Wayne Shorter can pluck a note out of an audience memberâs mouth and build an instant tune around it.
Onstage at UCLAâs Royce Hall a few years ago, following a squeal of approval from someone in the crowd, Wayne mimicked the high-pitchedâWeeoooh!âa few times vocally into the emceeâs microphone. He then replicated it with his horn to kick off an enthralling improvisation with an ensemble âco-frontedâ by longtime pal and fellow ICAP co-president, Herbie Hancock.
It was Herbie who organized the all-star lineup for a special tribute concert before a near-capacity crowd (17,000) at the Hollywood Bowl on August 28, in celebration of Wayne Shorterâs 80th birthday.
The nightâs program included Imani Winds, Sound Prints (led by Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas) and ACS (an all-female trio made up of Geri Allen, keyboards; Esperanza Spalding, bass; and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums). After the invitees, the birthday boy himself took the stage to performâfirst in duet with Herbie, and then with his regular quartetâfor nearly two and half hours.
The years, obviously, have done nothing to take the edge off Wayne as an artistic forceâif anything, theyâve merely provided him with a bottomless wellspring of material to draw upon as he explores and extends the boundaries of musical creativity. As a case in point, his latest CD, Without A Net, Wayneâs first album for the prestigious Blue Note label in more than 43 years, has been one of the most acclaimed jazz records of the year.
In the days leading up to the Bowl performance, Wayne spoke with Chris Barton from the Los Angeles Times about what itâs like making music with his current quartetâdrummer Brian Blade, pianist Danilo Perez and bassist John Patitucci. âNo one knows whatâs going to happen each night,â Wayne mused. âI always say, we donât really rehearse . . . How do you rehearse the unknown?â
In a way, you could say that for Wayne Shorter, life is a rehearsal for making himself available to create art out of whatever is around him.
Zero Gravity, an upcoming documentary, focuses on Wayneâs life and music. A promo video for the film features friends and fellow music superstars like Carlos Santana, Esperanza Spalding, and, once again, Herbie Hancock, who says of his pal: âWayne is a visionary, and visionaries open doorways . . . for everyone. So, itâs important to hear Wayneâs music and to know about Wayne Shorter because he has a way of triggering a response that encourages the opening of oneâs perception . . . He is at the top of his game . . . and we donât know whether thatâs the peak of just another mountain. What a great inspiration he is to all of us. If heâs at the top of his game â more prolific, more profound musically carving out new territory that nobody has even conceived of beforeâ if he can do that at 80 years of age, that means we can do that.â
Esperanza Spalding, winner of the 2011 Best New Artist Grammy award, points out: âThereâs always more to know [about Wayne], so for us to have this opportunity right now, when heâs with us, to delve into his history, his story, his process, his evolution as a human being, and actually capture it for everybody who comes after us, thatâs an opportunity that we canât miss.â
Affirming Wayneâs place in the pantheon of music, Carlos Santana adds: âItâs supremely important that his life be documented so that, 2,000 years from now, people can understand that he already knew what was going to happen musically. Thereâs only three people [who have been] at that level in saxophoneâthereâs Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and him . . . they give humanity a door to infinity, a door to immortality, a door to eternity. â
At every turn, Wayne is acknowledged not only for his artistry, but for his spirit, which comes through his music, to open and revolutionize peopleâs hearts, to help others go beyond the seemingly impossible.
In the Foreword to Michelle Mercerâs laudatory biography, Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock says of his pal Wayne:
Wayne is a transformer. He exudes such honesty, purity, trust, and respect for others that he can transform, elevate, and awaken your life while youâre both having fun. Wayne transforms people, all right, and he gets better and better at it. Itâs as though heâs aware that itâs safe to be honest, pure, and trusting. Itâs a source of light. He sees that inside everyone, and wants to let that light reveal itself and others. He takes you outside the box and into expanded possibilities.
You wonder why Wayne looks and acts so much younger than his years? Well, he feels joy in that world of infinite possibilities. According to Wayne, obstacles are opportunities, and believe me, he has experienced many tragic ones. Shouldnât we all develop the courage to transform our viewpoint in this way?