Wayne Shorter, Weather Report, and a Birthday
One of the great jazz saxophonists and composers, Wayne Shorter celebrates his birthday today. He was born August 25, 1933. According to Shorter's biography on Wikipedia, many of Shorter's compositions have become jazz standards, and his output has earned worldwide recognition, critical praise and various commendations, including 10 Grammy Awards. He has also received acclaim for his mastery of the soprano saxophone (after switching his focus from the tenor in the late 1960s), beginning an extended reign in 1970 as Down Beat's annual poll-winner on that instrument, winning the critics' poll for 10 consecutive years and the readers' for 18. The New York Times has described Shorter as "probably jazz's greatest living small-group composer and a contender for greatest living improviser."
Shorter first came to wide prominence in the late 1950s as a member of, and eventually primary composer for Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. In the 1960s, he went on to join Miles Davis's Second Great Quintet, and from there he co-founded the jazz fusion band Weather Report.
Weather Report was initially co-led by Shorter and the Austrian-born keyboard player Joe Zawinul, and Czech bassist Miroslav Vitouš. Due to creative and financial disagreements Vitouš left the band after a few years. Zawinul took increasing control and steered the band towards a more funk, R&B oriented sound. Other prominent members at various points in the band's lifespan included bassists Alphonso Johnson, Jaco Pastorius and Victor Bailey; and drummers/percussionists Peter Erskine, Alex Acuña, Airto Moreira and Chester Thompson.
Alongside Miles Davis's electric bands, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, and Headhunters, Weather Report is considered to be one of the pre-eminent early jazz fusion bands. As a continuous working unit, Weather Report outlasted all of its contemporaries despite (or perhaps because of) frequent changes of personnel, with a career lasting sixteen years between 1970 and 1986. However, the band was nearly always a quintet of keyboards, sax, bass, drums, and percussion.
Over that16-year career, Weather Report explored various areas of music, centered on jazz (including both the "free" and "Latin" varieties), but also including various elements of art music, ethnic music, R&B, funk, and rock. While their work was often categorized as "jazz fusion", the band members themselves generally rejected the term.
From the start, Weather Report took the unusual and innovative approach of abandoning the traditional "soloist/accompaniment" demarcation of straight-ahead jazz and instead featuring opportunities for continuous improvisation by every member of the band. This position remained consistent throughout the life of the band. From the mid-1970s, individual solos became more prominent, but were never allowed to overwhelm the music's collective approach. Initially, the band's music featured a free, extended improvisational method but by the mid-1970s, this had moved towards more groove-oriented and prestructured music (as epitomized by their hit single Birdland.