Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter

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Michelle Mercer
Footprints: The Life and Music of Wayne Shorter
ISBN 158542353X

Consider the length and breadth of Wayne Shorter's career - nearly half a century playing and composing, long tenures with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Miles Davis, Weather Report, forays into Brazilian, folk-rock, symphonic composition and more. Consider the unusual perspective that Wayne Shorter brings to performance and composition. He calls his work "musical motion pictures without movies", tells pianist Danilo Perez to "put more water in those chords" and says he is "now looking to express eternity" in his composition. How many other people would look at a fruitbowl and ask "How do you think the oranges smell to the bananas?"

Michelle Mercer conveys with great depth the road Wayne Shorter has travelled musically, spiritually and as a family man. Her considerable access to Shorter, as well as lengthy testimony from collaborators, including Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Joni Mitchell and Joe Zawinul, have richly contributed to this result. Mercer somehow manages to avoid adoration. Out of her usually straightforward writing a totally unique expression occasionally bursts forth. Describing the space in Miles' playing, she write "while the audience waited for his next phrase, seasons changed, people fell in and out of love". Hm, kind of Shorter-esque.

Learning that Shorter was raised in a working-class family where creativity was given full range helps us understand his artistic evolution. As children Wayne and his brother Alan (who became an avant-garde trumpeter) embarked on the project of creating a whole world out of clay. At age fifteen Wayne wrote and illustrated a 54 page comic book about interplanetary travel and interspecies romance. At the same time, he was sneaking out of school to catch big bands and bop groups in his native Newark. His punishment? The principal forced him to take Music Theory. Talk about enlightened educational administration!

Mercer covers Shorter's tenure with all the bands named above, plus his own, in great detail, extensively exploring the dynamics of each group and Shorter's role within them. The experiments of Miles Davis' second quintet provide particularly fascinating reading. She only occasionally lapses into unnecessary detail, such as on what basis Horace Silver left the Jazz Messengers or Miroslav Vitous left Weather Report. The only thing missing is a Discography. The book includes Notes, Bibliography and sixteen pages of photos.

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