Wayne Shorter, who is now 87, has had one of the longest careers in jazz of any saxophonists. Born in New Jersey, he studied music education at NYU and played with various bands before joining Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1959, becoming the band’s musical director and already beginning to make a name for himself as a composer as well as a phenomenal improviser on the sax.
Photo: Wayne Shorter in Amsterdam with Weather Report in 1980.
He joined Miles Davis in his Second Great Quintet in 1964, again composing pieces for the group that Davis, who was always in search of perfection and prone to changing things, kept as written! Shorter stayed with Davis for a while after the quintet broke up, playing on seminal album Bitches Brew amongst others.
Watch this clip from 1967 of the Miles Davis Quintet, ‘I fall in Love Too Easily’ featuring an extended solo from Shorter on the tenor.
Shorter’s tenor set-up: Wayne plays a Selmer Tenor with a Ria No 10 mouthpiece with strength 4 reeds. This combo of hard reeds and a wide tip opening is very unusual to play with, you need chops of steel!
Shorter had only played the tenor sax for many years, but after playing the soprano on Davis’s album In a Silent Way, continued to play both, although in the 1970s the soprano dominated. Note – no alto!
In between playing in groups, Shorter made his own albums for Blue Note Records, and played as sideman for many others including Herbie Hancock. Later he would record as a bandleader too.
His longest group though was jazz fusion band Weather Report, which he formed with keyboard player Joe Zawinul, another Davis veteran amongst others. Weather Report went through many line-ups during their fifteen-year lifespan, recording fourteen albums.
Unusually for a jazz record, 1977’s Heavy Weather was something of a commercial success with its upbeat and melodic opening track ‘Birdland’ written by Zawinul, which has become a standard.
Watch a live clip of Birdland from 1978 featuring the legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius:
After Weather Report, Shorter continued to perform and lead groups in a jazz fusion style, later forming an acoustic quartet in 2000, and he continued to work with many old friends until recent ill health finally forced him to retire. He was playing gigs with Herbie Hancock and Carlos Santana under the name ‘Mega Nova’ as recently as 2016! He may be in his eighties, but he hasn’t stopped composing though.