Weather Report was a influential jazz fusion band of the 1970s and 1980s, pitting jazz with R&B, funk, and rock elements while still retaining an extremely high level of compositional and improvisational skills. Along with other groups that were founded by Miles Davis alumni Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Herbie Hancock's group, WR was one of the greatest innovators of the jazz fusion genre at that time. They were also the most long-lived and perhaps the most artistically successful (as cited by Ken Burns) of the four groups.
The band was originally a spin-off from the group of musicians associated with Miles Davis in the late sixties and early seventies. The stable core of the group was the duo of pianist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, while the other musicians were rotated, sometimes with almost every new album release. Both Zawinul and Shorter had made their earlier marks as being among the best composers in jazz, Zawinul in Cannonball Adderley's group and Shorter in Miles Davis' group. Zawinul would later join Shorter with Miles Davis' first recordings of fusion music, "In a Silent Way" and "Bitches Brew".
Initially, the band's music featured extended improvisation, similar to Davis' Bitches Brew-period work, and instrumentation included both a traditional trap set drummer and a second percussionist (first Airto Moreira, later Dom Um Romão). The group was unusual and innovative in abandoning the soloist-accompaniment demarcation of straight-ahead jazz and instead featuring continuous improvisation by every member of the band.
Reedman Wayne Shorter furthered pioneering on the soprano sax (taking the torch from Sidney Bechet's and John Coltrane's earlier efforts) and both Zawinul and original bassist Miroslav Vitouš experimented with rock guitarists' electronic effects, Zawinul on piano and synthesizers, Vitouš on upright bass, often bowed, as a second horn-like voice.
Weather Report's self titled debut album "Weather Report" won Down Beat's Album of the year in 1971. Although the album is generally softer than in later years (acoustic bass and no synthesizers were used) it is still considered a classic of early fusion. Their sophomore effort the following year, "I Sing the Body Electric", featured their first use of electronics beyond an electric keyboard (a synthesizer and sound effects were utilized). Part of the 2nd album was recorded live in Japan which was taken from a Japanese-only release at the time. The entire "Live in Toyko" double album would later be released as an import and made available in the US.