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No Beethoven: An Autobiography and Chronicle of Weather Report

C. Michael Bailey By
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No Beethoven: An Autobiography and Chronicle of Weather Report
Peter Erskine
320 pages
ISBN: 978-0316194754
Fuzzy Music
2013

Drummer Peter Erskine's No Beethoven reads like the random travelogue of a touring band. Quotes, letters, personal vignettes interspersed with many photographs, the book is a stream-of-conscience wave of memory and analysis. Written thus, it may be read in fits and starts with no loss of story. Pick this book up, turn anywhere, read, lay back down, and after a bit the book is finished and the enormity of Erskine's personal and professional life is very clear. And that is only a third of the story.

This is a story necessarily made up of creative personalities and Erskine's experience with them. Stan Kenton, Joni Mitchell, Michael Brecker, Wayne Shorter, Elvin Jones are all revealed in startling detail with love and respect. Spread out over the book is the evolution of Erskine's beautiful family within the perspective of his life as an in-demand musician. This is the biography of a success story with little of the dissolution and loss characterizing so many such accounts.

The second third of this book is devoted to the ground-breaking jazz ensemble, Weather Report, raised around the core of keyboardist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. The two were veterans of the Miles Davis bands which changed the jazz landscape with In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) and Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970). The next year, Weather Report (Columbia) was released and a new jazz story, a large part of which included Erskine, began.

But it is the last third of this book that is most profound. It is Erskine's love letter to two towering talents: the enormous creative drive and personality that was Joe Zawinul and that force of nature in four strings Jaco Pastorius. With great personal detail, Erskine describes the two, Zawinul more than Pastorius, in intimate detail. Erskine reveals the personalities of these complex men, teasing away the romantic from the real. Heartbreaking is the inclusion of the last letter he received from Zawinul, who was to die soon after. The book closes with a photograph of Erskine kneeling beside Zawinul's grave in Vienna. This is a fine memoir by any account and a terrific homage in the bargain.

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