Best known as one of the foremost young bassists in the jazz-rock movement of the late '60s and early '70s, Miroslav Vitous is one of Europe's most versatile imports, equally at home in mainstream idioms and even pop music. A sometime leader, his bass dances and skitters around an ensemble as a co-equal member of the front line, and he makes very creative use of the bow. He is influenced not only by bassists like Scott LaFaro, Ron Carter and Gary Peacock, but also by Czech folk music.
Vitous began his musical studies on the violin at age six, switching to piano from ages nine to fourteen before finally settling upon the bass. While studying at the Prague Conservatory, he played with a trio that included his brother Alan on drums and Jan Hammer — another future jazz-rock mover and shaker — on piano. After winning a scholarship to Berklee in 1966, he moved to New York the following year and wound up working with Art Farmer, Freddie Hubbard, Bob Brookmeyer, Clark Terry, and very briefly, Miles Davis.
Now one of the most highly touted prodigies in jazz, Vitous started playing in a recurring trio with Chick Corea and Roy Haynes on Corea's 1968 album Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. He then joined one of Herbie Mann's most popular groups from 1968 until 1970, with time out for a tour with Stan Getz; Mann produced his first album, a pioneering series of extended jazz-rock workouts called Infinite Search on the flutist's Embryo label. As a founding member of Weather Report, Vitous helped define the band's freewheeling initial stage, leaving the group in late 1973 as its music began to evolve into more structured forms. A move to Los Angeles in 1974 led to a year-long session of woodshedding in private with a new custom-made instrument, a double-necked guitar and bass. However, that experiment did not pan out, and he returned to the bass, leading sessions for Warner Bros., Arista, and from 1979, a sporadic series of dates for ECM as a leader and in reunions of Corea's bop-to-free Trio Music group.
In the meantime, Vitous became immersed in academia, joining the faculty of the New England Conservatory in 1979 and becoming head of the jazz department in 1983. Although his profile isn't nearly as high as it was at the height of the jazz-rock era, he continued to play at jazz festivals and record into the 1990s.