When I received the news of the recent death of Joe Zawinul age 75, I was shocked and shaken, to say the least. It had been a long time since Joe and I had spoken. I along with many others had been awe inspired by Joe’s work with Jaco Pastorius and Wayne Shorter in the band, Weather Report.
I always had a singular desire to play with the Weather Report band. But, the opportunity never presented itself. However, I had the distinct pleasure of working with both Joe and Jaco separately and in different venues. I worked with Joe at the World-class Attraction, the Salt Mine of Wieliczka, near Krakow, Poland.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) encourage international peace and universal respect through collaboration of the nations of the world. A concert was held for UNESCO in the unique setting of the subterranean Wieliczka Salt Mine, which had begun to take on water. The participating musicians took time out from their respective tours to participate in a benefit concert for UNESCO, during the summer of 1995. The proceeds of the concert were directed to restorative initiatives in the mine.
This location provided extraordinary acoustics. Imagine that setting coupled with Joe’s outstanding performance. The event evoked a surreal experience for all of those in attendance. When the concert began, Joe was incredible. The awesome display showed his true jazz and jazz fusion chops. He utilized nine keyboards set up with a remote strap-on keyboard, which generated a unique unexpected and exceptional sound.
My colleague, drummer Ernie Adams and recording artist Carlos Johnson were also a part of that remarkable performance. Ernie is currently playing, writing and producing many different styles of music and preparing for a world tour in 2008 with a major Japanese pop artist. His collaborations have included, among many others, Stanley Turrentine, Dianne Reeves, Ramsey Lewis, and most recently 9 years with Al DiMeola. Ernie vividly recalls Joe’s solo that evening. His solo during a groove that was reminiscent of an up-tempo Weather Report piece, was a beautiful and intricate modal barrage of 16th notes. As he and I reminisced, Ernie reflected upon how Joe continuously smiled at me while he executed his amazing solo.
The dreamlike experience was enhanced even more because during the concert I was provided my first opportunity to perform a bass solo. During my solo, I did a fast run down the bass and hit the lowest chord appropriate for that particular piece. This stroke blew out the electricity in the Salt Mine auditorium. Although the lights were out, the drums and percussions continued playing. The only lights that could be seen were the red lights on my Smith Jackson six string bass, and the lights on the miner’s helmets, as they went about the work of getting the electricity restored in the auditorium. Joe Zawinul, the icon, the idol, the star, the role-model graciously gave honor and recognition to all participants in the concert.
I had my first experience with Jaco Pastorius when I attended a performance at the Ivanhoe Theater in Chicago, Illinois. The show presented Herbie Hancock and the Head Hunters, featuring Jaco Pastorius on bass. This event was a life changing encounter for me because I had absolutely no understanding of jazz or bass soloing. BMM Editor, Jake Kot was also there that same evening, and we’ve talked many times on how we both walked away knowing things were going to seriously change for the both of us after seeing Jaco for the first time.
It was my privilege to be introduced to Jaco after the show. He was still wearing his bass strapped around his neck when we met. Consumed with curiosity regarding the sounds emitted when he played his instrument, I asked if I might briefly examine his instrument hoping that I might produce similar sounds. Jaco was very congenial and granted my request. My attempt at playing his bass did not, I repeat, did not produce the same sounds that Jaco created. I questioned him regarding the different sounds we generated while playing the exact same instrument. He replied, “It’s all in the hands.”
My second encounter with Jaco occurred in New York City, where I did a Bass Clinic for Harkey Guild. Jaco, bassists Darryl Jones and Jerry Peak, and I participated in the clinic at the Jazz Center. Jaco was in his dressing room with Larry Harkey and Ron Lorman, while I was on stage doing my sound check. Suddenly, Jaco appeared on the stage with me. We performed a spontaneous duet. I played the bass while he played the drums for approximately half an hour. Afterwards, Jaco shared with me that he had never in his life heard bass playing like mine. He then quickly countered, “But, I am still the greatest bass player in the world.” I laughed and agreed with him stating, “You know, you’re right.”
The impact of my experiences with Joe Zawinul and Jaco Pastorius is immeasurable. In reality I never fulfilled my wish to play with the Weather Report band. Instead, through fate and good fortune, I was given the opportunity to join forces and team up with two members of the band who personified the very essence of the jazz phenomenon.
As told to Dr. Yolanda D. Wallace and J.K. Dickens