Early life and career
Wayne Shorter was born in Newark, New Jersey, and attended Newark Arts High School, from which he graduated in 1952. He loved music, being encouraged by his father to take up the clarinet as a teenager; his older brother Alan played alto saxophone before switching to the trumpet in college. While in high school Wayne also performed with the Nat Phipps Band in Newark, NJ. After graduating from New York University with a degree in music education in 1956, Shorter spent two years in the U.S. Army, during which time he played briefly with Horace Silver. After his discharge, he played with Maynard Ferguson. In his youth Shorter had acquired the nickname “Mr. Gone”, which later became an album title for Weather Report.
His early influences include Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins. In 1959, Shorter joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers where he stayed for four years, and eventually became the band’s musical director. Together they toured the US, Japan and Europe, recorded several recognized albums and he also composed pieces for the band. During this time Shorter “established himself as one of the most gifted of the young saxophonists” and received international acknowledgment.
With Miles Davis (1964–70)
When John Coltrane left Miles Davis’ band in 1960 to pursue his own group, Coltrane proposed Shorter as a replacement, but Shorter was unavailable. Davis went with Sonny Stitt on tenor, followed by a revolving door of Hank Mobley, George Coleman, and Sam Rivers. In 1964 Davis persuaded Shorter to leave Blakey and join his quintet alongside Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Davis’s so-called Second Great Quintet (to distinguish it from the quintet with Coltrane) that included Hancock and Shorter has frequently been cited by musicians and critics as one of the most influential groups in the history of jazz, and Shorter’s compositions are a primary reason. He composed extensively for Davis (e.g. “Prince of Darkness”, “E.S.P.”, “Footprints”, “Sanctuary”, “Nefertiti”, and many others); on some albums, he provided half of the compositions.
Hancock said of Shorter’s tenure in the group: “The master writer to me, in that group, was Wayne Shorter. He still is a master. Wayne was one of the few people who brought music to Miles that didn’t get changed.” Davis said, “Wayne is a real composer. He writes scores, write the parts for everybody just as he wants them to sound. … Wayne also brought in a kind of curiosity about working with musical rules. If they didn’t work, then he broke them, but with musical sense; he understood that freedom in music was the ability to know the rules in order to bend them to your own satisfaction and taste.”
Ian Carr, musician and Rough Guide author, states that with Davis Shorter found his own voice as a player and composer. “Blakey’s hard-driving, straightahead rhythmns had brought out the muscularity in Shorter’s tenor playing, but the greater freedom of the Davis rhythmn-section allowed him to explore new emotional and technical dimensions.”
Shorter remained in Davis’s band after the breakup of the quintet in 1968, playing on early jazz fusion recordings including In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew (both 1969). His last live dates and studio recordings with Davis were in 1970.
Until 1968, he played tenor saxophone exclusively. The final album on which he played tenor in the regular sequence of Davis albums was Filles de Kilimanjaro. In 1969, he played the soprano saxophone on the Davis album In a Silent Way and on his own Super Nova (recorded with then-current Davis sidemen Chick Corea and John McLaughlin). When performing live with Davis, and on recordings from summer 1969 to early spring 1970, he played both soprano and tenor saxophones; by the early 1970s, however, he chiefly played soprano.
Solo Blue Note recordings
Simultaneous with his time in the Davis quintet, Shorter recorded several albums for Blue Note Records, featuring almost exclusively his own compositions, with a variety of line-ups, quartets and larger groups, including Blue Note favourites such as Freddie Hubbard. His first Blue Note album (of 11 in total recorded from 1964 to 1970) was Night Dreamer, recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in 1964 with Lee Morgan, McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman and Elvin Jones.
JuJu and Speak No Evil are well known recordings from this era. Shorter’s compositions on these albums are notable for their use of pentatonic melodies harmonised with pedal points and complex harmonic relationships; structured solos that reflect the composition’s melody as much as its harmony; and long rests as an integral part of the music, in contrast with other, more effusive, players of the time such as John Coltrane]
The later album The All Seeing Eye was a workout with a larger group, while Adam’s Apple of 1966 was back to carefully constructed melodies by Shorter leading a quartet. Then a sextet again in the following year for Schizophrenia with Hancock and Carter plus trombonist Curtis Fuller, alto saxophonist/flautist James Spaulding and strong rhythms by drummer Joe Chambers.
Shorter also recorded occasionally as a sideman (again, mainly for Blue Note) with Donald Byrd, Tyner, Grachan Moncur III, Hubbard, Morgan, and bandmates Hancock and Williams.
Weather Report (1971–1986)
Following the release of Odyssey of Iska in 1970, Shorter formed the fusion group Weather Report with Davis veteran keyboardist Joe Zawinul. The other original members were bassist Miroslav Vitous, percussionist Airto Moreira, and drummer Alphonse Mouzon. After Vitous’ departure in 1973, Shorter and Zawinul co-led the group until the band’s break-up in late 1985. A variety of musicians would make up Weather Report over the years (most notably the revolutionary bassist Jaco Pastorius) helping the band produce many high-quality recordings in diverse styles, with funk, bebop, Latin jazz, ethnic music, and futurism being the most prevalent denominators.
Solo and side projects
Shorter also recorded critically acclaimed albums as a bandleader, notably 1974’s Native Dancer, which featured Hancock and Brazilian composer and vocalist Milton Nascimento.
In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, he toured in the V.S.O.P. quintet. This group was a revival of the 1960s Davis quintet, except that Hubbard filled the trumpet chair. Shorter appeared with the same former Davis bandmates on the Carlos Santana double LP The Swing of Delight, for which he also composed a number of pieces.
From 1977 through 2002, he appeared on 10 Joni Mitchell studio albums, gaining him a wider audience. He played an extended solo on the title track of Steely Dan’s 1977 album Aja.
After leaving Weather Report, Shorter continued to record and lead groups in jazz fusion styles, including touring in 1988 with guitarist Carlos Santana, who appeared on This is This!, the last Weather Report disc. There is a concert video recorded at the Lugano Jazz Festival in 1987, with Jim Beard, keyboards, Carl James, bass, Terri Lyne Carrington, drums, and Marilyn Mazur, percussion. In 1989, he contributed to a hit on the rock charts, playing the sax solo on Don Henley’s song “The End of the Innocence” and also produced the album Pilar by the Portuguese singer-songwriter Pilar Homem de Melo. He has also maintained an occasional working relationship with Herbie Hancock, including a tribute album recorded shortly after Miles Davis’s death with Hancock, Carter, Williams and Wallace Roney. He continued to appear on Mitchell’s records in the 1990s and can be heard on the soundtrack of the Harrison Ford film The Fugitive (1993).
In 1995, Shorter released the album High Life, his first solo recording for seven years. It was also his debut as a leader for Verve Records. Shorter composed all the compositions on the album and co-produced it with the bassist Marcus Miller. High Life received the Grammy Award for best Contemporary Jazz Album in 1997.
Shorter worked with Hancock once again in 1997, on the much acclaimed and heralded album 1+1. The song “Aung San Suu Kyi” (named for the Burmese pro-democracy activist) won both Hancock and Shorter a Grammy Award.
In 2009, he was announced as one of the headline acts at the Gnaoua World Music Festival in Essaouira, Morocco. His 2013 album Without a Net is his first with Blue Note Records since Odyssey of Iska.
In 2000, Shorter formed the first permanent acoustic group under his name, a quartet with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade, playing his own compositions, many of them reworkings of tunes going back to the 1960s. Three albums of live recordings have been released, Footprints Live! (2002), Beyond the Sound Barrier (2005) and Without A Net (2013). The quartet has received great acclaim from fans and critics, especially for the strength of Shorter’s tenor saxophone playing. The biography Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter by journalist Michelle Mercer examines the working life of the musicians as well as Shorter’s thoughts and Buddhist beliefs. Beyond the Sound Barrier received the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Jazz Album.
Shorter’s 2003 album Alegría (his first studio album for 10 years, since High Life) received the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Jazz Album; it features the quartet with a host of other musicians, including pianist Brad Mehldau, drummer Carrington and former Weather Report percussionist Alex Acuña. Shorter’s compositions, some new, some reworked from his Davis period, feature the complex Latin rhythms that he specialised in during his Weather Report days.
Lifetime achievement recognition
On September 17, 2013, Shorter received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.
On December 18, 2014, the Recording Academy announced that Shorter was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in honor of his “prolific contributions to our culture and history”.
In 2016, Shorter was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in the field of music composition, the only jazz artist to receive the honor that year.
In 2017, Shorter was announced as the joint winner of the Polar Music Prize. The award committee stated: “Without the musical explorations of Wayne Shorter, modern music would not have drilled so deep.”
Wayne Shorter: Zero Gravity
In 2015, producer/director Dorsay Alavi began filming a documentary about the life of Wayne Shorter called Wayne Shorter: Zero Gravity. The film is set to be released in 2018.
In 2016, it was announced that Shorter, Carlos Santana, and Herbie Hancock would begin touring under the name Mega Nova. Also included within the supergroup was bassist Marcus Miller and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana. Their first show together was on August 24, 2016 at the Hollywood Bowl.
Shorter met Teruko (Irene) Nakagami in 1961. They were later married and had a daughter, Miyako. Some of his compositions are copyrighted as “Miyako Music” and Shorter dedicated the pieces “Miyako” and “Infant Eyes” to his daughter. The couple separated in 1964
Shorter met Ana Maria Patricio in 1966 and they were married in 1970. In 1985, their daughter Iska died of a grand mal seizure at age 14. Ana Maria and the couple’s niece, Dalila, were both killed on July 17, 1996, on TWA Flight 800, while travelling to visit him in Italy. Dalila was the daughter of Ana Maria Shorter’s sister and her husband, jazz vocalist Jon Lucien. In 1999, Shorter married Carolina Dos Santos, a close friend of Ana Maria. He practices Nichiren Buddhism and is a longtime member of the Buddhist association Soka Gakkai International.
Composer and producer Rick Shorter, who died in September 2017, was a cousin.
Main article: Wayne Shorter discography
- Introducing Wayne Shorter (Vee-Jay 1959)
- Second Genesis (Vee-Jay 1960)
- Wayning Moments (Vee-Jay 1962)
- Night Dreamer (Blue Note 1964)
- JuJu (Blue Note 1964)
- Speak No Evil (Blue Note 1965)
- The Soothsayer (Blue Note 1965)
- Et Cetera (Blue Note 1965)
- The All Seeing Eye (Blue Note 1965)
- Adam’s Apple (Blue Note 1966)
- Schizophrenia (Blue Note 1967)
- Super Nova (Blue Note 1969)
- Odyssey of Iska (Blue Note 1970)
- Moto Grosso Feio (Blue Note 1970)
- Native Dancer with Milton Nascimento (1974)
- Atlantis (1985)
- Phantom Navigator (1986)
- Joy Ryder (1988)
- Carlos Santana and Wayne Shorter – Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival 1988 (1988)
- High Life (1995)
- 1 + 1 with Herbie Hancock (1997)
- Footprints Live! (2002)
- Alegría (2003)
- Beyond the Sound Barrier (2005)
- Without a Net (2013)
- Emanon (2018)
- 1962: Down Beat Poll Winner New Star Saxophonist
- 1979: Grammy Award for Best Jazz Fusion Performance for Weather Report’s 8:30
- 1987: Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition for “Call Sheet Blues” by Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Billy Higgins (on The Other Side of Round Midnight Featuring Dexter Gordon)
- 1994: Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual or Group for A Tribute to Miles
- 1996: Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for High Life
- 1996: Miles Davis Award, Montreal International Jazz Festival
- 1997: Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition for “Aung San Suu Kyi” (on 1 + 1)
- 1998: NEA Jazz Masters
- 1999: Honorary Doctorate of Music by the Berklee College of Music
- 1999: Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo for “In Walked Wayne” (on J. J. Johnson’s Heroes)
- 2003: Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition for “Sacajawea” (on Alegría)
- 2003: Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual or Group for Alegría
- 2005: Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual or Group for Beyond the Sound Barrier
- 2006: Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Award Small Ensemble Group of the Year to the Wayne Shorter Quartet
- 2014: Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo for “Orbits” (on Without a Net)
- 2017: Polar Music Prize