By Ron Wynn
NASHILLE, TN — Few players or composers have enjoyed as long or as important a career in both areas as Wayne Shorter.
The legendary Shorter, whose lyrical jazz compositions and pioneering saxophone playing sounded through more than half a century of American music, died last Thursday at his Los Angeles home at 89. No cause of death was given.
“Visionary composer, saxophonist, visual artist, devout Buddhist, devoted husband, father and grandfather, Wayne Shorter has embarked on a new journey as part of his extraordinary life — departing the earth as we know it in search of an abundance of new challenges and creative possibilities,” a statement released by his press representative said. It called him a gentle spirit who was “always inquisitive and constantly exploring.”
Shorter, a tenor and soprano saxophonist, made his debut in 1959 and would go on to be a foundational member of two of the most seminal jazz groups: Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the Miles Davis Quintet. Over the next eight decades, Shorter’s wide-spanning collaborations would include co-founding the ‘70s fusion band Weather Report, some 10 album appearances with Joni Mitchell and further explorations with Carlos Santana and Steely Dan.
Several Shorter compositions are acknowledged classics and staples of the jazz canon. These include “Speak No Evil,” “Black Nile,” “Footprints,” and “Nefertiti.”
Pianist, bandleader and composer Herbie Hancock once said of Shorter in Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet: “The master writer to me, in that group, was Wayne Shorter. He still is a master. Wayne was one of the few people who brought music to Miles that didn’t get changed.”
Hancock praised Shorter for his musical expertise and leaving a special mark in his life.
“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,” Hancock said in a statement. “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 released more than 25 albums and won 12 Grammy Awards. In 2015 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Grammy. Last month, he won a Grammy in the category of best improvised jazz solo for “Endangered Species” with Leo Genovese.