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Weather Wayne celebrates Shorter this weekend in East Bay

Michael Zilber
Michael Zilber

If you missed Wayne Shorter’s SFJAZZ residency in March – or, better yet, caught it in all its glory and are hungry for more – you’ve got two chances this weekend to hear his most indelible work.
It’s all thanks to Weather Wayne, the Michael Zilber-led band that celebrates the saxophonist-composer’s canon, most notably the joyful, challenging and infectious pieces he wrote and played with Weather Report and Milton Nascimento and on his 1980s and ‘90s solo records. The group features John R Burr (keyboards), Dan Feiszli (bass), John Mader (drums) and Markinho Brasil (percussion). You can hear the band Friday n ight at Duende in Oakland and Sunday afternoon at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley.
Here’s what Zilber told me a few years back regarding the whys and wherefores of Weather Wayne.

Question: This is, perhaps, an obvious place to start but when did you first encounter Shorter's work? What to you distinguishes his sound from that of his contemporaries?
Zilber: I encountered Wayne's music when I was a teenager in the mid-‘70s. At the time, fusion was hugely popular and Weather Report was my favorite band. Looking back, it was an extraordinary time for this music, since in addition to Wayne and Joe Zawinul and Jaco Pastorius, there was Chick Corea with Return to Forever, John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, Oregon, the Brecker Brothers, Billy Cobham and other truly seminal fusion bands, not to mention Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett.
As well, jazz and pop were very integrated, with Shorter, Hancock, Brecker, etc., appearing with great regularity on such leading groups' recordings as John Lennon, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Rolling Stones, Steely Dan, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind and Fire, Santana. It was probably the last time that jazz musicians and their sensibility were fully integrated into pop music and it was the musical coming of age for me as a 15-year-old. So I have always been informed by the notion that jazz and pop, funk and rock, etc., were all in the same garden and could play nicely together, without the false walls that have gone up since.
Wayne epitomized that more than anyone to me, being equally at home in a truly out acoustic jazz setting and a simple backbeat and ALWAYS sounding like himself. Many musicians cut their style to fit the music but somehow Wayne managed to maintain his sound and integrity while always playing what was appropriate to the musical moment. I think that is because he was never a licks player but always a compositional and in-the-moment player, one of the true improvisers and colorists of jazz.

Question: What specifically led you to want to create a Shorter showcase, particularly one spotlighting his Weather Report-era work?
Zilber: Well, the truth is that from 1970-96, Wayne wrote and performed almost exclusively in various electric settings, from Weather Report to his own groups to Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan, and wrote some truly astonishing music along the way. For whatever reasons, this musical approach has not been performed nearly as much as the Blue Note- and acoustic Miles-style that Wayne was a part of in his career from 1963-67. Partly it is because it requires an instrumentation and knowledge of grooves that many young jazz players simply don't have nowadays (since it is not something they learn). Partly it is because the sound was drawn in large part from the current funk and pop and world music of 1970-95 and many young jazz players don't have the access to play those kinds of gigs nowadays.
Partly it is because the music is louder and more energetic/groove based than a lot of what can go into small intimate jazz clubs nowadays. I think the music Wayne wrote and played in his 25-year "electric" period is some of the most beautiful and important music ever written and recorded and performed and I wanted to do an homage to that spirit. He is the only musician I can think of (maybe Brecker) where I would be interested in doing such a project, since he has been a huge influence on me both as a player and composer. So much so that Dave Liebman used to teasingly call me "Wayne Boy" when I lived and worked in NYC in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. I would not even begin to deny that his playing and writing from 1965-95 are an intrinsic part of shaping how I play and write.

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