ELEGANT PEOPLE: A HISTORY OF THE BAND WEATHER REPORT
Curt Bianchi BACKBEAT BOOKS
THE HUMILIATION ZAWINUL INFLICTED WAS OFTEN BRUTAL.
Gripping account of jazz rock pioneers.
Although Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius have previously been the subject of insightful biographies, this is the first book dedicated to the full story of the band. Having established the comprehensive Annotated Weather Report Discography website 20 years ago, author Curt Bianchi is well placed to chronicle the life and times of one of jazz rock’s most innovative groups. Yet this is so much more than simply the book of the website.
Each of the 14 studio albums released between 1971 and 1986 receive their own dedicated chapters accompanied by a wealth of fresh interviews and archive material from a cast of players and engineers, be they cameo roles or show-stealing star turns. That Weather Report was not the easiest of bands to be in is well known. The macho, competitive culture that partially churned the rocket fuel for their trajectory might well have produced incredible virtuosic performances, but as Bianchi makes clear, they often came at a significant price.
The humiliation and ignominy Zawinul routinely inflicted on those he worked with, more or less from the beginning, was often as brutal as it was shocking. On numerous occasions throughout the group’s history his handling of personnel matters was exasperating, resulting in several “He did what?” moments. Players found their contributions erased and airbrushed from history, as percussionist Barbara Burton found after recording their debut album, despite being there at Wayne Shorter’s invitation. And please spare a thought for those players who unexpectedly found their calendars wiped clean after turning up to a recording session and discovering their equally unsuspecting replacement waiting to say hello. It’s both interesting and revealing that even those who fell foul of such treatment nevertheless retain a passion and respect for their time in the group, confirming that much of the magical, heat-seeking music managed to somehow transcend the circumstances of its fractious origins.
Like all the best musical biographies, Elegant People has you reaching for the albums, reframing their content and context as you read and listen. Especially interesting is the trenchant resistance to the group by the jazz police; Weather Report only made it into the jazz category of the Grammys in 1980. From the ambitious, impressionistic tone poems of their early years, through to the showbiz swagger of the Jaco years and beyond, Bianchi, while refraining from partisan judgement, offers clear perspectives and coherent assessments of a legendary musical institution and their remarkable legacy.