Monday, March 6, 2023

Wayne Shorter Gave Us Lives


Photo: Robert Ashcroft

Wayne Shorter
(1933-2023) has been a musical presence in Creative Black Music since the late 1950s. Starting out his professional career with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson and then moving to Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers where he helped to shape the sound of Hard-Bop for five years before moving on to the Miles Davis Quintet for the balance of the 1960s and into the early days of 1970.  He and keyboard master Joe Zawinul formed Weather Report in 1970 initially as an avant-garde creative ensemble before turning to more earthly rhythms to become one of the more popular jazz-fusion ensembles in the mid-70s through the mid-1980s.  Shorter had started his solo recording career in 1960 with Vee-Jay Records before moving to Blue Note Records in 1964 and recorded over 10 albums that showed his growth as a composer, tenor and soprano saxophonist, and a leader.  

Photo: Christophe Simon
He moved to CBS/Sony as a member of Weather Report and, in 1975, as a leader with his stunning "Native Dancer", a collection of songs influenced by Brazilian music that featured, among others, Milton Nascimento and Herbie Hancock.  During the 70s and 80s (and beyond), he would add his saxophone to songs on albums created by Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Carlos Santana,  and Don Henley (among others). After leaving Weather Report in 1985, the saxophonist released three fusion albums for CBS between 1985-1988 but it was not until signing with Verve Records in 1994 and releasing the ambitious "High Life" that Shorter's career began the renaissance that would last for the rest of his creative life. 

In 2000, Mr. Shorter organized what turned out to his final, and arguably his best, working ensemble.  Danilo Perez (piano), John Patitucci (bass), and Brian Blade (drums) became an extension of the saxophonist's imagination and so in tune with his constant desire to be exploring that the group never rehearsed––they would get on stage and hit.  Over the years, the group would be augmented by orchestras and chamber ensembles, becoming the proving ground that would help lay the groundwork for "Iphigenia", the opera Mr. Shorter created with librettist esperanza spalding, set designer Frank Gehry (and the Quartet) that had its first full production (with the librettist in the lead role) in Boston, MA, in late 2021.  Considered (at that time) as a "work-in-progress"), the show went on to play in Washington, DC, Berkeley, CA, and Los Angeles, CA, working out many of the issues that beset the earliest productions.  
Though the physical presence that was Wayne Shorter has departed, those of us who loved his musical and artistic adventures have much to buoy our spirits, what with seven decades of compositions, recordings, and videos. We can still carry on our conversation with the questions his music posed. That need not be an internal dialogue as we have the possibility to teach other people about this most fascinating person.  

Watch the Quartet in action:

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