Wayne Shorter's continually expanding body of work is inextricably linked to the history of modern music. His music transcends genre while keeping the improvisational genius and surprise of jazz burning at the center. Regarded as one of the most significant and prolific performers and composers in jazz and modern music, Shorter has an outstanding record of professional achievement in his historic career as a musician. He has received substantial recognition from his peers, including six Grammy Awards and 13 other Grammy nominations to date. He has been awarded honorary doctorates from New York University, the New England Conservatory, and Berklee. In 1997, the National Endowment for the Arts presented Shorter with the prestigious Jazz Master Award. Shorter's childlike imagination and ceaseless innovation in music invite comparison to the enduring vitality of Picasso in the world of art or of Bergman in film. Today, Shorter continues to dazzle audiences with his Quartet and his Symphony project, creating some of the most powerful music of his career.
If the prolific composer had never written a single tune, his signature sound and choice of notes, sense of economy, and unparalleled expression on both tenor and soprano saxes would have earmarked him for greatness. Combine the writing prowess with the fragmented, probing solos and an enigmatic Buddhist-philosopher presence and you have the makings of a jazz immortal. "Life is so mysterious to me," says Shorter. "I can't stop at any one thing to say, 'Oh, this is what it is.' And I think it's always becoming, always becoming. That's the adventure. And imagination is part of that adventure."
Born in Newark, New Jersey on August 25, 1933, Shorter had his first great jazz epiphany seeing Lester Young as a teenager. While still in high school, he led several bands and participated in cutting contests in Newark's jazz scene. He attended college at New York University while also frequenting popular nightspots like Birdland and Cafe Bohemia. After graduation and a stint in the Army, Shorter began jamming with fellow tenor saxophonists John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, then joined Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Shorter made his recording debut as a leader in 1959. He joined the Miles Davis band in 1964, contributing several landmark compositions.
In 1970, Shorter cofounded Weather Report with keyboardist Joe Zawinul, Berklee and Miles Davis alumnus. It was the premier fusion group until disbanding in 1985 after 16 acclaimed recordings, including 1980's Grammy Award–winning 8:30. Shorter formed his own group in 1986 and produced a succession of electric jazz albums for the Columbia label. He reemerged on the Verve label with 1995's High Life. After the tragic loss of his wife in 1996, Shorter returned to the scene with 1997's 1 + 1, an intimate duet recording with Herbie Hancock.
By the summer of 2001, Wayne began touring as the leader of a talented young lineup featuring pianist Danilo Perez (now artistic director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute), bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade. He marked another musical milestone in 2007 by pairing up a handful of the world's best orchestras to unveil his new symphonic repertoire.
The events in his incredible life's journey have been compiled by author Michelle Mercer in Footprints: The Life and Music of Wayne Shorter.