Wayne Shorter and the Art of Now
Debates about the evolution of jazz—what jazz is now, compared to what it was, back then—are endless. These discussions can sometimes make it sound as if the era of Miles Davis is as far away in history as Mozart—even though Davis was still winning Grammys into the 1990s. Any kind of then-versus-now argument breaks down when we turn to the work of saxophonist Wayne Shorter ’99H.
Shorter, who passed away earlier this month at age 89, was always now, even back then. He was a member of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Miles Davis’s second great quintet, and Weather Report, groups that are still required listening in the history of jazz. But even that list leaves out his 11-album run of solo recordings for Blue Note Records (recorded from 1964 to 1970) and only takes you through the first half of his career. His first permanent quartet as a leader didn’t even form until 2000, and it became the longest-running band of his career, and for that matter, one of the longest in jazz.
These facts don’t even scratch the surface in terms of his collaborators, which ranged from Horace Silver to Joni Mitchell to architect Frank Gehry, who designed the sets for Iphigenia, an operatic composition that debuted in 2021.
But the music—that’s where the facts fade and the history gets made. A tireless innovator, Shorter simply never stopped growing. Danilo Pérez, artistic director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute and pianist for the Wayne Shorter Quartet, says, “Wayne Shorter is a genius and a world treasure. Several generations of artists have absorbed his musical language, giving birth to a new sound color.”
Getting to the heart of Shorter’s timelessness, Pérez went on to say, “His improvisational and compositional approach has no attachments to beginnings or endings; it resembles change, search, and research. He dedicated his art to creating music that celebrates life, and the awareness of the power of individuality within collectivity embodies his legacy.”
And while that legacy can’t be summed up in a few songs, Pérez, along with fellow Berklee colleagues and Shorter collaborators Terri Lyne Carrington and John Patitucci, took the time to select a few of their favorite tracks from the saxophonist’s canon, which you can listen to below.
- "Infant Eyes," Speak No Evil, Wayne Shorter. Selected by Danilo Pérez.
- "Pegasus," EMANON, the Wayne Shorter Quartet with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Selected by John Patitucci.
- "Elegant People," Black Market, Weather Report. Selected by Terri Lyne Carrington.
- "She Moves Through the Fair," Alegría, the Wayne Shorter Quartet. Selected by John Patitucci.
- "Encontros e Despedidas (Live)," Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival, Wayne Shorter with Terri Lyne Carrington, esperanza spalding, Leo Genevese. Selected by Terri Lyne Carrington.
- "Prometheus Unbound," EMANON, the Wayne Shorter Quartet with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Selected by Danilo Pérez.
- "Plaza Real," Procession, Weather Report. Selected by Terri Lyne Carrington.
- "Adventures Aboard the Golden Mean," Beyond the Sound Barrier, the Wayne Shorter Quartet. Selected by Danilo Pérez.
- "Angola," Alegría, the Wayne Shorter Quartet. Selected by John Patitucci.
- "Endangered Species (Live)," Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival, Wayne Shorter with Terri Lyne Carrington, esperanza spalding, Leo Genevese. Selected by Terri Lyne Carrington.
Watch the trailer for Wayne Shorter: Zero Gravity, a new documentary that features Danilo Pérez, Terri Lyne Carrington, and others from the Berklee community: