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Composed: 2013

Length: c. 22 minutes

Orchestration: Vocal soloist and jazz quartet, 2 flutes and piccolo, 2 oboes and English horn, 3 clarinets and bass clarinet, 4 bassoons (two doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano, celesta, and strings

About this Piece

Wayne Shorter has gained equal renown as a trailblazing saxophonist and insightful composer. He came up through the ranks of the thriving Jazz scene of the 1950s and ’60s, making a name for himself with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis’s second quintet, while also staking a claim as a noteworthy solo artist and bandleader through albums such as Night Dreamer, Juju, and Speak No Evil. In the 1970s and ’80s he devoted himself to Weather Report, the earth-shaking jazz fusion band he co-founded in 1971, while also collaborating on projects with Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, and Carlos Santana. By 2000, Shorter had once again turned his attention to the more traditional instrumentation of jazz quartet, recording several acclaimed albums, including the Grammy Award-winners Alegría (2003) and Beyond the Sound Barrier (2005). Throughout, he continued to make his mark as a composer, expanding his oeuvre to include projects with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and commissioned works from the National, Saint Louis, and Nashville symphonies, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the La Jolla Music Society.  

Shorter is known for a musical practice that incorporates philosophical and spiritual elements. “Jazz shouldn't have any mandates,” he has said. “Jazz is not supposed to be something that you're required to sound like jazz. For me, the word jazz means, I dare you.…And this music, it’s dealing with the unexpected. No one really knows how to deal with the unexpected. How do you rehearse the unknown?” 

esperanza spalding first got to know Shorter about a decade ago and the two have since developed a rich artistic rapport grounded in a shared sense of musical adventure and a drive for boundless creativity. In a 2014 interview, spalding noted, “The way he composes, the way his sense of melody is so sublime and so inspired…He’s drawing in a different plane. We’re all drawing between the lines, and he’s drawing on the whole wall.” In recent years, the pair has been at work on the opera Iphigenia, with music by Shorter and a libretto by Spalding, who also played the title role in the work’s first performances. A milestone in Shorter and Spalding’s partnership came in 2013 with the jazz-orchestral work Gaia. Commissioned and premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gaia featured a libretto by spalding, who shared the stage with Shorter in the premiere. —Steven Ziegler  

This note originally appeared in the program book of the San Francisco Symphony and is used with permission. Steven Ziegler is Editorial Director of the San Francisco Symphony.