Wayne Shorter, legendary Newark-born saxophonist, dies at 89

wayne shorter died

WAYNE SHORTER, 1933-2023

Wayne Shorter, one of the most brilliant and innovative saxophonists in the history of jazz, has died at the age of 89.

According to a message on his Facebook page: “Today at 4am, Wayne Shorter peacefully continued on his immense journey into the unknown. He was surrounded by loving family. In his words, ‘It’s time to go get a new body and come back to continue the mission.’ Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.”

Herbie Hancock posted on his own Facebook page, “Wayne Shorter, my best friend, left us with courage in his heart, love and compassion for all, and a seeking spirit for the eternal future. He was ready for his rebirth. As it is with every human being, he is irreplaceable and was able to reach the pinnacle of excellence as a saxophonist, composer, orchestrator, and recently, composer of the masterful opera ‘Iphigenia.’ I miss being around him and his special Wayne-isms but I carry his spirit within my heart always.”

Shorter started seeing jazz musicians as a youth, at Newark’s Adams Theatre, and graduated from Newark’s Arts High School. “I would skip one class to hear the band at the Adams, go back for another class, and then skip again later in the day when the band would come back on,” he told jazz.com in 2008.

He first became well known in the jazz world by working with Art Blakey from 1959 to 1964, then joined Miles Davis’ quintet; he also started making solo albums during his time with Blakey. He played on pop and rock records by Steely Dan (“Aja”), Don Henley (“The End of the Innocence”), Joni Mitchell and The Rolling Stones, and became a bit of a rock star himself as a member of the hugely influential jazz-fusion band Weather Report from 1971 to 1986.

Particularly in the late ’70s, Weather Report sold large numbers of records and was able to play huge venues. Its 1977 single “Birdland” even crossed over to the pop Top 40.

Shorter received 12 Grammys and had been nominated 23 times. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys, as well as Kennedy Center Honors and the Polar Music Prize.

Weather Report, circa 1978 (from left, Jaco Pastorius, Peter Erskine, Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter).

“Jazz shouldn’t have any mandates,” said Shorter in a 2013 NPR interview, after mentioning that he and Davis never rehearsed in the years they performed together. “Jazz is not supposed to be something that’s required to sound like jazz. For me, the word ‘jazz’ means, ‘I dare you.’ The effort to break out of something is worth more than getting an A in syncopation.

“This music, it’s dealing with the unexpected. No one really knows how to deal with the unexpected. How do you rehearse the unknown?”

Shorter’s last album was Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival, recorded in 2017 with Terri Lyne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding and Leo Genovese, and released last year. It was nominated for a Grammy in the Jazz Instrumental Album category, and Shorter and pianist Genovese won together in the Improvised Jazz Solo category, for “Endangered Species.”

“Wayne, we will forever feel you as the light of your next phase now officially activates,” posted Christian McBride on Facebook.

Wynton Marsalis posted: “An important cog in the ever turning wheel of universal humanism has passed through leaving all he touched better than it was before.

“He was and will always be: purveyor of pentatonic perfection; master of blues inflected melodies; hero of vertical and horizontal harmonic implications, giant of saxophone regardless of register; improviser extraordinaire in any and all musical environments; mercurial wit and biting humorist with uncommon humility and depth of understanding, seer, reader, and interpreter of ancient and modern myth … jazz messenger.”

Here is a video of Shorter and Weather Report performing “Elegant People.”


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