Around the World: Czech Republic’s Miroslav Vitous

23 May

Miroslav Vitous album Atmos

Miroslav Vitous' 1992 album Atmos, with Jan Garbarek

If you’ve ever seen or heard a bass solo by Miroslav Vitous, born in Prague in 1947 when it was Czechoslovakia and Communist, and wondered where the energy came from, the answer is an unlikely place: the swimming pool. Vitous was an Olympic-caliber swimmer as a teen, before he toweled off and left for America in the 1960s and the Berklee School of Music.

Since then he has gone the distance — one of the founders of Weather Report, one of the feuders with the late Joe Zawinul, one of the record label ECM’s most celebrated and featured artists.

Vitous, from a 2004 interview at innerviews.org (link below): “There wasn’t much choice. I wanted to play music, so I went. Someone gave me something absolutely amazing: the discipline and strength to deal with physical situations. As a professional athlete, you have to conquer so much in training. There are so many difficulties. Even when you cannot go anymore, you have to keep going. You have to catch your second breath . . . What I learned physically from swimming I transferred to my mental state. You can imagine how tough it was to be a young 19-year-old from a Communist country in New York alone. You need a lot of mental strength to hold things together. I learned how to survive and keep going. I owe all of that to swimming.”

It was that mental strength that helped him during a less-than-amicable split from Weather Report, which lingered like a bad divorce years later. “There are some things that happened when I was departing,” Vitous said in the innerview.org interview, more than a quarter century later. “It was dirty. It was not fair. There were other things not done well besides the money . . .”

Vitous moved on — to other groups, including his own, other collaborations and other continents, moving back to his native Europe in the late 80s after two decades in North America. He’s continued to teach and compose and play and record.

Vitous from allaboutjazz.com: “I am a Slavic musician and it is deeply inside of me.”

Below is a link to the song Epilogue from Vitous’ 1969 album Mountain in the Clouds, with John McLaughlin (guitar), Herbie Hancock (piano), Joe Chambers (drums) and Joe Henderson (sax).

Sources: innerview.org, miroslavvitous.com, ejn.it/mus, allaboutjazz.com

Miroslav Vitous interview

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