Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Vitous, Miroslav

Bassist Miroslav Vitous joined the upper tier of jazz musicians in his teens, almost as soon as he arrived in the United States from Prague in 1966. A founding member of the jazz-rock fusion group Weather Report, he also anchored Chick Corea’s memorable trio recording Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. Now back in Europe, Vitous is a successful music technology entrepreneur who is widely admired for his compositions and virtuosity on the upright bass.

Vitous was born on December 6th, 1947 in Prague, the largest city and capital of the former Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic. The son of a saxophonist, he began his formal musical studies at the age of six on the violin, but quit after his first teacher died. He started playing piano at the age of nine before finally settling on the acoustic bass by the time he was fourteen.

He studied classical music at the Prague Cconservatory with professor Frantisek Posta. At this time, he played jazz in a group called The Junior Trio with his brother Alan on drums and Jan Hammer on piano, and Dixieland with a singer, Jiri Jerinek. Vitous was also a competitive freestyle swimmer, and was selected to compete for his country at the 1968 Olympics in Munich.

Plans changed in 1966, when Vitous received first prize in an international competition in Vienna organized by classical and jazz pianist Friedrich Gulda, in which American alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley was one of judges. The prize led to a scholarship at Boston's Berklee School of Music, which he attended from August of 1966 to April of 1967.

Vitous found he did not care for the school's curriculum, and began to stay home, where he maintained a rigorous eight-hour-a day practice schedule. His work ethic and dedication soon paid off, and in less than a year he was working in New York with trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, Art Farmer and trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Clark Terry before being hired by Miles Davis in 1967 for a one-week engagement at New York City’s Village Gate. He then joined the group of flautist Herbie Mann, with whom he played until the end of 1970.

Pianist Chick Corea was only 26, and Vitous 21, when the two met at a jam session in 1968 at bassist Walter Booker’s house, where Vitous was staying at the time. Their chemistry = must have been memorable, because Corea asked Vitous to join him and drummer Roy Haynes in recording sessions for the Blue Note label later that year, which became the album Now He Sings, Now He Sobs.

This album was one of the most influential and successful jazz recordings of the 1960s. It featured such memorable songs as "Matrix," in which Corea and Vitous both deliver expressive and creative solos. Other notable songs include "Steps-What Was," which in fourteen minutes captures some of the best rhythm section interaction in recorded jazz. Fortunately for listeners, this trio has reunited several times for in recent years.

In 1969, Vitous appeared on Wayne Shorter’s Blue Note Release Super Nova, along with Chick Corea, drummer Jack DeJohnette, and percussionist Airto Moreira. The album includes a memorable tribute to songwriter Billy Strayhorn, “Sweet-Pea."

Vitous’ next career move put him at the forefront of the emergent jazz-rock fusion movement. Recorded in 1969, his first album as a leader, Infinite Search, featured pianist Herbie Hancock, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, guitarist John McLaughlin, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. This all-star lineup speaks to the quality of players Vitous was able to gather around him at a tender age.

In 1970, Vitous, saxophonist Wayne Shorter and keyboardist Joe Zawinul joined forces to create the jazz-rock fusion group Weather Report. Weather Report released their first, self-titled album for Columbia Records in 1971, when it won Down Beat magazine's award for Album of the Year. This album marked a high point in extended group interaction, as it focused less on song structure than on collective improvisation. Zawinul did not yet play the synthesizers which later became his trademark, and Vitous played acoustic bass exclusively for the album.

Weather Report released their second album, I Sing the Body Electric, in 1972. It was the first Weather Report album to feature Zawinul on synthesizers as well as electric piano. It also featured new members drummer Eric Gravatt and percussionist Dom Um Romao. Vitous composed one song on the album, entitled “Crystal.” The last three songs of the album were recorded from one of the band’s live show in Tokyo, Japan that year and later became the nucleus of a separate album, Live in Tokyo.

Weather Report’s third album, Sweetnighter, marked a change of pace for the band. Not only did the band employ an electric bassist for half of the release, Vitous wasn’t the bass player. Saxophonist Andrew White played electric bass on the funkier numbers which included Joe Zawinul’s “Boogie Woogie Waltz." Vitous can be heard on the songs “Will,” “Adios,” and “Manolete.”

With Weather Report evolving into new musical territory, Vitous’ style became less of a natural fit in the band. He appears on only one track of the band's fourth release, Mysterious Traveller, and was replaced by bassist Alphonso Johnson, whose style and technique complemented the band’s electrified sound more efficiently. Following his departure from Weather Report, Vitous recorded for the ECM label and released several albums for the label including Majesty Music in 1976 and First Meeting in 1979.

In 1982, Vitous released Journey’s End, which included the song “U Dunaje U Perspurka." Later that year, he rejoined Chick Corea and Roy Haynes to record an album of improvisations for ECM Trio Music, then toured Europe together in 1984. The magic of these performances was captured on the ECM release Trio Music Live in Europe, which includes Chick Corea’s wonderful “The Loop." The trio reunited once more at New York's Blue Note jazz club, which was released in 2006 on DVD.

In 1989, Vitous recorded with pianist Steve Kuhn for his album Oceans in the Sky. The album includes the memorable songs “The Island" and “Oceans in the Sky."

Vitous taught on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music, then moved back to Europe in 1988. In 1991, Vitous recorded with drummer Peter Erskine and saxophonist Jan Garbarek for an ECM release, Star, in 1993, and the label also released a duo record of Garbarek and Vitous entitled Atmos.

For much of the next decade, Vitous immersed himself in the world of musical technology, creating a library of high-quality digital samples of orchestral instruments. While originally drawn to sampling to use in his own computer-based compositions, he has since made these samples commercially available to the public.

Vitous' involvement in sampling and composition led to his next major recording in 2003, Universal Syncopations, which includes the ballad “Bamboo Forest This successful return to recording was followed by a second album, Universal Syncopations 2, in 2007. Many of his old friends appear on these albums, including Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, John McLaughlin, and Jan Garbarek.

Select Discography

as Miroslav Vitous

Infinite Search (Embryo, 1969)

Majesty Music (Arista, 1976)

Guardian Angels (Contemporary, 1978)

Journey’s End (ECM, 1983)

Universal Syncopations (ECM, 2003)

Universal Syncopations 2(ECM, 2007)

with Weather Report

Weather Report (Columbia, 1970)

I Sing the Body Electric (Columbia, 1972)

Live In Tokyo (Columbia, 1972)

Sweetnighter (Columbia, 1973)

Mysterious Traveller (Columbia, 1974)

with Chick Corea

Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Blue Note, 1968)

Trio Music (ECM, 1982)

Trio Music Live (ECM, 1984)

Contributor: Jared Pauley