100 Jazz Profiles
1933 - present
Saxophonist. He first came to public attention as a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1959, but by that time Wayne Shorter had already gathered plenty of musical experience. He had studied music at NYU, and after playing in various army bands during his military service, he had been a member of Maynard Ferguson's big band.
But he had also studied informally with John Coltrane - the two men practising together to develop Shorter's formidable command of the tenor and (later) soprano sax. With Blakey, Shorter became the music director of the Jazz Messengers, developing his talents as a writer and arranger along with his playing.
When he left in 1963, he started making discs under his own name, with a cross section of the leading jazz musicians of the period, but at the same time he joined Miles Davis's quintet, becoming part of one of the trumpeter's most influential and experimental bands.
Shorter's writing for the Davis group on pieces like ESP and Nefertiti demonstrated his knack for creating memorable tunes, even in settings that had complex or abstract harmony. Davis's band moved inexorably towards jazz-rock in the late 1960s, and in 1970 Shorter teamed up with keyboard player Joe Zawinul to found Weather Report, one of the leading fusion bands of the decade, with which he remained until 1985.
Between times , Shorter continued to lead his own groups on disc and on tour, and also played in Herbie Hancock's band VSOP. He appeared with Hancock in the film Round Midnight, and later worked with him in other settings, including a duo.
Shorter went on leading his own groups in the 1990s, but his new quartet founded in 2001 with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Pattitucci, and drummer Brian Blade is his finest for many years, and has acquired a justified international reputation for its appearances in the world's great concert halls and festivals. In it, Shorter has once more found the ideal balance between his writing and playing.
Keith Shadwick: 'The Modalists' in Dave Gelly: Masters of the Jazz Saxophone (London, Balaphon, 2000)
Speak No Evil (Blue Note 746509)
Suggested track: Speak No Evil
The Music of Wayne Shorter
Major essay on Shorter and his music
on radio 3
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