on 25 September 2010
There is a story that in the late 1970s or early 80s, a certain well-known English saxophonist was sent by a jazz magazine to interview Wayne Shorter; after a couple of hours of obfuscatory word games the frustrated interviewer realised the futility of his assignment and took his leave, depositing the tapes of the interview in Wayne's garbage bin on his way out.
Near the beginning of this book, the author relates how she asked Wayne a question about music and got the answer "But that's Occam's Razor!"
Perhaps we should define Occam's Razor, then; 'Plurality must never be posited without necessity'.
In other words, if you are writing a book about Wayne Shorter's life, is it necessary to write about his music also, in that book? When the music is there to speak for itself?
Thus the title refers to 'The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter', as of course Michelle Mercer DID want to write about his music - why else would anybody want to know about Wayne Shorter, the saxophonist and composer, whom Joe Zawinul referred to up to the end of his life as 'the best musician I ever worked with'?
I withdrew my original, damning review of this book as a hagiography; it's close to that, but I have re-read it carefully and revised my opinion. The author has obviously done her level best to produce a well-crafted, balanced biography and the salient details and tragedies of Shorter's life are all here, pretty much.
But there's not really that much bite to it; Wayne is presented as the all-round nice guy, with a playful, childish innocence which is a NECESSARY part of his genius. Oh look, there's the razor again.
Anyone who has looked at or read through a Wayne Shorter score or chart knows this begs several questions...which are unlikely to be answered. Obviously Wayne the composer could talk about his music in depth if he wished to, but he never has, preferring it to speak for itself. However, we do learn that 'Plaza Real' evokes a very enjoyable evening at a Spanish restaurant, for instance; but there are no real details to be had about the writing to recording process, or the inner workings of the Shorter/Zawinul partnership. Zawinul once remarked 'No Wayne, no Weather Report'. Why? No answer here; you have to listen to the music to understand.
So unfortunately (IMHO) there is not enough analysis of Wayne's music in this book - the 2 VeeJay albums get nary a mention - or properly detailed discussion of the fantastic sequence of albums Wayne delivered to Blue Note over 7 years in the 60s.
On the other hand, I can see that the author has set herself a near-impossible task and done her best.
This is the only published book I know of on Wayne Shorter, and it mirrors Brian Glasser's Zawinul biography in its slavish, near-fawning devotion to its subject. Both books succeed, incidentally, by treading carefully on just the right side of that line and allowing various 'dramatis personae' to contribute to the stories.
But neither author has attempted (or has the musical knowledge to attempt) proper in-depth musical analysis, which seems a missed opportunity to me, though Glasser does devote a few pages to one or two key records.
And I don't agree with letting the subject of your biography write an introduction to it, either - that's just complete nonsense, isn't it? This is very important. What are we really being introduced to here? Does the author actually have a free hand and a completely objective and dispassionate point of view?
Verdict; this is a 'yes, but'...it's as good as we are going to get. The author must have interviewed Shorter fairly extensively for the book, but ultimately her subject remains an enigma wrapping himself in riddles..but that's Occam's Razor, I suppose.