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Weather Report Part 1: The Origins of a Supergroup

Cover for Curt Bianchi's 2021 book "Elegant People: A History of the Band Weather Report," published by Backbeat Books
Backbeat Books, An imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.
Cover for Curt Bianchi's 2021 book "Elegant People: A History of the Band Weather Report," published by Backbeat Books

Weather Report has been called a lot of things: a jazz supergroup, a pioneering fusion ensemble and a top-selling jazz-rock band. Beginning in the early seventies, pianist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter collaborated on experimental free-jazz explorations. As the band evolved, new sounds were introduced through the addition of cutting-edge analog synthesizers. The music expanded to embrace funk, latin and R & B rhythms. Of equal importance, a long line of innovative musicians including bassist Jaco Pastorius, percussionist Airto Moreira, drummer Peter Erskine contributed to the band’s music.

In it’s decade-and-a-half existence, Weather Report won one Grammy award and was nominated six times. They won Downbeat Magazine’s “Best album award” five times in a row. They stand next to John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu orchestra, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and Chick Corea’s Return to Forever as one of the definitive musical acts of the fusion era.

Writer Curt Bianchi has written a fascinating and exhaustive account of the band’s history called Elegant People, published in 2021 by Backbeat Books. I spoke with Bianchi via zoom at length about Weather Report’s story. In the first of a three-part interview, Bianchi discusses the band’s origin story, including Joe Zawinul’s childhood in Austria during World War II and Wayne Shorter’s upbringing in Newark, New Jersey. We follow the paths of Zawinul and Shorter’s careers and discuss the influence of (and their influence on) Miles Davis. Bianchi also discusses some of Weather Reports early recordings and their evolution from an experimental free-jazz sound to a funkier jazz-rock vibe.

For Part Two of my interview with Curt Bianchi, focusing on the story of Jaco Pastorius, click here:

Weather Report Part 2: The Meteoric Career of Jaco Pastoris (delmarvapublicmedia.org)

Peter Solomon is WESM's Music Director and host of Morning Jazz Unlimited, weekdays from 9 am to noon on WESM. He joined Delmarva Public Media in August 2021 after 22 years as a jazz host for an NPR affiliate in Richmond, Virginia.