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Wayne Shorter: The Man and the Legacy

By Published: January 16, 2003
AAJ: ...and it's alot of work too, speaking of that, what do you when you are getting ready for a show, do you practice?

WS: No, I don't practice, it's difficult to practice the unknown. I do look at material when I'm writing something. It's a question like so many things in life, it's like Miles Davis ( Shorter imitates Miles voice) used to say: 'You see the way Humprey Bogart hit that cat?', a little punch when he hit a guy. 'Play that!' or, when John Wayne used to make that turn- around, or twist when he made a corner, 'See what John Wayne just did? play that!' Miles was always asked how he did what he did, he'd say: 'Just watch the way somebody moves and play that', and then the guy would play that and later ask Miles what he thought, and Miles would say: 'You talk to your girlfriend like that?'

AAJ: Do you experiment with different horns, manufacturers and set-ups?

WS: No, horns are just paint brushes, so I keep the same, so I get the kind of color I'm striving for. That's one thing that is missing in jazz, allot of color, that's where synthesizers kind of miss the point. We have so much electricity in ourselves, we can't live without that kind of discharge. Joe Zawinul used to say he loved the acoustic piano, but the sound is so boring, unless you're going to spend time like John Cage, putting things in between the strings and all that...see Joe and Danilo used to play the accordion when they were young, they both used to experiment with the accordion, putting clothespins in-between the keys, and holding buttons down to get different sounds, that's why Monk played the piano the way he played, he was wishing it could extend to something else, that's why Beethoven didn't just play the piano, he used the whole orchestra as a paint brush. If you didn't know that Beethoven was a pianist, you wouldn't know it when you hear his symphonies, spending time with the french horns and other instruments...he was unselfish, he knew when to step back and get out of his own way. That's what Agnassi said when he was losing to Sampras: 'If I can just get out of my own way'.

AAJ: Joe (Zawinul) had different approach to the way you think about music...

WS: That's true...He didn't let his instrument be his's a thing...there were other guys who went against synthesizers...Chick was with it for awhile and maybe one day Keith will put his hand on another type of paintbrush for awhile.

AAJ: We're all looking forward to your SFJAZZ show in San Francisco, (where your quartet is billed with the Branford Marsalis Quartet, any surprises in store for the show here?)

WS: We'll find that out when we get together, we get together in the meantime on the phone alot, and we are always faxing each other statements, ideas and thoughts about the material, they are all out touring with their groups, they are all on automatic about the material now... John, Danilo, and Brian are thinking about it all the time.

I want to thank Wayne Shorter for spending sometime with me to do this interview, due to editorial space constraints, I have attempted to capture the essence of our conversation. Like his music, the interview was improvisational, spontaneous and very entertaining. The Footprints Live! CD is one of those rare jazz albums where the spirit of creativity reigns.

Philip Gordon, saxophonist and writer, can be reached by visiting: or

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