We need to talk about the weather... No, not the drizzly rain or bright skies, but rather floods of experimentation and a monsoon of rhythmic mastery that took the world by storm. If you hadn’t already guessed, we’ve got Weather Report on the Artists in Focus blog this week!
(Definitely Not A) Jazz Fusion Group
Although the band tried to distance themselves from this terminology, Weather Report were widely regarded as a jazz-fusion group who begun their journey on the road of experimental, avant garde, free improvisation jazz. And they were a talented bunch. Members came and went throughout their 16 years, but most notable members might be keys wizard Joe Zawinul, bass genius Jaco Pastorius and sax sensation, Wayne Shorter.
It was their quite ground-breaking abandonment of some of the jazz ‘rules’ that made Weather Report so exciting. They wanted to steer away from the soloist/accompaniment format and head towards a more continuous improvisation, with all band members improvising at the same time! It sounds like organised chaos, but it was all about the collective approach to music making. It was about exploring a more impressionistic side of jazz and as Zawinul so elegantly put it, getting “away from all that eight bars and then you go to the bridge…”.
But as the 70s rolled by, the direction of the Weather Report sound got groovier, and groovier, and groovier, until the 1977 album Heavy Weather sent shockwaves through the music industry. It was an enormous success, both in sales and critical acclaim! And the best part? The album contained their biggest hit to date – “Birdland”, named after the famous nightclub in New York City. It was a very special place to songwriter Zawinul, since it was where he heard legends like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, and of course, his wife! Not to mention that the club itself was named after ‘the Bird’ himself, Charlie Parker.
Steeped in prestigious jazz history, “Birdland” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2010, and became a jazz standard that would be played for years to come.
Brimming with Bass!
What’s particularly exciting for us, is that we were able to feature an immense track from Heavy Weather in our Bass syllabus, so you’ll find “Palladium” in the Grade 8 songlist. The song is full to the brim with bass. It’s incredibly rhythmically complex, with lines that feel like an improvisation and an accompaniment all at the same time. The bass really is the driving force behind this tune.
Undoubtedly a defining act in modern jazz, Weather Report have truly cemented their place in the movement alongside other legendary acts like the Mahavishnu Orchestra (featuring RSL Fellow, Billy Cobham!), Chick Corea’s Return To Forever and Herbie’s Headhunters.
We hope you’re enjoying keeping up with the biggest artists you can find throughout our syllabi. Before next week’s instalment, why not catch up with some of our previous entries which include Corinne Bailey Rae, Prince and Etta James.