WAYNE SHORTER-A SAXOPHONIST, COMPOSER AND BANDLEADER LIKE NO OTHER
Updated: Feb 2
It is hard to know where to begin when writing about saxophonist, composer and bandleader Wayne Shorter.The man is a legend, of course, and his resume is a who’s who of contemporary music.I became aware of Wayne Shorter in 1977 when I bought the vinyl pressing of Steely Dan’s Aja album.The title cut features an amazing duet between Wayne and drummer Steve Gadd.At that point I became aware of Wayne’s group Weather Report, and a couple of years later the classic Weather Report featuring Jaco Pastorius came to Santa Cruz and played the Civic Auditorium.That showed knocked me out, Jaco was bouncing around the stage like a madman, and Peter Erskine on drums was just perfect for their unique world jazz fusion.I knew at that moment that I was seeing and hearing something very special.That band and tour was very well captured on the Weather Report live recording 8:30, and every time I hear that music I picture Wayne and Jaco on stage that night, tearing it up.That was an amazing night of music that I’ll never forget.
Weather Report is absolutely a topic for another blog post but if you are new to their legacy you can find a great overview here at Wikipedia…..https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weather_Report
Additionally Wayne Shorter’s Wikipedia biography can be found here…..https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayne_Shorter
Over the course of the next ten years I began to explore Wayne Shorter’s recorded legacy in detail. It was Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way recording that really grabbed me when I first heard it in the middle 1980’s, and I subsequently got into the classic second Miles Davis Quintet recordings that showcased Wayne’s compositional prowess, ESP being the one that completely killed me. In the late 1980’s I discovered and digested the many Blue Note solo recordings he made, and I have an incredible audio recording of a talk he did at San Francisco State University while I was a student there at that time. Carlos Santana was there and his voice can be heard greeting Wayne on the recording. I recorded this presentation on an old Walkman Cassette recorder and it still sounds great!! Notice Wayne’s autograph in red ink in the upper left hand corner of this flyer…..
These Blue Note recordings are a must hear for any aspiring tenor saxophonist as they, along with the Blue Note recordings as a leader of Joe Henderson, form the basis for the post Coltrane tenor style of that time.
We will return to the Blue Note solo recordings of both Wayne and Joe in future blog posts here at www.marksowlakis.com.
Also in the later 1980’s I became aware that Wayne had been a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and I could not help but delve into that catalog of incredible music. More on Art Blakey can be found here….https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_Blakey The music that Wayne made, along with trumpeter Lee Morgan, with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, should be heard by all young students of jazz as these recordings form the basis for most of the hard bop small group jazz that was so prominent and influential in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.
I found myself on a Wayne Shorter binge in college that would continue for many years, and I not only found his saxophone playing inspiring, but his compositional skills as well. The beauty and harmonic sophistication of his tunes began to hit me in places I’d never be hit before. Although I had not done much composing myself, I think the sheer volume and incredible creative spirit that burned throughout his work made me want to pursue composition on my own someday. Of course he has written many fascinating tunes that are often played today, as well as longer form pieces that show up in some of his later work. Probably his most famous tune is Footprints, which was recorded by both the Miles Davis Quintet on Miles Smiles (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miles_Smiles) and by Wayne himself on his classic Blue Note recording Adams Apple…..https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam%27s_Apple_(album)
I also began collecting the many Blue Note recordings that Wayne Shorter was featured on as a sideman, Lee Morgan’s Search For The New Land being one of the most influential and beguiling.See the Wikipedia entry here….https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Search_for_the_New_Land
This is a sublime recording featuring Herbie Hancock on piano, Grant Green on guitar and of course the incredible trumpet work of Lee Morgan.My appreciation for this music was expanding exponentially and I was really delving deep into this music.It was on this recording that I discovered a tune of Lee Morgan’s called The Joker.The title made me laugh, and I loved the short solo that Wayne played on it.I could hear the harmonic progression pretty clearly, and in about an hour I transcribed the melody, chords and one chorus Wayne solo by hand on manuscript paper, the old fashioned way.
I use this solo often with my progressing tenor saxophone students, and have played this tune several times on gigs of my own…..
A few years ago I put this transcription into Finale; here is the finished product in case you have an interest in checking it out or playing along with it…..
Over the years I have continued listening to a great deal of the music that Weather Report recorded, and it never fails to move me. The interplay amongst those musicians, the compositional aspects, the soloing and the ensemble passages are terrific. Weather Report truly built on the legacy of Miles Davis, and forged a unique brand of jazz rock fusion that endures to this day. Throughout his long career Wayne Shorter has continued to make amazing music, not only with his quartet with Brian Blade, John Patticucci and Danilo Perez, but on many other recordings such as the duet recording with Herbie Hancock and his incredible recording on Verve Records entitled Allegria from 2003. This is a truly fascinating work of art…….here is the Wikipedia link regarding this recording, do go out and find yourself a copy if you’ve never heard this…..https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alegr%C3%ADa_(Wayne_Shorter_album).
In addition to Allegria I also find myself returning to Wayne’s recording High Life, on Verve from 1995, which has a very contemporary feel and shows how he transitioned from the music of Weather Report to arrive at this point in the mid 90’s, where he integrates so many different textures and grooves…… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Life_(Wayne_Shorter_album)
Finally, I recently revisited my copy of his book Footprints-The Life And Work Of Wayne Shorter, written with Michelle Mercer and published by Penguin in 2004.
I highly recommend you find a copy of Footprints if you want to gain more insight into Wayne Short and his music, career and compositional thinking. I reread many of the dog eared pages and underlined passages I highlighted in previous readings, I believe I have read this book in its entirety twice. There is much to glean here about Wayne. I found an excerpt from the book on page 197 that seems to now fit perfectly with my own experience with Wayne Shorter…..”Aja introduced a wide audience to Wayne’s playing, and for years afterward, people approached him and said they’d first heard him on this record.” And finally, on page 202, Joni Mitchell, who’s had Wayne as a guest soloist on several of her recordings over the years, had this to say about him, “There’s no one like him on my music. There’s nobody who’s so exciting to work with.”
As usual Joni hits the nail right on the head. She always has had a way with words! Wayne’s recorded legacy is legendary, and he is a true living jazz icon. Wayne Shorter is truly a one of a kind genius, a saxophonist, composer and bandleader like no other.