May 28, 2018
To honor those who gave their lives defending America, the Straight No Chaser song of Memorial Day is Joe Zawinul’s “Unknown Soldier.” Recorded by Zawinul with Weather Report for their I Sing the Body Electric album in 1972, the band at that time was Wayne Shorter on sax, Zawinul on keyboards (and synthesizer for one of the first times), Miroslav Vitous on bass, Eric Gravatt on drums and Dom Um Romao on percussion. Guests on “Unknown Soldier” included Hubert Laws on flute; Andrew White on English horn; Wilmer Wise on trumpets; and the voices of Tolande Bavan, Chapmen Roberts and Joshie Armstrong. The tune was recorded in November 1971 in Columbia Studios, New York.
The unknown soldier of the title comes from Zawinul’s childhood memories of World War II in Europe. He said in an interview:
In 1945 my cousin and I buried two German soldiers who had been dead a long time, in very bad shape. One guy was rolled over by a tank. We opened their uniforms to break off their name tags, but on one of them there wasn’t any tag. It’s that same old concept of the unknown soldier. That’s what I thought when I wrote this, with the prayers in there–it’s partially a recall of that night I told you about, September 10, 1944, when Vienna was burning, people were crying, buried underneath the ruins.
An orchestral version of the tune can be found as part of Zawinul’s symphony, Stories of the Danube, a recording that took the nuts and bolts of many of his jazz classics to make a large ensemble work, including “Pharaoh’s Dance” from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew..
Click here to listen to "Unknown Soldier."