(Since its inception in 1973, the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame has enshrined nearly 1,000 recordings across all genres. The Making Of … series presents firsthand accounts of the creative process behind some of the essential recordings of the 20th century. You can read more Making Of … accounts, and in-depth insight into the recordings and artists represented in the Hall, in the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition book.)
(As told to Don Heckman)
Heavy Weather was the album that turned the corner for Weather Report. That was when audiences started to jump up — especially in Europe [we started getting] 14–15,000 people in our audiences. In Rome, 18,000 or more.
Jaco Pastorius had just joined the band, I think. We had been in Florida and we were kind of inquiring about him. Then one day when we were coming out of a restaurant, we heard this guy running up behind us. "I heard you guys were looking for me," he said. "I'm Jaco. The baddest bass player in the world."
And he was right for us. His bass had a sort of vocal, melodic quality. He could punctuate and sing at the same time on the bass. From the first time we heard him we knew that he was it. He was the guy. He was a very integral part in getting the kind of tonal focus we wanted. He supplied what we couldn't get at that time. We were up against rock and roll. And Jaco playing the bass contributed to the pulse of the sound that we couldn't get from just one person on the drums.
During the recording of Heavy Weather there was a lot of activity between all of us, and a lot of enthusiasm, camaraderie and laughing in the studio. We were working on the bass lines, like never before. We could do things with Jaco's bass and Joe Zawinul's bass lines on the synthesizers, working together, with ease. Things we could never do before we got into the Heavy Weather recording.
We tried to stay away from an album where all the pieces sounded so much alike, a trap that many other players still fall into — doing something familiar in the effort to be sure of getting a hit. We were saying that anywhere they put the needle on the record should be an attention-getter. The music should sound the way it did when we recorded it, with gusto and passion, flowing through the recording studio, as though we were playing it for a live audience. That was the approach that moved the music right into the album.
We didn't actually think "Birdland" was going to become a hit. [Editor's Note: The lead track Heavy Weather, "Birdland" was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 2010.] Joe named the piece "Birdland" because he wanted it to reflect the experiences he had when he played at Birdland, the club. I remember him playing with Dinah Washington there — with exactly the kind of beat she had, with her high heels stomping the floor while she was singing. And that's what Joe used in "Birdland." And in places you can hear the Latin flavor of Birdland, the club, too. So we all agreed, "Let's call the song 'Birdland.'"
When we were asked what kind of music we were playing, we all came to kind of the same description. We said, "We're playing folk music of the future."
(Don Heckman has been writing about jazz and other music for five decades in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Jazz Times, Down Beat, Metronome, High Fidelity, and his personal blog, the International Review of Music.)