an influential jazz fusion band of the 1970s and early 1980s combining jazz and latin jazz with art music, ethnic music, r&b, funk and rock elements (in varying proportions throughout their career).
Chick Corea's group Return to Forever was similar in style and approach; the bands in fact shared some members, including Airto Moreira.Founders pianist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter first met and became friends in 1959 as they had both played in Maynard Ferguson's Big Band. Zawinul went on to play with Cannonball Adderley's group in the 1960s and Shorter with Miles Davis's second great quintet where both made their mark among the best composers in jazz. Zawinul later joined Shorter with Miles Davis's first recordings of fusion music as part of the studio groups which recorded In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, although Zawinul was never part of Davis's touring line-up. Weather Report is, despite this, often seen as a spin-off from the group of musicians associated with Miles Davis in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Initially, the band's music featured extended improvisation, similar to Davis's Bitches Brew-period work, and instrumentation included both a traditional trap set drummer (Alphonse Mouzon) and a second percussionist (first Airto Moreira, later Dom Um Romão). 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 further pioneered the role of the soprano sax (taking the torch from Sidney Bechet's, Lucky Thompson's, Steve Lacy'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.
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 in evidence on their next album. By 1976's Black Market, the group's music had evolved further from the open-ended funk jams into more melody-oriented, concise forms, which also achieved a greater mass-market appeal. Most notably, this album introduced virtuoso bassist Jaco Pastorius into the group, although he only played on two of this album's tracks. Alphonso Johnson (who played 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 album 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.
The addition of Jaco Pastorius helped push the group to the height of their popularity. Their biggest individual hit, jazz standard "Birdland", from the Heavy Weather album in 1977, even made the pop charts that year. The group also appeared on the Burt Sugarman produced series The Midnight Special, performing Birdland and Teen Town. Heavy Weather proved to be the band's most successful album in terms of sales, while still retaining wide critical acclaim. Pastorius established a new standard in fretless electric bass playing and added two compositions of his own. Heavy Weather dominated Weather Report's disc awards, including their last Down Beat "Album of the Year" award.
Jaco Pastorius, Toronto, Nov. 1977 Photo: Jean-Luc OurlinJaco Pastorius appeared on four more Weather Report albums: Mr. Gone in 1978, 8:30 in 1979, Night Passage in 1980, and their second album just called Weather Report, recorded in 1981 and released in 1982. Pastorius departed the group in late 1981 as he had to fulfil touring requirements 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 the Heavy Weather and 8:30 line-ups en masse (although without Zawinul in each case), to play on her studio albums Don Juan's Reckless Daughter and Mingus, respectively.
In 1979, Weather Report travelled to Havana, Cuba, to participate in the historic Havana Jam festival that took place between 2-4 March, alongside Stephen Stills, the CBS Jazz All-Stars, the Trio of Doom, Fania All-Stars, Billy Swan, Bonnie Bramlett, Mike Finnegan, Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge and Billy Joel, plus an array of Cuban artists such as Irakere, Pacho Alonso, Tata Güines and Orquesta Aragón. Their performance is captured on Ernesto Juan Castellanos's documentary Havana Jam '79.
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