Wayne Shorter

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At a Glance

Nationality: American
Born: Aug 25 1933


Biography

WAYNE SHORTER QUARTET

The wire is thin and stretched tight between two poles. On one end is everything known – the safe sounds, the expected chords resolving in expected ways. On the far end is something more elusive – the magic realm where jazz becomes what the critic Whitney Balliett once called “the sound of surprise.”

The musician works moment to moment out on that wire, attempting to achieve some sort of fragile balance while moving in the direction of magic. The conventional way to do it is to tread lightly, in baby steps, observing all the rules of harmony. That usually yields ... Read more

WAYNE SHORTER QUARTET

The wire is thin and stretched tight between two poles. On one end is everything known – the safe sounds, the expected chords resolving in expected ways. On the far end is something more elusive – the magic realm where jazz becomes what the critic Whitney Balliett once called “the sound of surprise.”

The musician works moment to moment out on that wire, attempting to achieve some sort of fragile balance while moving in the direction of magic. The conventional way to do it is to tread lightly, in baby steps, observing all the rules of harmony. That usually yields standard, predictable results. It’s not the approach taken by Wayne Shorter, the legendary saxophonist and composer. His idea, honed over six decades of music-making, is built on what might be called radical listening, the belief that in the scheme of the tune, whatever unfolds is directly related to the signals each musician sends out – and picks up.

On Without A Net, his astonishing return to Blue Note Records, Shorter and his trio begin each piece in a zone of total openness and deference. You can sense, from the space between the notes, that they are listening to each other. They move with unified grace. The shared pursuit propels Shorter into the unknown; pretty soon he’s fashioning a poetry of spins and squiggles, lunges and saxophonistic fits that defy notation. It’s not that he’s heedless or fearless, some crazed revolutionary making up his own rules – he’s simply curious to see where one small musical motif might lead. This proves infectious; his compatriots become curious, too. His mysteries become theirs.

That little circuit – one person’s quest activating the curiosity of others – defines the music of Wayne Shorter, from his days with Art Blakey through his classic Blue Note sides, the Miles Davis ‘60s quintet, Weather Report and a string of strikingly inventive solo albums. The legacy is in part derived from his compositions – rhapsodic tunes that virtually define the landscape of hard bop – as well as the way he approaches those tunes as an improviser.

“What do you say after ‘Once upon a time…’?” Shorter asks in a voice that suggests his question is both rhetorical and literal. “We don’t know when we go out there to start playing….The music paper is there to remind us to not do things the same as last time. And so we listen. And listen. To see….what can happen.”

The “we” is Shorter’s longtime Quartet – pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Pattitucci, drummer Brian Blade. Together for nearly 12 years, the group has evolved into the rarest of jazz coalitions – an ensemble that knows not only its leader’s overstuffed book of classic compositions, but his inclinations and passing references, where he likes to detour. The listening orientation is its own endlessly renewable (and highly refined) energy source, transforming ordinary tunes into visceral adventures. It’s so powerful, even the stodgiest of jazz critics have been rendered awestruck: Reviews of Shorter’s recent live performances are exercises in superlative overload. Calling it “the most skillful, mutually attuned and fearlessly adventurous small jazz group on the planet,” the Guardian (UK) said that the quartet “celebrates humanity’s hope for harmony.”

Shorter says that the performances on Without A Net, recorded at stops along a 2011 European tour (with the exception of an extended new piece, “Pegasus,” which features the Imani Winds and was recorded at Disney Hall in Los Angeles), offer “a composite of what we’ve been progressing toward over the last few years.” As it’s evolved, the group has shifted the emphasis away from individual solos and toward the development of a shared narrative in which all hands help shape the action. “Blakey used to say ‘tell me a story,’ and that’s what it comes down to. It’s the difference between playing the instrument and playing what you wish for. If your goal is to play an instrument, what comes out can be pretty boring. But if you think in broader terms, about what you feel needs to be heard or what you wish for the human condition, that can change things….There are times when we’re playing, I’ll turn around and look at Danilo and he’ll be doing something that’s beautiful and soulful, just a wishful sound. We all pick up on it, and just like that it’s ‘let’s go check out that direction.’”

The album opens with “Orbits,” a Shorter original first recorded by the Miles Davis Quintet in 1967, on Miles Smiles. Riveting from the first downbeat, it’s an essay in assertive rhythm that strives for a heavy-metal wallop. It says these guys mean business. The conversations flow and overlap in percussive waves before anyone makes a solo declaration – creating a metaphysical group discussion that eclipses the temperament of the Davis original. “I always say there’s no such thing as a finished anything,” Shorter laughs when asked about returning to a long-neglected tune from his catalog. “We get the chance to write something new every time we say hello to someone, if we’re thinking like that….Everything that’s said is infinite. That opens things up. We don’t talk about it in words, but it’s a part of the dialog when we play.”

The six new Shorter compositions on Without A Net all thrive on the group’s open conversational dynamic – it’s as though he wrote melodies like that of “S. S. Golden Mean” expecting its skeletal frame to be filled in and reinforced by the group’s shape-shifting interplay. In recent years, Shorter has devoted his energy to extended long-form pieces; several of these tunes, including the transfixing gallop-tempo tone poem “Myrrh,” are extensions of ideas he first worked out in larger scores. Shorter says he’s also continued to write self-contained tunes, and mentions “Starry Night” as one of his favorites. “Dizzy, this is about you. This is about ‘Manteca’ and the bridging of cultures…..it’s inspired by the boldness he showed. I mean, it’s a challenge right now being a creative individual, and what I say is ‘find the constant.’ Nature has a way of protecting the essence of something. Don’t attach to the temporary. That should apply to music, of course: We’re trying to use the best of the old stuff as a flashlight into the unknown.”

Also on the album: A radically reworked version of Shorter’s tune “Plaza Real,” first recorded on Weather Report’s Procession, and a breathless version of the title song from the 1933 film Flying Down To Rio, which is the first onscreen pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. An avid cinema lover, Shorter says he became enchanted with the tune after watching the DVD. “[The composer] Max Steiner really hit on something with that second chord,” Shorter says. “There’s a whole story in there – notes moving around in the undertow. That’s the Amazon, the rainforest, those ancient folk songs.”

The album’s title, Shorter says, grew out of a conversation with an actress friend of his, Vonetta McGee. She came to see him at Yoshi’s in San Francisco, the only US nightclub his current band has played. “I’ve known her since we were 15 or 16, and as she left, she said ‘You know what? You guys are playing without a net.’” The image stuck with him, and the very next week, Shorter and his wife were meeting with some scientists at Wake Forest about the rainforest. “They hadn’t heard the music or anything, and my wife mentioned what Vonetta said, and they were like ‘That’s the title of the album.’ They hadn’t heard a note of it.”

As he approaches his 80th year in 2013, Wayne Shorter looks like a completely new type of jazz elder. At a time when most musicians are content to collect the lifetime-achievement awards and honorary degrees, he’s creating not just some of the most intense music of his career but some of the most intense improvised music available. That’s saying something given his history: Shorter first recorded for Blue Note in 1959, as part of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He was signed to his own contract by founder Alfred Lion in the early 1960s, and began his solo career while a member of Davis’ groundbreaking ‘60s quintet. From 1964 until 1970, Shorter issued a string of albums on Blue Note (among them Night Dreamer, Juju and Speak No Evil) that are regarded, still, as singular compositional peaks in jazz. Since then, he’s continued to compose intricate yet wonderfully lyrical music – his 2004 Alegria won a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental album – while developing the uniquely interactive group sound.

Shorter’s not prone to long looks back at the “good old days” – he’s too immersed in the present for that. But even he acknowledges that his return to Blue Note, home of so many of his artistic triumphs, is something special. “To me, Blue Note means people getting together trying to make some kind of surprise….I hear Alfred Lion saying things like…’Don’t give it away, keep it a secret.’ And at take 10 asking ‘Can we do another take? And by the way Blakey, can you give me a little more grease?’” He continues: “It’s incredible when you think about it, how Alfred Lion’s intentions are still underlying something that’s going on today. It permeates through to the people who are there, Bruce Lundvall and Don Was, and even the lawyers, everybody….That’s a singularity, the same way music is. When you’re doing something like that with a purpose, and with respect, eventually that gathers steam and becomes part of the spirit of the planet.”

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

WAYNE SHORTER QUARTET

The wire is thin and stretched tight between two poles. On one end is everything known – the safe sounds, the expected chords resolving in expected ways. On the far end is something more elusive – the magic realm where jazz becomes what the critic Whitney Balliett once called “the sound of surprise.”

The musician works moment to moment out on that wire, attempting to achieve some sort of fragile balance while moving in the direction of magic. The conventional way to do it is to tread lightly, in baby steps, observing all the rules of harmony. That usually yields standard, predictable results. It’s not the approach taken by Wayne Shorter, the legendary saxophonist and composer. His idea, honed over six decades of music-making, is built on what might be called radical listening, the belief that in the scheme of the tune, whatever unfolds is directly related to the signals each musician sends out – and picks up.

On Without A Net, his astonishing return to Blue Note Records, Shorter and his trio begin each piece in a zone of total openness and deference. You can sense, from the space between the notes, that they are listening to each other. They move with unified grace. The shared pursuit propels Shorter into the unknown; pretty soon he’s fashioning a poetry of spins and squiggles, lunges and saxophonistic fits that defy notation. It’s not that he’s heedless or fearless, some crazed revolutionary making up his own rules – he’s simply curious to see where one small musical motif might lead. This proves infectious; his compatriots become curious, too. His mysteries become theirs.

That little circuit – one person’s quest activating the curiosity of others – defines the music of Wayne Shorter, from his days with Art Blakey through his classic Blue Note sides, the Miles Davis ‘60s quintet, Weather Report and a string of strikingly inventive solo albums. The legacy is in part derived from his compositions – rhapsodic tunes that virtually define the landscape of hard bop – as well as the way he approaches those tunes as an improviser.

“What do you say after ‘Once upon a time…’?” Shorter asks in a voice that suggests his question is both rhetorical and literal. “We don’t know when we go out there to start playing….The music paper is there to remind us to not do things the same as last time. And so we listen. And listen. To see….what can happen.”

The “we” is Shorter’s longtime Quartet – pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Pattitucci, drummer Brian Blade. Together for nearly 12 years, the group has evolved into the rarest of jazz coalitions – an ensemble that knows not only its leader’s overstuffed book of classic compositions, but his inclinations and passing references, where he likes to detour. The listening orientation is its own endlessly renewable (and highly refined) energy source, transforming ordinary tunes into visceral adventures. It’s so powerful, even the stodgiest of jazz critics have been rendered awestruck: Reviews of Shorter’s recent live performances are exercises in superlative overload. Calling it “the most skillful, mutually attuned and fearlessly adventurous small jazz group on the planet,” the Guardian (UK) said that the quartet “celebrates humanity’s hope for harmony.”

Shorter says that the performances on Without A Net, recorded at stops along a 2011 European tour (with the exception of an extended new piece, “Pegasus,” which features the Imani Winds and was recorded at Disney Hall in Los Angeles), offer “a composite of what we’ve been progressing toward over the last few years.” As it’s evolved, the group has shifted the emphasis away from individual solos and toward the development of a shared narrative in which all hands help shape the action. “Blakey used to say ‘tell me a story,’ and that’s what it comes down to. It’s the difference between playing the instrument and playing what you wish for. If your goal is to play an instrument, what comes out can be pretty boring. But if you think in broader terms, about what you feel needs to be heard or what you wish for the human condition, that can change things….There are times when we’re playing, I’ll turn around and look at Danilo and he’ll be doing something that’s beautiful and soulful, just a wishful sound. We all pick up on it, and just like that it’s ‘let’s go check out that direction.’”

The album opens with “Orbits,” a Shorter original first recorded by the Miles Davis Quintet in 1967, on Miles Smiles. Riveting from the first downbeat, it’s an essay in assertive rhythm that strives for a heavy-metal wallop. It says these guys mean business. The conversations flow and overlap in percussive waves before anyone makes a solo declaration – creating a metaphysical group discussion that eclipses the temperament of the Davis original. “I always say there’s no such thing as a finished anything,” Shorter laughs when asked about returning to a long-neglected tune from his catalog. “We get the chance to write something new every time we say hello to someone, if we’re thinking like that….Everything that’s said is infinite. That opens things up. We don’t talk about it in words, but it’s a part of the dialog when we play.”

The six new Shorter compositions on Without A Net all thrive on the group’s open conversational dynamic – it’s as though he wrote melodies like that of “S. S. Golden Mean” expecting its skeletal frame to be filled in and reinforced by the group’s shape-shifting interplay. In recent years, Shorter has devoted his energy to extended long-form pieces; several of these tunes, including the transfixing gallop-tempo tone poem “Myrrh,” are extensions of ideas he first worked out in larger scores. Shorter says he’s also continued to write self-contained tunes, and mentions “Starry Night” as one of his favorites. “Dizzy, this is about you. This is about ‘Manteca’ and the bridging of cultures…..it’s inspired by the boldness he showed. I mean, it’s a challenge right now being a creative individual, and what I say is ‘find the constant.’ Nature has a way of protecting the essence of something. Don’t attach to the temporary. That should apply to music, of course: We’re trying to use the best of the old stuff as a flashlight into the unknown.”

Also on the album: A radically reworked version of Shorter’s tune “Plaza Real,” first recorded on Weather Report’s Procession, and a breathless version of the title song from the 1933 film Flying Down To Rio, which is the first onscreen pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. An avid cinema lover, Shorter says he became enchanted with the tune after watching the DVD. “[The composer] Max Steiner really hit on something with that second chord,” Shorter says. “There’s a whole story in there – notes moving around in the undertow. That’s the Amazon, the rainforest, those ancient folk songs.”

The album’s title, Shorter says, grew out of a conversation with an actress friend of his, Vonetta McGee. She came to see him at Yoshi’s in San Francisco, the only US nightclub his current band has played. “I’ve known her since we were 15 or 16, and as she left, she said ‘You know what? You guys are playing without a net.’” The image stuck with him, and the very next week, Shorter and his wife were meeting with some scientists at Wake Forest about the rainforest. “They hadn’t heard the music or anything, and my wife mentioned what Vonetta said, and they were like ‘That’s the title of the album.’ They hadn’t heard a note of it.”

As he approaches his 80th year in 2013, Wayne Shorter looks like a completely new type of jazz elder. At a time when most musicians are content to collect the lifetime-achievement awards and honorary degrees, he’s creating not just some of the most intense music of his career but some of the most intense improvised music available. That’s saying something given his history: Shorter first recorded for Blue Note in 1959, as part of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He was signed to his own contract by founder Alfred Lion in the early 1960s, and began his solo career while a member of Davis’ groundbreaking ‘60s quintet. From 1964 until 1970, Shorter issued a string of albums on Blue Note (among them Night Dreamer, Juju and Speak No Evil) that are regarded, still, as singular compositional peaks in jazz. Since then, he’s continued to compose intricate yet wonderfully lyrical music – his 2004 Alegria won a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental album – while developing the uniquely interactive group sound.

Shorter’s not prone to long looks back at the “good old days” – he’s too immersed in the present for that. But even he acknowledges that his return to Blue Note, home of so many of his artistic triumphs, is something special. “To me, Blue Note means people getting together trying to make some kind of surprise….I hear Alfred Lion saying things like…’Don’t give it away, keep it a secret.’ And at take 10 asking ‘Can we do another take? And by the way Blakey, can you give me a little more grease?’” He continues: “It’s incredible when you think about it, how Alfred Lion’s intentions are still underlying something that’s going on today. It permeates through to the people who are there, Bruce Lundvall and Don Was, and even the lawyers, everybody….That’s a singularity, the same way music is. When you’re doing something like that with a purpose, and with respect, eventually that gathers steam and becomes part of the spirit of the planet.”

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

WAYNE SHORTER QUARTET

The wire is thin and stretched tight between two poles. On one end is everything known – the safe sounds, the expected chords resolving in expected ways. On the far end is something more elusive – the magic realm where jazz becomes what the critic Whitney Balliett once called “the sound of surprise.”

The musician works moment to moment out on that wire, attempting to achieve some sort of fragile balance while moving in the direction of magic. The conventional way to do it is to tread lightly, in baby steps, observing all the rules of harmony. That usually yields standard, predictable results. It’s not the approach taken by Wayne Shorter, the legendary saxophonist and composer. His idea, honed over six decades of music-making, is built on what might be called radical listening, the belief that in the scheme of the tune, whatever unfolds is directly related to the signals each musician sends out – and picks up.

On Without A Net, his astonishing return to Blue Note Records, Shorter and his trio begin each piece in a zone of total openness and deference. You can sense, from the space between the notes, that they are listening to each other. They move with unified grace. The shared pursuit propels Shorter into the unknown; pretty soon he’s fashioning a poetry of spins and squiggles, lunges and saxophonistic fits that defy notation. It’s not that he’s heedless or fearless, some crazed revolutionary making up his own rules – he’s simply curious to see where one small musical motif might lead. This proves infectious; his compatriots become curious, too. His mysteries become theirs.

That little circuit – one person’s quest activating the curiosity of others – defines the music of Wayne Shorter, from his days with Art Blakey through his classic Blue Note sides, the Miles Davis ‘60s quintet, Weather Report and a string of strikingly inventive solo albums. The legacy is in part derived from his compositions – rhapsodic tunes that virtually define the landscape of hard bop – as well as the way he approaches those tunes as an improviser.

“What do you say after ‘Once upon a time…’?” Shorter asks in a voice that suggests his question is both rhetorical and literal. “We don’t know when we go out there to start playing….The music paper is there to remind us to not do things the same as last time. And so we listen. And listen. To see….what can happen.”

The “we” is Shorter’s longtime Quartet – pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Pattitucci, drummer Brian Blade. Together for nearly 12 years, the group has evolved into the rarest of jazz coalitions – an ensemble that knows not only its leader’s overstuffed book of classic compositions, but his inclinations and passing references, where he likes to detour. The listening orientation is its own endlessly renewable (and highly refined) energy source, transforming ordinary tunes into visceral adventures. It’s so powerful, even the stodgiest of jazz critics have been rendered awestruck: Reviews of Shorter’s recent live performances are exercises in superlative overload. Calling it “the most skillful, mutually attuned and fearlessly adventurous small jazz group on the planet,” the Guardian (UK) said that the quartet “celebrates humanity’s hope for harmony.”

Shorter says that the performances on Without A Net, recorded at stops along a 2011 European tour (with the exception of an extended new piece, “Pegasus,” which features the Imani Winds and was recorded at Disney Hall in Los Angeles), offer “a composite of what we’ve been progressing toward over the last few years.” As it’s evolved, the group has shifted the emphasis away from individual solos and toward the development of a shared narrative in which all hands help shape the action. “Blakey used to say ‘tell me a story,’ and that’s what it comes down to. It’s the difference between playing the instrument and playing what you wish for. If your goal is to play an instrument, what comes out can be pretty boring. But if you think in broader terms, about what you feel needs to be heard or what you wish for the human condition, that can change things….There are times when we’re playing, I’ll turn around and look at Danilo and he’ll be doing something that’s beautiful and soulful, just a wishful sound. We all pick up on it, and just like that it’s ‘let’s go check out that direction.’”

The album opens with “Orbits,” a Shorter original first recorded by the Miles Davis Quintet in 1967, on Miles Smiles. Riveting from the first downbeat, it’s an essay in assertive rhythm that strives for a heavy-metal wallop. It says these guys mean business. The conversations flow and overlap in percussive waves before anyone makes a solo declaration – creating a metaphysical group discussion that eclipses the temperament of the Davis original. “I always say there’s no such thing as a finished anything,” Shorter laughs when asked about returning to a long-neglected tune from his catalog. “We get the chance to write something new every time we say hello to someone, if we’re thinking like that….Everything that’s said is infinite. That opens things up. We don’t talk about it in words, but it’s a part of the dialog when we play.”

The six new Shorter compositions on Without A Net all thrive on the group’s open conversational dynamic – it’s as though he wrote melodies like that of “S. S. Golden Mean” expecting its skeletal frame to be filled in and reinforced by the group’s shape-shifting interplay. In recent years, Shorter has devoted his energy to extended long-form pieces; several of these tunes, including the transfixing gallop-tempo tone poem “Myrrh,” are extensions of ideas he first worked out in larger scores. Shorter says he’s also continued to write self-contained tunes, and mentions “Starry Night” as one of his favorites. “Dizzy, this is about you. This is about ‘Manteca’ and the bridging of cultures…..it’s inspired by the boldness he showed. I mean, it’s a challenge right now being a creative individual, and what I say is ‘find the constant.’ Nature has a way of protecting the essence of something. Don’t attach to the temporary. That should apply to music, of course: We’re trying to use the best of the old stuff as a flashlight into the unknown.”

Also on the album: A radically reworked version of Shorter’s tune “Plaza Real,” first recorded on Weather Report’s Procession, and a breathless version of the title song from the 1933 film Flying Down To Rio, which is the first onscreen pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. An avid cinema lover, Shorter says he became enchanted with the tune after watching the DVD. “[The composer] Max Steiner really hit on something with that second chord,” Shorter says. “There’s a whole story in there – notes moving around in the undertow. That’s the Amazon, the rainforest, those ancient folk songs.”

The album’s title, Shorter says, grew out of a conversation with an actress friend of his, Vonetta McGee. She came to see him at Yoshi’s in San Francisco, the only US nightclub his current band has played. “I’ve known her since we were 15 or 16, and as she left, she said ‘You know what? You guys are playing without a net.’” The image stuck with him, and the very next week, Shorter and his wife were meeting with some scientists at Wake Forest about the rainforest. “They hadn’t heard the music or anything, and my wife mentioned what Vonetta said, and they were like ‘That’s the title of the album.’ They hadn’t heard a note of it.”

As he approaches his 80th year in 2013, Wayne Shorter looks like a completely new type of jazz elder. At a time when most musicians are content to collect the lifetime-achievement awards and honorary degrees, he’s creating not just some of the most intense music of his career but some of the most intense improvised music available. That’s saying something given his history: Shorter first recorded for Blue Note in 1959, as part of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He was signed to his own contract by founder Alfred Lion in the early 1960s, and began his solo career while a member of Davis’ groundbreaking ‘60s quintet. From 1964 until 1970, Shorter issued a string of albums on Blue Note (among them Night Dreamer, Juju and Speak No Evil) that are regarded, still, as singular compositional peaks in jazz. Since then, he’s continued to compose intricate yet wonderfully lyrical music – his 2004 Alegria won a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental album – while developing the uniquely interactive group sound.

Shorter’s not prone to long looks back at the “good old days” – he’s too immersed in the present for that. But even he acknowledges that his return to Blue Note, home of so many of his artistic triumphs, is something special. “To me, Blue Note means people getting together trying to make some kind of surprise….I hear Alfred Lion saying things like…’Don’t give it away, keep it a secret.’ And at take 10 asking ‘Can we do another take? And by the way Blakey, can you give me a little more grease?’” He continues: “It’s incredible when you think about it, how Alfred Lion’s intentions are still underlying something that’s going on today. It permeates through to the people who are there, Bruce Lundvall and Don Was, and even the lawyers, everybody….That’s a singularity, the same way music is. When you’re doing something like that with a purpose, and with respect, eventually that gathers steam and becomes part of the spirit of the planet.”

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

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