Remembering Eric Gravatt and Weather Report

SKF NOTE: I found this photo of drummer Eric Gravatt in the first issue of Different Drummer magazine dated September 1973, which was launched by Harry Abraham. The issues I have are mostly full of jazz record reviews with some short feature stories mixed in.

The Gravatt photo was included in a short piece on Weather Report which was, at the time, made up of Gravatt, percussionist Dom Um Romao, bassist Miroslav Vitous, keyboardist Joe Zawinul, and saxophonist Wayne Shorter.

According to Drummerworld, Gravatt “has played with many of the greatest musicians and bands of jazz including Woody Shaw, Howard Roberts, Albert Ayler, Sonny Fortune, Kenny Dorham, Gary Bartz and more. Gravatt’s career attracted worldwide attention while he played with Weather Report, beginning with 1972’s I Sing The Body Electric. After the making of the group’s 1973’s Sweetnighter he decided to leave Weather Report and joined the group Natural Life in 1974.”

Eric Gravatt is also the drummer on Weather Report’s Live in Tokyo (1972) album.

In the early 1970s I was intrigued by Gravatt’s drum setup; the compact set with his ride cymbal stand raised high, and the ride cymbal adjusted almost vertically. Of course, I tried using my ride cymbal configured that way, but gave it up almost immediately. Playing that way was too much work. Based on recent concert videos on Drummerworld, Gravatt kept his ride cymbal that way.

The first self-titled Weather Report album (1971) presented a listening challenge. My recollection is, billed as a jazz album, there was no jazz in my experience with which to compare this music. My first step to really hearing Weather Report’s music was to stop looking for a comparison. Then I had to listen as objectively as possible. Some of the music I liked, some I didn’t.

Alphonse Mouzon played drums on Weather Report. The follow-up albums, I Sing The Body Electric and Sweetnighter, were more get-at-able. If the first album was like traveling in a strange place wondering, “Where am I?,” Weather Report’s next two albums with Eric Gravatt on drums had many instances of recognizable territory.

Drummer Herschel Dwellingham plays drums on half of Sweetnighter‘s tracks. One blogger said of Dwellingham, “he’s the drummer that brought the funk” to Sweetnighter. Perhaps the musical territory I recognized in 1973 was most Herschel Dwellingham.

Still, I liked Gravatt’s approach to the drums. And this photo by Lee Tanner brings back some satisfying listening experiences.

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