WAYNER SHORTER's continually expanding body of work is inextricably linked to the history of modern music. His music transcends genre while keeping the improvisational genius and surprise of jazz burning at the center. Regarded as one of the most significant and prolific performers and composers in jazz and modern music, Shorter has an outstanding record of professional achievement in his historic career as a musician. He has received substantial recognition from his peers, including 9 Grammys and 13 other Grammy nominations to date. He has been awarded Honorary Doctorates from New York University, the New England Conservatory, and the Berklee College of Music. In 1997, the National Endowment for the Arts presented Shorter with the prestigious Jazz Master Award. Shorter’s childlike imagination and ceaseless innovation in music invite comparison to the enduring vitality of Picasso in the world of art or of Bergman in film. Today, Shorter continues to dazzle audiences with his Quartet and his symphonic projects, creating some of the most powerful music of his career.
Born in Newark, New Jersey on August 25, 1933, Shorter had his first great jazz epiphany as a teenager: “I remember seeing Lester Young when I was 15 years old. It was a Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic show in Newark… [with] Stan Kenton and Dizzy Gillespie bands together on stage doing ‘Peanut Vendor,’ Charlie Parker with strings doing ‘Laura’ and stuff like that. And Russell Jacquet…Illinois Jacquet. He was there doing his thing. That whole scene impressed me so much that I just decided, ‘Hey, man, let me get a clarinet.’ So I got one when I was 16, and that’s when I started music.”
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. Shorter formed his own group in 1986 and produced a succession of electric jazz albums for the Columbia label — 1986’s Atlantis, 1987’s Phantom Navigator, 1988’s Joy Ryder. He re-emerged on the Verve label with 1995’s High Life. 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 pianist and 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 featuring pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade, each a celebrated recording artist and bandleader in his own right. The group’s uncanny chemistry was well-documented on 2002’s acclaimed Footprints Live! Shorter followed in 2003 with the ambitious Alegria, an expanded vision for large ensemble which earned him a Grammy. In 2005, Shorter released the live Beyond the Sound Barrier, which earned him another Grammy. “It’s the same mission…fighting the good fight,” he said. “It’s making a statement about what life is, really. And I’m going to end the line with it.”
Shorter marked another musical milestone in 2007 by pairing up with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw, and a handful of the world’s best symphony orchestras to unveil his new symphonic repertoire, including striking reworkings of earlier compositions and newly composed material. Bassist John Pattitucci says that Shorter possesses the prowess of many classical composers combined. “Wayne’s got a feel for the melody, like Puccini, on an extremely high level, but he’s also got the harmonic complexity, like Ravel.” The rich harmonic palette of his music and the interaction between orchestra and soloists makes the music compelling and interesting to audiences and also energizing and interesting for orchestral musicians. The orchestra functions as a leading voice, in dialogue and interplay with improvisations by Shorter and his ensemble.
The legendary jazz saxophonist and composer made his triumphant return to Blue Note Records after 43 years with the 2013 release of Without A Net, a searing new album with his long-running Quartet featuring Pérez, Patitucci, and Blade.
The events in his incredible life’s journey have been compiled by author Michelle Mercer in Footprints: The Life And Music of Wayne Shorter (A Tarcher/Penguin hardcover).