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WAYNE SHORTER’s continually expanding body of work is inextricably linked to the history of modern music. Regarded as one of the most significant and prolific performers and composers in jazz and modern music, he has received substantial recognition from his peers, including six Grammys and 13 additional nominations to date. He has been awarded Honorary Doctorates from New York University and the Berklee College of Music. In 1997, the National Endowment for the Arts presented Shorter with the prestigious Jazz Master award.
Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1933, Shorter attended college at New York University while also soaking up the Manhattan jazz scene by frequenting popular nightspots like Birdland and Cafe Bohemia. Upon graduating in 1956, he worked briefly with Johnny Eaton and his Princetonians. But just as he was beginning making his mark, Shorter was drafted into the Army. He recalls a memorable jam session just days before he was shipped off to Fort Dix, New Jersey: “A week before I went into the Army I went to the Cafe Bohemia to hear music, I said, for the last time in my life. That’s when I met Max Roach, and he asked me to sit in. They were changing drummers throughout the night, so Max played drums, then Art Taylor, then Art Blakey. Oscar Pettiford was on cello. Jimmy Smith came in the door with his organ…and I’m saying to myself, ‘All this stuff is going on and I gotta go to the Army in about five days!’”
Following his time in the service, Shorter had a brief stint in 1958 with Horace Silver and later played in the house band at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem. It was around this time that Shorter began jamming with fellow tenor saxophonists John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. In 1959, Shorter joined Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in August of that year. He remained with the Jazz Messengers through 1963, becoming Blakey’s musical director and contributing several key compositions to the band’s book. Shorter made his recording debut as a leader in 1959 for the Vee Jay label and in 1964 cut the first of a string of important recordings for the Blue Note label. He joined the Miles Davis band in 1964 and remained with the group through 1970, contributing such landmark compositions as “Nefertiti,” “E.S.P.,” “Pinocchio,” “Sanctuary,” “Fall,” and “Footprints.”
In 1970, Shorter co-founded the group Weather Report with keyboardist and Miles Davis alum Joe Zawinul. It remained the premier fusion group through the ’70s and into the early ’80s before disbanding in 1985 after 16 acclaimed recordings, including 1980’s Grammy-winning double-live LP set, 8:30. After the tragic loss of his wife in 1996 (she was aboard the ill-fated Paris-bound flight TWA 800), Shorter returned to the scene with 1997’s 1+1, an intimate duet recording with former Miles Davis quintet bandmate Herbie Hancock. The two spent 1998 touring as a duet.
By the summer of 2001, Wayne began touring as the leader of a talented young lineup that featured pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade. He marked another musical milestone in 2007 by pairing up with such world-renowned orchestras as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Royal Concertgebouw to unveil his new symphonic repertoire – striking re-workings of earlier compositions and newly composed material.
The events of his incredible life’s journey have been compiled by author Michelle Mercer in Footprints: The Life And Music of Wayne Shorter.