Wayne Shorter 1933-2023

It’s been nearly two weeks now since the great and legendary jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter passed away at 89-years old. I hadn’t yet sat down to write something about the man I consider to be one of the greatest jazz saxophonists and composers to ever blow a note. Why? Well, Mr. Shorter passed away on my son’s 18th birthday so I guess I was a little preoccupied. I’d also been reading all the amazing memorials posted and felt like “What do I have to offer amongst this chorus of grieving friends and collaborators?” Well today I felt like writing something, so here it goes.

The first time I ever heard Wayne Shorter play was most likely Steely Dan’s “Aja” as a kid. That solo he lays down on that is a force of nature; soulful, smooth, but then at the turn of a dime becomes wily and unpredictable. It elevated that song to another plane. And I would have to assume it was the ultimate moment of “We made it” for Fagen and Becker. From there I think I’d heard Weather Report’s “Birdland” at some point. The only reason I feel this is because when I bought Weather Report’s Heavy Weather many years later and opener “Birdland” started up I had the craziest feeling of deja vu.

But when I really “discovered” Wayne Shorter was on Miles Davis’ Nefertiti. Shorter penned half of the tracks on the record, including “Nefertiti”, “Fall”, and “Pinocchio”. While I’d bought a handful of jazz CDs up to that point, it wasn’t until Nefertiti that I found my love for jazz. It was the portal that led into what has become a musical obsession ever since.

Shorter’s playing and composition was on another level compared to a lot of players. I love Coltrane, and his playing seems to come from something spiritual and not of this earth. He taps into his love for life and the universe and its Creator. It’s a visceral listening experience. Wayne Shorter’s writing and playing felt more intellectual. He was putting complicated puzzles together in a way that some Midwest guy like myself could easily lock into. Wayne Shorter walked the line between Old Guard and New Guard eloquently and beautifully.

His work with The Jazz Messengers, Miles Davis, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, and McCoy Tyner are standout collaborations. His work in The Manhatten Project was short but sweet. But for me I go back to his solo works. Juju, Speak No Evil, Night Dreamer, The Soothsayer, Schizophrenia, Adam’s Apple, and Super Nova are the best places to get to know Wayne Shorter’s brilliant compositional skills and exquisite playing. That’s where it was at for me.

Wayne Shorter lived a long, fruitful life. He played with all the greats, and those greats considered him THE greatest. He was. On top of that Mount Rushmore of Jazz Wayne Shorter surely deserves to be there. But despite living to the ripe old age of 89 I wish he was still around. That list of groundbreaking musicians that transitioned from hard bop to post-bop to the fusion era of the 70s and beyond is dwindling. I feel I’m still discovering great artists and records in those years between 1960 and 1980, so when they pass on it feels like we’re being robbed of a powerful musical force. I guess that’s just me being selfish, but it is what it is.

So take a moment and give one of the greatest, Wayne Shorter, a listen today. His solo run from 1964 to 1969 is a good place to start. Then hit up his second greatest quintet albums with Miles Davis. Then Weather Report. Then those early Freddie Hubbard records. Then if you’re feeling the spirit, go give “Aja” a listen.

When all my dime dancin’ is through
I run to you

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