Certainly no page on this web site has generated as much traffic in such a short period of time as Ken Burns’ JAZZ—The Fusion Transcripts, a collection of interview excerpts in which the JAZZ talking heads speak about fusion in general and Weather Report in particular. Among other things, jazz author and critic Gary Giddins is asked if the Weather Report tune ‘Birdland’ is jazz, to which he responds: “The question about whether ‘Birdland’ is jazz should be changed to, ‘Is it music?'” Needless to say, he thinks not.
In an interesting bit of irony, I recently discovered that Giddins reviewed Weather Report’s second album, I Sing The Body Electric, for Down Beat magazine back in 1972. He gave it a rating of four stars (out of five). Among his comments:
“This isn’t a jazz record but a collection of mood or program pieces, tone drawings to which the listener is expected to provide the captions if not fulsome exigeses… The music is brilliantly played. There are several beautiful and haunting strains; the group interaction is often very exciting, and the use of various sound qualities is inspired. But—something visceral is missing. The music is too cold and metallic, as though much of the substance were tinsel… Despite my mixed feelings, there is no question that Weather Report is into something new and stimulating. I hope that these artists will pass out of what seems to be a gee-whiz attitude to the possibilities of electricity and settle into some more substantial cooking. In any case, I look forward to the next installment eagerly.”
The Zawinul Syndicate official web site lists two concerts for 2001. The first is a Syndicate performance at the African Harvest North Sea Jazz Festival—Cape Town on March 31 in Cape Town, South Africa. According to EMMECI, the line-up for this year’s Syndicate will consist of Zawinul; Maria Joao, vocals; Amit Chatterjee, guitar and vocals; Etienne M’Bappe, electric bass; Manolo Badrena, percussion and vocals; and Nathaniel Townsley, drums.
The second concert is a Zawinul performance with Germany’s MDR Orchestra. If I’m interpretting MDR’s web site correctly, Zawinul and the orchestra will perform Leonard Bernstein’s 1944 ballet suite ‘Fancy Free’, as well as Zawinul’s own seven-part ‘Stories of the Danube’. Guest musicians will include Manolo Badrena, Burhan Öçal, and Paco Sery.
Meanwhile, Victor Bailey, the Syndicate’s most recent bass player, will tour with his own group this summer. According to EMMECI the group will consist of Bailey, Bennie Maupin on sax, Jim Beard on keyboards, Dean Brown on guitar, and a drummer yet to be named.
This week I watched the final episode of JAZZ, the Ken Burns documentary. I was aware that the Weather Report tune ‘Birdland’ is included in the companion CD set. I was also aware that Burns had squashed the last forty years of jazz into the final episode. So I was curious to get his take on the past four decades, wondering if Weather Report would receive at least a passing nod as a noteworthy development in the music. But as those of you who watched know, there was no mention of Weather Report, and little mention of fusion beyond Miles Davis’ supposed sell-out in recording Bitches Brew. In fact, the thing that sticks in my mind is Branford Marsalis’ summation of jazz in the seventies: “Jazz just kind of died. It just kind of went away for a while.”
Nevertheless, thanks to the online transcripts of Burns’ interviews at the PBS web site, we can read what Wynton, Giddins and the rest of the gang had to say about Weather Report in particular, and fusion in general. If you’re interested in how they shaped Burns’ view of the seventies, check out Zawinul Online’s Ken Burns’ JAZZ—The Fusion Transcripts.
Former Syndicate bass player Matthew Garrison has gotten some good write-ups recently, coming on the heals of his excellent debut album. The current issue of Bass Player magazine contains an interview with Garrison, with some references to his tenure with Zawinul. And Innerviews has a nice online interview with Garrison.