Wayne Shorter

  • Jazz tenor and soprano saxophonist and composer born in Newark New Jersey in 1933.
  • Shorter was encouraged to perform by his father. He learned the clarinet as a teenager, and then he switched to tenor sax before entering college. He earned a degree in music education, and then he served in the Army for two years, still performing on his sax. After his discharge, other jazz artists took note of his skill, and he became part of jazz ensembles, initially with Maynard Ferguson.
  • In 1959, he joined Art Blakely’s Jazz Messengers. He stayed for four years, touring worldwide and recording 22 albums. Some of the music was written by Shorter, as he began to expand as a composer. By late in his run with Blakely, half of the music was composed by Shorter. He also collaborated with Freddie Hubbard, releasing three albums from 1961 to 1963.
  • During these early years, in addition to his work with Blakely and Hubbard, he released four albums as leader of his own ensemble, featuring almost exclusively his own compositions. His style initially was termed “hard bop” – an extension of bebop music that emphasized piano and sax.
  • Miles Davis tried to convince Shorter to join Davis’ ensemble, and in September 1964, Shorter finally agreed. He stayed with Davis until 1970 – 21 albums were released with Shorter on saxophone. The music transitioned to an electronic fusion jazz-rock, and Shorter took up the soprano sax, which he felt gave a better sound for the times. Davis won a Grammy award for 1970’s Bitches Brew, with Shorter contributing all of the saxophone work, as well as one composition to the album. Shorter also recorded with Lee Morgan’s ensemble during this time, contributing to five albums.
  • During his time with Davis, Shorter continued to released jazz albums as the leader of his own ensemble. He recorded eight albums from 1965 to 1970, and his hard bop sound evolved to fusion jazz-rock with excursions into an avant-garde sound. His skills earned him the recognition of one of the greatest saxophonists of all time.
  • In 1970, Shorter formed the jazz fusion group Weather Report. With various members under Shorter’s leadership, the group toured and recorded until 1985. Their music incorporated diverse styles into their jazz, such as funk, Latin and ethnic music, and over time it became mellower and more melodic. The group released 16 albums, winning one Grammy award in 1979 for the album 8:30. 
  • In 1975, while continuing to front Weather Report, he collaborated with Herbie Hancock on Hancock’s Man-Child album. Shorter continued to work with Hancock, releasing 14 albums through 2010. Hancock won five Grammy awards with Shorter’s contributions – most significantly, Shorter co-received Grammy awards for his work with Hancock for Call Street Blues in 1987, for the album A Tribute to Miles in 1994, and for the song Aung San Suu Kyi in 1997.
  • Shorter performed saxophone on many recordings for numerous artists. He recorded on ten albums released by Joni Mitchell. He famously did the sax solos on the singles Aja by Steely Dan in 1977 and on The End of the Innocence by Don Henley in 1989. Others he performed with included Santana, Norah Jones and the Rolling Stones.
  • He formed an acoustic group named The Wayne Shorter Quartet in 2000 along with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade. The quartet released one studio, one combo studio/live and three live albums from 2002 to 2018, with two of the albums winning Grammy awards. The Grammy-winning Emanon won Best Jazz Instrumental Album for 2018 – Shorter was 85 years old at the time.
  • Given his legacy, Shorter has won numerous awards. In addition to his eleven Grammy awards, he was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 2015. In 2018, he was recognized with a Kennedy Center Honors award. He no longer performs publicly due to declining health.
  • Shorter aspired to compose an opera in the 50s, but never pursued it. In the mid-10s, he shared his dream with Esperanza Spalding, the Harvard professor and Grammy-winning jazz vocalist and bassist – Spalding had been mentoring with Shorter for many years. Together, Spalding and Shorter wrote Iphigenia, an update of an ancient Greek myth. The show premiered in Boston on November 12, 2021, and additional performances are scheduled at Kennedy Center, Berkeley and Los Angeles.
  • Watch Shorter at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2001 performing Footprints, the jazz standard composed by Shorter and first recorded in 1966.

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