Weather Report - Biography

By J Poet


Weather Report wrote the rules for jazz rock fusion in the early 70s, becoming the first jazz supergroup and winning a Grammy with their combination of jazz, rock, Latin, funk, and as they evolved, world music. The band’s founders and leaders, Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter kept the band’s vision alive through numerous personnel shifts and went on to making compelling music after Weather Report’s demise.


Zawinul was born in Vienna in 1832 and came to the United States to study keyboard at Boston’s Berklee School of Music. He never finished his freshman year, leaving to play piano with Maynard Ferguson. Shorter was Ferguson’s sax man at the time. Shorter grew up in Newark, New Jersey, played sax in high school and had a rep as a great player before starting college. He studied music at NYU and played professionally before he was drafted in 1954. His first post-Army gig was as musical director for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers; from there he moved on to Ferguson and the Miles Davis Quintet of 1964 -1970 where he replaced John Coltrane.


Meanwhile, Zawinul was backing up Dinah Washington and playing with Cannonball Adderly. Zawinul wrote Adderly’s pop hit “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” playing electric piano, which was not yet considered a “serious” jazz instrument. Davis asked him to join him in the studio for an album session. Davis cut Zawinul’s “In A Silent Way”, which became the album’s title. In a Silent Way (1969 Columbia) is considered the first jazz/rock album. Bitches Brew (1970 Columbia), the follow up, is still the biggest selling jazz album of all time. Shorter and Zawinul contributed to both sets.


In late 1970, Shorter and Zawinul recruited bassist Miroslav Vitous with the idea of taking the jazz/rock thing as far as it could go. They made a demo with drummer Billy Cobham and Columbia signed them. Alphonse Mouzon and Airto Morirera joined for Weather Report (1971 Columbia, 2007 Columbia) one of the greatest debuts in jazz history and the album that made Fusion (jazz/rock) a viable genre with it blazing solos and relentless groove. The band’s live gigs were even more amazing than their studio work.


The half live in Japan/half studio I Sing the Body Electric (1972 Columbia, 2007 Columbia) was even more powerful; Live in Tokyo (2007 Sony/BMG Japan) includes the entire concert sampled for the live side of I Sing the Body Electric and stands as one of the band’s most powerful statements. On Sweetnighter (1973 Columbia, 2007 Columbia) the band’s Latin groove dominated; Zawinul’s extended solos on “Boogie Woogie Waltz” knocked fans out and the move to electric bass added another powerful element to the band’s sound. Mysterious Traveler (1974 Columbia, 2007 Columbia) showcased Zawinul’s synthesizer prowess, and proved the instrument could swing in the hands of an expert musician.


Tale Spinnin’ (1975 Columbia, 2007 Columbia) finds the band adding African percussion accents to the mix. Jaco Pastorius joined up for Black Market (1976 Columbia, 2007 Columbia) and with three strong composers, the band continued growing and breaking down musical boundaries. Pastorius added his charismatic showmanship to their live gigs and on Heavy Weather (1977 Columbia, 2007 Columbia) his free form bass lines brought another solo voice to Zawinul’s synthesizers and Shorter’s fiery sax. Zawinul’s “Birdland” combined retro-swing with groove and became an instant classic. Mr. Gone (1978 Columbia, 2007 Columbia) got mixed reviews, but on the live 8:30 (1978 Columbia, 2007 Columbia) a stripped down band - Zawinul, Shorter, Pastorius and drummer Peter Erskine – showed off the band’s incredible chops. The title track won a Grammy for Best Jazz Fusion performance.


Weather Report (1982 Columbia, 1997 Columbia), the last album to include Pastorius, is heavy on the groove with some world music touches and the usual solid ensemble playing. After another reshuffling of personnel the band made Procession (1983 Columbia, 2007 Columbia) a solid outing with The Manhattan Transfer guesting on “Where the Moon Goes”, Domino Theory (1983 Columbia, 1992 Columbia) featured Carl Anderson crooning “Can it Be Done”, the Report’s only pop tune, and the impressive drumming of Omar Hakim, and Sportin’ Life (1984 Columbia, 1992 Columbia) a voyage colored by Caribbean, Latin, African and Arab textures with a vocal appearance by Bobby McFerrin.


The endless touring and Zawinul’s domination of the band was beginning to take its toll. Shorter left during the recording of This is This (1984 Columbia, 2007 Columbia), but special guest Carlos Santana fills in with plenty of rock star panache. The band that toured to support the album was dubbed Weather Update and the band was no more. Zawinul continued with Zawinul Syndicate, Shorter played with Santana for a while, and has appeared on albums by The Rolling Stones, Herbie Hancock and Marcus Miller. Pastorius died of injuries sustained in a fight outside a bar in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1987. Every so often, there are rumors of a Zawinul/Shorter/Weather Report reunion, but nothing is in the works.


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