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Wayne Shorter

Few will dispute Wayne Shorter's importance as one of jazz's leading figures of the late 20th and early 21st centuries as both a composer and saxophonist. Though indebted to John Coltrane, with whom he practiced in the mid-fifties, Shorter developed his own voice and style on the tenor horn, retaining the tough tone quality and intensity and, in later years, adding elements of funk. On soprano, Shorter is almost another player entirely, his lovely tone attuned more to lyrical thoughts, his choice of notes more spare. As a composer, he writes complex, long-limbed tunes, many of which are now standards. Of his albums for Blue Note, most notably Juju and Night Dreamer, the composer and the saxophone stylist meet. He co-founded Weather Report with Joe Zawinul in 1970 and through 1986, released Grammy-winning albums. He issued charting solo jazz-funk recordings for Columbia and Verve in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including Joy Ryder, and High Life. On 2002's Footprints Live!, and 2003's Alegria, Shorter showcased a new acoustic quartet dedicated to performing his compositions. In the new century's second decade, Shorter re-signed to Blue Note and issued Emanon in 2018, a graphic novel and four-part studio suite with an orchestra packaged with two live discs showcasing his quartet. In 2022, Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival showcased a one off 2017 performance from Shorter, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding, and pianist Leo Genovese. Shorter started playing the clarinet at 16 but switched to tenor sax before entering New York University in 1952. After graduating with a BME in 1956, he played with Horace Silver for a short time until he was drafted into the Army for two years. Once out of the service, he joined Maynard Ferguson's band, meeting Ferguson's pianist Joe Zawinul in the process. The following year (1959), Shorter joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, where he remained until 1963, eventually becoming the band's music director. During the Blakey period, Shorter also made his debut on record as a leader, cutting several albums for Chicago's Vee-Jay label. After a few prior attempts to hire him away from Blakey, Miles Davis finally convinced Shorter to join his quintet in September 1964, thus completing the lineup of a group whose biggest impact would leapfrog a generation into the '80s. Staying with Miles until 1970, Shorter became the band's most prolific composer at times, contributing tunes like "E.S.P.," "Pinocchio," "Nefertiti," "Sanctuary," "Footprints," "Fall," and the signature description of Miles, "Prince of Darkness." While playing through Miles' transition from loose post-bop acoustic jazz into electronic jazz-rock, Shorter also took up the soprano in late 1968, an instrument that turned out to be more suited to riding above the new electronic timbres than the tenor. As a prolific solo artist for Blue Note during this period, Shorter expanded his palette from hard bop almost into the atonal avant-garde, with fascinating excursions into jazz-rock territory toward the turn of the decade. In November 1970, Shorter teamed up with old cohort Joe Zawinul and Miroslav Vitous to form Weather Report, where after a fierce start, Shorter's playing grew mellower, pithier, more consciously melodic, and gradually more subservient to Zawinul's concepts. By now he was playing mostly on soprano, though the tenor would re-emerge toward the end of WR's run. Shorter's solo ambitions were mostly on hold during the WR days, resulting in but one atypical solo album, Native Dancer, an attractive side trip into Brazilian-American tropicalismo in tandem with Milton Nascimento. Shorter also revisited the past in the late '70s by touring with Freddie Hubbard and ex-Miles sidemen Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams as V.S.O.P. Shorter finally left Weather Report in 1985. Still committed to electronics and fusion, his recorded compositions from the period feature welcoming rhythms and harmonically complex arrangements. After three Columbia albums during 1986-1988 -- Atlantis, Phantom Navigator and Joy Ryder -- and a tour with Santana (represented by the 2005 album Montreux 1988), he lapsed into silence, emerging again in 1992 with Wallace Roney and the V.S.O.P. rhythm section in the "A Tribute to Miles" band. In 1994, now on Verve, Shorter released High Life, an engaging electric collaboration with keyboardist Rachel Z. In concert, he has fielded an erratic series of bands, which could be incoherent one year (1995) and lean and fit the next (1996). He guested on the Rolling Stones' Bridges to Babylon in 1997, and on Herbie Hancock's Gershwin's World in 1998. In 2001, he was back with Hancock for Future 2 Future and on Marcus Miller's M². Footprints Live! was released in 2002 under his own name with a new band that included pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade, followed by Alegria in 2003 and Beyond the Sound Barrier in 2005. Given his long track record, Shorter's every record and appearance are still eagerly awaited by fans in the hope that he will thrill them again. Blue Note released Blue Note's Great Sessions: Wayne Shorter in 2006. Though absent from recording, Shorter continued to tour regularly with the same quartet after 2005. They re-emerged to record again in February of 2013 with a live outing from their 2011 tour. Without a Net, his first recording for Blue Note in 43 years, was released in February of 2013, as a precursor to his 80th birthday. Just after that release, the Wayne Shorter Quartet performed four of the leader's compositions with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Shorter immediately brought the quartet and orchestra into the studio to record those same four pieces: "Pegasus," "Prometheus Unbound," "Lotus," and "The Three Marias," as a unified suite. The title of this four-composition orchestral suite is also Shorter’s title character for the graphic novel: Emanon, or "no name" spelled backward. Each of the four movements has a corresponding theme in a graphic novel penned by Shorter and Monica Sly, illustrated by Randy DeBurke. It draws inspiration from the concept of a multiverse (where numerous universes co-exist simultaneously) and features a character named Emanon, an action-hero proxy of Shorter, a comic book aficionado since he was a boy. The story alludes to dystopian oppression and was clearly informed by the saxophonist's Buddhist studies. All told, the music -- performed by the quartet with and without the chamber orchestra -- was recorded live in London as well as in the studio; compiled, it created a triple album accompanied by the 84-page graphic novel. Emanon was issued in September of 2018, just after Shorter's 85th birthday. In 2022, Candid released Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival. Recorded at the 2017 event, the recording featured Shorter in a one off quartet setting that included drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding and Argentine pianist Leo Genovese. The musicans rehearsed some themes earlier that day, but the show marked their time time playing together as a group. It is widely regarded as one of the most electrifying performances in festival history.
© Richard S. Ginnell, Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Discography

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