Wayne Shorter, jazz musician of innovation and introspection, dies at 89

Wayne Shorter, whose captivating blend of complex harmonies and lyrical melodies in his saxophone performances and compositions made him one of the most influential jazz musicians of the past half-century, died March 2 in a hospital from Los Angeles. He was 89 years old.

His death was confirmed by publicist Alisse Kingsley, who did not cite a cause.

Mr. Shorter’s career encompassed and to a large extent helped shape the history of jazz in the late 20th century. He was a member of the Miles Davis Quintet in the 1960s and was one of the star performers on Davis’ groundbreaking recordings that helped define jazz-rock fusion, a style he continued to cultivate as a co-founder. from Weather Report with pianist Joe Zawinul.

But it wasn’t until the turn of the 21st century that the self-effacing Mr. Shorter, entering his sixties, became an influential conductor in his own right, leading a critically acclaimed acoustic quartet consisting of pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer. Brian Blade who presented inventive versions of shorter compositions such as “Sanctuary”, “Footprints”, “Juju” and “Chief Crazy Horse”, as well as new originals.

Critic Greg Tate once wrote that Mr. Shorter’s signature compositions – which also included ‘Speak No Evil’, ‘Infant Eyes’, ‘Night Dreamer’ and ‘Nefertiti’ – ‘set a high bar for melodic sophistication, harmonious and emotional. His tenor saxophone playing brought more introspective nuances and intellectual complexity to the horn than anyone since Lester Young.

Generations of musicians have included Mr. Shorter’s work in their repertoire. His elliptical and changing approach to playing and writing has influenced musicians as varied as trumpeters Wynton Marsalis, standard bearer of traditional jazz, and Dave Douglas, mainstay of alternative or progressive jazz.

It took years for Mr. Shorter to be considered an original. In the late 1950s, his deep tenor saxophone sound and the complex flow of his solos drew immediate comparisons to the tenor twin towers of the day, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Both artists, however, were among the first to recognize that Mr. Shorter was blazing a trail that was strikingly different from their own.

“Wayne never struck me as an impersonator,” Rollins told author Michelle Mercer in “Footprints,” his 2004 biography of Shorter. “He kind of liked Trane and maybe me, but Wayne was an innovative guy himself, and it showed in the way he put things together.”

Over time, Mr. Shorter’s tenor style developed weight and dimension as his phrasing floated, dipped, slid and sometimes suspended in mid-air before unexpectedly shifting to a new idea.

The impressionism and conciseness of Mr. Shorter’s playing grew stronger and more inimitable over his long career – until 2018’s ‘Emanon’, a magnum opus comprising three discs and a graphic novel he had co -written with Monica Sly who won Mr. Shorter her 11th Grammy Award in 2019.

Mr. Shorter’s interest in comic books dates back to his teenage years in Newark, where he was born on August 25, 1933. He was an avid and imaginative consumer of pop culture, imbibing the dance music his father played on the radio as well as the soundtracks he began to memorize and imitate from horror and sci-fi movies he had seen in neighborhood theaters.

A budding talent for painting and sculpting earned Mr. Shorter a scholarship to Newark’s Arts High School, where he also developed his interest in film. At 14, Mr. Shorter turned to music after encountering the jazz recordings of Young, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk.

This newly awakened passion was underpinned by his lifelong fascination with the dramatic structure of the classical symphonies of Beethoven and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. He started out playing clarinet but soon switched to tenor saxophone.

The deeper Mr. Shorter got into jazz, the more he began to adopt eccentric and eccentric ways inspired by bebop. Poet, playwright and music critic Amiri Baraka, who grew up in Newark around the same time, recalled in a 1959 article for the short-lived Jazz Review magazine, “Introducing Wayne Shorter”, that Mr. Shorter and his older musician brother , Alan, were considered among their peers as “the two ‘strange’ Shorter brothers.”

The Shorter boys were so proud of their reputation that Wayne Shorter painted “Mr. Bizarre” on his saxophone case.

He graduated from high school in 1952, then attended New York University as a music education major, subsidizing much of his tuition with band gigs. After graduating in 1956, he was drafted into the military, where he became known for his prowess as a musician and sharpshooter. After his release, he toured the New York scene, working briefly with pianist Horace Silver in 1958 and performing with other musicians throughout the city.

In July 1959, while playing with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson’s big band at the Newport Jazz Festival, Mr. Shorter was spotted by Lee Morgan, who was then playing trumpet with the Jazz Messengers. Morgan urged Blakey to invite Mr. Shorter to replace an ailing Hank Mobley as the Messengers’ tenor. The following month, Mr. Shorter began a five-year full-time stint with Blakey which raised Mr. Shorter’s profile as a soloist and writer.

His most important musical affiliation began in 1964, when he joined what would become Davis’ “second great quintet” after the protean trumpeter led in the 1950s with Coltrane. Mr. Shorter’s original and thorough approach to music proved harmonious with Davis’ mercurial temperament, blending just as well with the restless inventiveness of pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams.

Davis, in his 1989 memoir, wrote that he considered Mr. Shorter the quintet’s “intellectual musical catalyst” on such 1960s Columbia albums as “ESP”, “Miles Smiles” and “Sorcerer”. Meanwhile, Mr. Shorter cemented his reputation with 11 albums released under his own name by the Blue Note label, including ‘Night Dreamer’, ‘Juju’, ‘The All Seeing Eye’, ‘Speak No Evil’ and ‘The Apple’. of Adam.”

He had focused primarily on tenor sax throughout the period, but began to lean more into soprano on Davis’ 1969 album “In a Silent Way”. By the 1970s, Mr. Shorter had switched almost entirely to the lighter-voiced instrument, which he also played on “Bitches Brew,” Davis’ 1970 hit sequel.

Mr. Shorter left Davis’ group that year and in 1971 co-founded Weather Report with Zawinul. From the start, Weather Report specialized in electronically amplified mixes of funk, soul, Latin and free jazz.

The high point of the band’s popularity and acclaim came with ‘Heavy Weather’ (1977), which among other things contributed Zawinul’s rock and swing anthem ‘Birdland’ to the world jazz repertoire.

Mr. Shorter placed his soprano at the center of his 1974 album “Native Dancer”, a sequence of Brazilian tunes featuring composer and singer Milton Nascimento. He also began an association with Joni Mitchell with “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter” (1977) which continued through nine more Mitchell albums. Weather Report, meanwhile, continued its personnel changes to become jazz-rock’s toughest ensemble.

After Weather Report disbanded in 1986, Mr. Shorter’s soprano sax appeared on the albums of artists as diverse as Mitchell, Steely Dan, Don Henley, Carlos Santana, Helen Merrill and his longtime friend Hancock.

In 1995, Mr. Shorter released “High Life”, an album of fusion of string and brass arrangements and pulsing beats reminiscent of his Weather Report years. He quickly began racking up his profession’s highest honors, including designation as a Master of Jazz by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1998, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015, and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2018. .

Mr. Shorter’s first marriage, to Teruko Nakagami, ended in divorce. His second wife, Ana Maria Patricio, and their niece Dalila were killed in 1996 along with 228 others on TWA Flight 800 shortly after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. They were flying to Rome to meet Mr. Shorter. (Eleven years earlier, their daughter Iska died at age 14 of a grand mal seizure.)

In 1999, Mr. Shorter married Carolina Dos Santos. In addition to his wife, survivors include a daughter from his first marriage, Miyako; a stepdaughter he adopted, Mariana; and a grandson.

Although seen throughout his career as more of a nurturer than a leader, Mr Shorter said he believed from his earliest days as a player that music was an act of personal affirmation and investment in his inner being. “Jazz for me, he says, is: ‘Do you have the courage to do it?’ ”

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