Here a couple of great videos from important times in the groups history.
Weather Report was originally a three person project, with the great Czech bassist Miroslav Vitous being the third member. Vitous’ tenure was short lived but to some, including myself, provided the most creative moments in the first two records the band put out, Weather Report and I Sing the Body Electric. Here’s a classic video of the band, in 1971, with most of the original lineup- Shorter, Zawinul, Vitous, along with Alphonze Mouzon, drums and Dom Un Ramao, percussion (Airto Moreira appears on the first record and Mouzon was replaced by Eric Gravatt on the second, so this is right in the beginning.
The band most people think of as Weather Report had Jaco Pastorius on bass, along with Alex Acuna, drums and Manola Badrena percussion. Among other recordings, the album Heavy Weather was widely loved. Here’s a good example of the band from that period, 1976 or so, with Jaco Pastorius a relatively newcomer.
Of course both were great, but clearly different, and each represented a big change at the time. To me, I really enjoy the organic feel of the first Weather Report the most, but that’s my opinion.
How do I develop my ear? Simple answer is use it – use it or lose it!
More specifically, how do I stay actively engaged and avoid auto-pilot?
Aside from self evident, circular responses, here are two major answers:
Be able to sing everything you play. If you don’t like singing, then whistle or hum. Go slow enough, in practice, that you can accurately hit each pitch. When you sing with the instrument, try to always lead with the voice.
Whenever you are learning something new, be it a tune, a scale, a phrase, etc., learn it in all 12 keys. This is equally true at the instrument as away from it. As you transpose, I think it’s essential to know what notes you are singing. You need the notes and of course you need the intervals.
Students often ask the best way to learn tunes. First of all, I would say that you should expect that it will take a lot of repetitions over a few days to know a tune. Don’t feel badly if you are not retaining everything. The main thing is to keep after this on a regular basis. It’s the regularity, force of habit that will make the difference long term. Playing a new tune in all the keys will open everything up, including the melody itself, the rhythm, the intervallic structure and harmonic implication, as well as the harmonic rhythm, fundament bass-line and the form. If you can do the same tune every day for a week you will know it in a much deeper way and your retention should improve.
Of course this works better if you have a recording in mind that you love, but I think both experiences are key, meaning the recording itself, and your interaction with it, and the act of taking the tune through all the keys. That said it would also be great working from a lead sheet alone, a way of putting yourself into it more.