Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Jimmy Smith, Horace Silver, Sonny Rollins, Maynard Ferguson, Freddie Hubbard…. A who’s who of jazz legends without question. The common musical thread weaving them together, having played with all of them is a legend himself-Wayne Shorter.
Great musicians are usually influenced and inspired by other great musicians and the New Jersey native Shorter is no exception. As he recounts, “I remember seeing Lester Young when I was 15 years old. It was a Norman Grantz Jazz at the Philharmonic show in Newark and he was late coming to the theater. Me and a couple of guys were hanging out front of the Adams Theater and when he finally did show up, he had the pork pie hat and everything. So we were trying to figure out how to get into the theater from the fire escape around back. We finally got into the mezzanine and saw the whole show-Stan Kenton and Dizzy Gillespie bands together on the stage doing ‘Peanut Vendor’, Charlie Parker with strings doing ‘Laura’ and stuff like that. And Russell Jacquet….Illinois Jacquet. He was there doing his thing. That whole scene impressed me so much that I just decided, ‘Hey, man, let me get a clarinet.’ So I got one when I was 16, and that’s when I started music.”
Wayne switched to tenor sax and formed a teenage band in Newark called the Jazz Informers and also participated in several cutting (improvisation) contests, including one memorable encounter with sax great Sonny Stitt. Shorter attended New York University and worked his way through school by playing with the Nat Phipps Orchestra. After graduating in 1956, he had a short stint working with Johnny Eaton and his Princetonians, earning the nickname “The Newark Flash” for his speed and facility on the tenor sax.
Shorter had to take a brief detour to serve his country in the Army and was back in the bandstand in 1958 with the likes of pianist Horace Silver, saxophonists John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. During the following year, he joined trumpeter Maynard Ferguson’s big band briefly before joining Art Blakey the Jazz Messengers and became Blakely’s musical director until leaving in 1963. In 1964, Wayne cut the first of many recordings with the Blue Note record label. This would a pivotal year not only for Shorter’s career but also for the history of jazz.
The legendary trumpeter Miles Davis invited Wayne to join him on the road. This band, arguably the greatest jazz band of all time, included musicians who would all go on to be legends themselves: Ron Carter on bass, Tony Williams, a 17 year old phenom, on drums and the incomparable Herbie Hancock on piano! Wow! This road trip would lead to a 6-year journey for Wayne that would include recording a number of records with Davis. Together, these jazz giants helped synthesize a sound that changed the face of music. In his autobiography, Miles gave Shorter some very serious props. “Wayne is a real composer…he knew that freedom in music was the ability to know the rules in order to bend them to your satisfaction and taste…” Thanks to the genius of Mr. Shorter, the jazz standards “Nefertiti”, “E.S.P.”, “Pinocchio”, “Sanctuary”, “Fall” and “Footprints” continue to challenge and inspire jazz musicians around the globe.
Wayne would continue to forge ahead with Miles while also recording his own compositions with various groups on the Blue Note label. Shorter, ever striving to create more musical landscapes would become co-founder of another pioneering band in 1970 along with co-founder and Miles Davis alum, keyboardist Joe Zawinul. The reader may be familiar with this group-Weather Report. Fusion was all the rage and these guys were one of the main reasons!
I could go on and on and on about Wayne Shorter’s influence and accomplishments-but I won’t. It’s time to get to his music!
It should be pretty obvious that Wayne Shorter is a very special talent and has a knack for being associated with some of the greatest musicians in jazz history. Like the old saying goes, birds of a feather flock together-and some birds fly a lot higher than others!