Today is the legendary jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s 89th birthday.  Many in the jazz community and music at large consider him the greatest saxophonist post-Coltrane and one of America’s greatest composers.  For nearly seven decades, Wayne Shorter has composed music at the highest level from his time in Miles Davis’ 2nd great quintet of the mid-1960s to the groundbreaking jazz fusion group Weather Report of the 1970s, and his own solo work.

I was introduced to Shorter’s music from his 1995 release, High Life.  The album was produced by the multi-talented Marcus Miller (he also produced Miles Davis’ excellent album Tutu and the early albums of Luther Vandross) and placed Wayne’s sound in a 1990s context.  Jazz purists and aficionados have thought of High Life as one of the few low points in his outstanding musical career. Some of them have called this album Shorter’s attempt at smooth jazz.  I will respectfully disagree with that viewpoint.  Musicians (like all artists) may evolve with the times and broaden their sound.  Music (and art) are not meant to be museum pieces, but living things that can draw from their current environment.  Shorter has always looked forward with his music and expects his audience to do the same.

Recently, I read Shorter’s autobiography Footprints and got a better sense of his artistry and what has inspired him  throughout his life.  Whether it’s his lifelong love of comic books and science fiction or becoming a Buddhist, Shorter is a searcher and those interests are reflected in his music.  After reading Footprints, I have listened (and bought) more of his music.  His 1964 album, Night Dreamer, has stood out to me.  I have listened to that album the most and the song, Virgo (his astrological sign) is a beautiful piece of music.  Shorter has a song called Virgo Rising on the High Life album and it’s a favorite too.

It is interesting what you will gravitate towards artistically as you get older.  As attention spans get shorter, music that lasts beyond four minutes is persona non grata these days. But, I believe there is still a place for instrumental music and appreciating Shorter’s music augments that belief.

I believe it’s important to recognize long-time artists before their time is done. Wayne Shorter has given jazz lovers a lifetime of incredible music and, as he celebrates another year, there should be an appreciation for what he has accomplished.  Happy Birthday Wayne Shorter!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Marion Hill