Weather Report
United States
Music group
Weather Report was an influential jazz fusion band of the 1970s and early 1980s, combining jazz with art music, ethnic music, R&B, funk, and rock elements (in heavily varying proportions during the years), often demonstrating high levels of compositional and improvisational skills. Along with other groups that were founded by Miles Davis alumni (Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Headhunters), Weather Report was one of the greatest innovators of the jazz fusion genre at that time. They were also the most long-lived and perhaps the most artistically successful (as cited by Ken Burns) of the four groups.

The band was originally a spin-off from the group of musicians associated with Miles Davis in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The stable core of the group was the duo of pianist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, while the other musicians were rotated, sometimes with almost every new album release. Both Zawinul and Shorter had made their marks among the best composers in jazz, Zawinul in Cannonball Adderley's group and Shorter in Miles Davis' group. Zawinul would later join Shorter with Miles Davis' first recordings of fusion music, In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew.

Initially, the band's music featured extended improvisation, similar to Davis' Bitches Brew-period work, and instrumentation included both a traditional trap set drummer and a second percussionist (first Airto Moreira, later Dom Um Romão). Though the album credits only Airto on percussion, Brian Glasser, in his Zawinul biography In a Silent Way, describes the participation of two other percussionists prior to Airto's involvement: Don Alias, a well-known session player who subsequently toured and recorded with Jaco Pastorius; and Barbara Burton, a New York symphonic and freelance percussionist recruited by Shorter. According to Glasser, Alias "walked out before the record was completed after an argument with Zawinul about what he should be playing." Burton told Glasser that she and Alias did the whole album, and it wasn't until the last session, "when all the tracks had been laid [down] at Columbia Studios" that Airto became involved. Apparently Zawinul thought something was missing, or he was in some way unsatisfied, because Burton overheard Joe asking Airto if there was anything he could add. Airto said, "Man, that album is finished. There's nothing I can add." Nevertheless, Zawinul persisted and Airto recorded for the album. [IASW, p.133-135]

The group was unusual and innovative in abandoning the soloist-accompaniment demarcation of straight-ahead jazz and instead featuring continuous improvisation by every member of the band.

Reedman Wayne Shorter furthered pioneering on the soprano sax (taking the torch from Sidney Bechet's and John Coltrane's earlier efforts) and both Zawinul and original bassist Miroslav Vitouš experimented with rock guitarists' electronic effects, Zawinul on piano and synthesizers, Vitouš on upright bass, often bowed, as a second horn-like voice.

Weather Report's self titled debut album Weather Report won Down Beat's Album of the year in 1971. Although the album features a softer sound than in later years (acoustic bass and no synthesizers were used), it is still considered a classic of early fusion. The opening song "Milky Way" uses a technique by which the piano strings are sounded not by the hammers from the keyboard itself but from Shorter's soprano saxophone playing the notes and the strings sympathetically being vibrated.

Their second effort the following year, I Sing the Body Electric, featured their first use of electronics beyond an electric keyboard (a synthesizer and sound effects were utilized). Part of the 2nd album was recorded live in Japan which was taken from a Japanese-only release at the time. The entire Live in Tokyo double album would later be released as an import and made available in the US.

Starting with 1973's Sweetnighter, Zawinul decided to abandon the (primarily) acoustic group improvisation format and the band started to take a new direction. Weather Report became more funk/groove oriented while adding more structure to both song and improvisational sections. This change would prove to be not the best fit for Vitouš' talents as his relative lack of interest in playing more repetitive, funky vamps would become an issue (parts of Sweetnighter employ an electric bass studio sideman). Eventually this led to his departure and replacement by a fretless electric bass player Shorter knew who was playing with Chuck Mangione's group, Alphonso Johnson. The last song on the album, Shorter's "Non Stop Home", would arguably foreshadow the band's hallmark sound that would appear more evidently on their next album.

For its first 8 years of existence the group had difficulty finding a permanent drummer, moving through an approximate average of one drummer per year Alphonse Mouzon, Eric Gravatt, Greg Errico, Ishmael Wilburn, Skip Hadden, Darryl Brown, Leon 'Ndugu' Chancler, Chester Thompson, Narada Michael Walden and Alex Acuña until Jaco Pastorius helped recruit Peter Erskine in 1978. Erskine and Omar Hakim later on were the only Weather Report drummers that played with the band more than 2 years.

Weather Report's breakout album that established its hallmark sound would be Mysterious Traveller from 1974. For the first time an electric bass (performed by Philadelphian Alphonso Johnson) would be used on nearly every song. In addition, general compositional technique would be greatly heightened and Zawinul would exploit improvements in synthesizer technology on the recording. Some of the extra musical effects beyond just the musical synthesizer playing include crowd cheering (taken from an actual Rose Bowl game), space alien sounds, and child-like cries (Zawinul's own son recorded in their home). Mysterious Traveller would begin Weather Report's unprecedented string of four consecutive Down Beat "Album of the Year" awards.

Tale Spinnin', recorded in 1975, made even further strides in utilizing technological improvements in synthesizers. The album also showcased more of Wayne Shorter's soloing to the extent that he probably solos more on that album than any other Weather Report record. Shorter would also record the seminal latin-jazz classic of the 1970s, Native Dancer, under his own name that same year with the Brazilian vocalist Milton Nascimento. The Weather Report effort won the Down Beat best album award again and the Shorter/Nascimento effort was runner up.

By 1976's Black Market, the group's music evolved further from the open-ended funk jams into more melody-oriented, concise forms. They also had achieved a greater mass-market appeal by this time. Most notably, this album introduced virtuoso bassist Jaco Pastorius into the group, who plays on two of the album's songs. Alphonso Johnson (who plays on the other 5 songs) decided to leave Weather Report to play with the Billy Cobham/George Duke Band (a group that featured a young John Scofield on guitar). Black Market was perhaps the most rock oriented studio effort by Weather Report, in part due to former Frank Zappa sideman Chester Thompson playing drums on most of the songs (he later would be recruited into the touring band of Genesis). Black Market again won Down Beat's album of the year.

It was the addition of Jaco Pastorius that helped push the group to the heights of their popularity. With the release of their biggest individual hit jazz standard "Birdland", from the Heavy Weather album in 1977, "Birdland" would even make the pop charts that year. The group also appeared on television with one of Don Kirshner's Rock Concerts. Heavy Weather would prove to be the band's most successful selling album while still retaining wide critical acclaim. Pastorius would also establish a new standard in fretless electric bass playing and add two compositions of his own into the song mix. Heavy Weather would dominate the disc award scene and coup the last Down Beat "Album of the Year" award for the group.

Jaco Pastorius appeared on four more Weather Report albums, including Mr. Gone in 1978, 8:30 in 1979, Night Passage in 1980 and their second self-titled album, (recorded in 1981 and) released in 1982. Pastorius departed the group in late 1981 due to touring requirements that he had to fulfil with his own Word of Mouth Big Band. By the time he left Weather Report Jaco had begun displaying symptoms of manic depression which would leave him with serious problems later in life.

Owing to Pastorius' professional involvement with Joni Mitchell throughout the latter half of the 1970s, Mitchell hired both the Heavy Weather and 8:30 line-ups en masse, without Zawinul in each case, to play respectively on her studio albums Don Juan's Reckless Daughter and Mingus.

Many of the group's earlier albums had received the highest possible (5-star) record rating in Down Beat's record reviews. However, in 1978 the group recorded the controversial and experimental Mr. Gone, which received only a 1-star review from Down Beat magazine. The group arranged for a rebuttal interview with the magazine to defend their efforts. Zawinul and Pastorius were more defiant in their responses to the interviewer, Shorter being more philosophical, and Erskine the most reticent of the four. Some say this particular Downbeat review was the most controversial in the magazine's history.

They would make a comeback and follow up with their last album of the 1970s. 1979's 8:30 is considered to be one of their best, combining both live and studio recordings on a double LP release. The group won the 1979 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Fusion Performance for 8:30. Despite the Mr. Gone controversy, the band's follow up 8:30 tour was probably their most well attended. Zawinul has been quoted as saying there were more stage hands hired for that tour than at any other time in the band's history. The group toured intentionally as a quartet now, temporarily abandoning the percussionist chair.

The band kept releasing new albums once a year with various line-ups until 1986. A high quality video (Live in Japan — VHS and Laser Disc only) featuring Omar Hakim on drums, Victor Bailey on bass, and Mineu Cinelo on percussion was also released around 1984. This video was never officially released on DVD and is not currently available.

Weather Report did not manage to match the critical or commercial success they enjoyed during the 1970s during this decade. It was also becoming harder to market jazz fusion as traditional jazz was making a comeback at the time. Shorter and Zawinul mutually decided to disband in 1986 after recording their last album, This is This! Both would play jazz fusion with their own groups for a time before moving on to new styles of music.

A "post band" Weather Report double CD, Live and Unreleased was made available in 2002, featuring vintage live recordings during the late 1970s/early 1980s with various personnel. In September 2006 Columbia/Legacy released a Weather Report boxed set, Forecast: Tomorrow. It includes 3 CDs of mostly pre-released material and a DVD of the entire September 28, 1978 performance in Offenbach, Germany (with Erskine and Pastorius) not previously available.

A DVD video of the 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival performance (featuring the Heavy Weather lineup of Pastorius, Acuna, and Badrena) has become available as well. There also may be a chance that Columbia/Legacy may re-release the 1984 Live in Japan concert on DVD at some point in the future.

Other former members of Weather Report include bassists Alphonso Johnson and Victor Bailey, drummer and percussionist Alex Acuña, percussionists Manolo Badrena and Robert Thomas Jr., and drummers Peter Erskine and Omar Hakim.
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