? Darryl tells the story:
There were a couple of things that happened. I played with some local bands, and I played with this one guy, Mike Pedicin, Jr., a great saxophone player who used to play with Maynard Ferguson and had some albums of his own. I did some studio work at Philadelphia International Records, and I also put a band together with some evolving great musicians-to-be, including Kevin Eubanks and Michael Wolff. And then Michael Wolff invited me to come to New York; he was putting a band together with Alex Foster called Answering Service. While I was in New York I got a call from Stanley Clarke for the School Days band. I toured with Stanley and did a record with him called I Wanna Play For You. Some of it was live, some in the studio. One of the nicest experiences I had with Stanley was playing at Madison Square Garden when we opened for Bob Marley. That was just amazing.
Somewhere after the Stanley Clarke tour I started taking some college courses. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do; I just felt that I wanted to further my education. I gravitated to science and was a biology major. That was kind of consistent with my household. My mother was a musician, while my father was a chemist. He initially had dreams of becoming a doctor, so he had pre-med books around the house. When I was little I I just looked at the pictures and diagrams. But as I got older I started reading through them, and I think there was an influence there.
When I was studying sciences in college, I had some professors take an interest in me. They thought it was interesting that I had a music background and they encouraged me to consider medical school. Initially, I wasn’t sure, but there was a saxophonist out of Philadelphia named Al Rutherford who was Chief of Cardiology at the University of Pennsylvania. We used to play at a place called Grendal’s Lair in South Philly. He would come down and talk to me about my college courses, and he suggested that I think about medicine.
So as time went on I got more interested in it and I took the medical entrance exams. I did well and I started getting interviewed for medical school. Since there was a time lapse from high school to college, I wondered how that was going to look. I was also thinking about the musician stereotypes and I didn’t know how that would look to medical schools. But Al Rutherford looked at me and said, “Tell them you were playing music. Trust me, they will find it very interesting.” And believe it or not, during my interviews pretty much all they asked about was my experiences with music—who I played with and how I got involved in it. You know, you have to have the grades, but there are a lot of very bright candidates that they’re choosing from. If you have done something unrelated to science—especially if you have accomplished something—that seemed to be something they wanted. So that’s kind of how it went.
I think when I went back to college my parents were a little surprised. And then when I went to medical school, my dad didn’t know what to say. And actually I did play at the medical school, made some money there, which helped me pay for my tuition and all that.
After finishing his residency and passing his board exams, Brown moved to the Phoenix metro area where he practiced internal medicine for over two decades. Although you will find little about Brown’s musical career on the internet, you will find plenty about his character. Just read the comments about him from his friends and patients at legacy.com. He was well-known throughout the community, and many of his former patients posted online testimonials upon his death.
“He was an amazing doctor, musician and person and will be greatly missed,” one commenter posted.
“We had great conversations about the trials of parenting, music, and his generous spirit,” wrote another. “He was a wonderful physician and cared deeply for each and every patient including many of my family members. I loved his laugh and the smile he wore on his face every day.”
“Darryl was not only an amazing musician, he was also one of the finest men I’ve had the pleasure of knowing,” wrote a third. “He was always professional, both as a doctor, and, as I knew him best, as a musician. He carried his joy around with him and shared it with the world. What a smile. I’ll never forget him. If there is a Heaven, Darryl’s drumming with the band… and making them sound better than they are.”
The good folks at Wax Poetics have an excerpt of my book Elegant People: A History of the Band Weather Report up on their website right now. You can view it here. The excerpt I chose deals with the making of Weather Report’s third album Sweetnighter. It was the beginning of the transition to Weather Report’s mature style, exemplified by the album’s two dominant tracks, “Boogie Woogie Waltz” and “125th Street Congress.” (The book chapter on Sweetnighter delves into many other aspects of that album as well as the changes that happened to the live band in the aftermath.)
It is appropriate that Wax Poetics host this excerpt. The editor Brian Digenti gave me my first opportunity to interview Joe Zawinul at his home in Malibu in 2003. That led to the publication of my article about Joe in Wax Poetics issue 9. This in turn planted the seeds for what eventually became my book many years later. If it hadn’t been for Brian, I don’t know that I would have pursued a book at all.
At its core, Wax Poetics is rooted in hip-hop, a music whose antecedents are the soul, jazz, funk, and disco of the sixties and seventies; hence, the nexus to Joe Zawinul and Weather Report. At least initially, hip-hop was constructed by sampling bits and pieces of old records—a horn stab, a drum beat, or a bassline—a measure here, a measure there. Once sampled, these fragments could then be looped and repeated, tempo- or pitch-shifted, and layered with other sounds likewise captured to build up an entirely new musical work.
Since records were the raw materials in this process, it was important to find the ones that contained the best material. This gave rise to the evocative term cratedigger, which describes someone who searches for rare vinyl in musty used record stores, garage sales, and flea markets. The true experts at the game develope an encyclopedic knowledge of the producers, labels, and musicians of yore, and when they find a good one, they collect anything he or she has done. As one prominent hip-hop producer noted, “If someone is great, I’ll follow everything they do. There’s no way they can hit something great one time and not do it again.” Weather Report, it turns out, was something great. Its records are documented to have shown up in 165 hip-hop titles as of this writing.
Joe had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, he was all for making music this way. Regarding sampling, he told me, “Why not? Let people express themselves. These kinds of things are like an instrument. It’s like a language.” But he was opposed to the appropriation of his work without compensation. A 1992 Down Beat interview described Joe as “raging” as he complained about rappers “borrowing” portions of Weather Report tunes without permission. “If you steal something, steal it, and play it yourself. In the case of sampling, some type of money should be paid depending on what is being used,” he said.
Earlier that same year, he also addressed the topic in Music Technology magazine. “People do this [extract samples] on my music a lot. You know what I think about it? I think it’s good, but it’s only good if the original people (a) get credit for it, and (b) get paid for it. That’s only fair.” He cited one use of “125th Street Congress” in which the group’s management contacted him for permission, and the end result was that Joe and the group shared publishing, and he got credited on the record. “This is okay with me, it’s fine,” he said.
But in another example—a track by MC 900ft Jesus called “Truth Is Out of Style” that uses sixteen bars of “Cucumber Slumber” throughout—he complained, “They never contacted me. See, this to me is illegal. Herbie Hancock got me with this guy who is one of the greatest detectives of things like that. He got Herbie back $175,000 for one song. I mean, this is serious money being made. Some of these groups are getting No. 1 hit records using your ideas as a fundament.” (Listening to the track, you can see why Joe would be upset, as “Cucumber Slumber” provides the basis of the rhythm for the entire tune.)
Among the 165 samples of Weather Report tunes listed at whosampled.com are eight uses of “125th Street Congress.” This led Joe to boldly claim that he had invented the first hip-hop beat in 1973. An exaggeration? Of course! But that didn’t stop Joe from repeating the claim, including to me. You can read more about that in my book.
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.”