Michelle Mercer Footprints: The Life and Music of Wayne Shorter
, author Michelle Mercer has accomplished a rare feat: a concise, absolutely compelling biography of a jazz legend that illuminates without overwhelming and recreates scenes and conversations convincingly.
Wayne Shorter, intergral to anyone's definition of small group jazz, whether it be from the Art Blakey model or that of Miles Davis, may be jazz' last great conceptualist. Anyone who gets the rare chance to see him perform is only getting a small percentage of the musical flow coming from his mind. Mercer's book provides some insight into this mind, and while bringing him back down to Earth with charming stories of growing up in Newark and having to make a name for himself (imagine a time when Wayne Shorter was an unknown!), actually makes his legend grow.
Throughout the course of the book, and the two-plus years of exhaustive research and interviews Mercer undertook, Shorter is presented as cerebral and, at times, impenetrable. It is to Mercer's credit that she does not shy away from this; too many books calcify because of an omniscient narrator. Mercer doesn't claim to have figured out Wayne Shorter as one would a recipe or science experiment and her book has a satisfying feeling of more secrets and stories lurking in the corners.
Any drawback to the book will be purely subjective. If a reader does not like Shorter's fusion period, that portion of the narrative will be of less interest, though Mercer's engaging style continues. The '60s segments seem to be shot in grainy black and white 16mm film, whereas the Weather Report years are reminiscent of Dorothy stepping out into a full color OZ. Footprints
is no Hollywood fantasy, though. Just time spent with a master.