Wayne Shorter: The Man and the Legacy


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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.
During our conversation- shared just as he was preparing to put the finishing touches on his ideas for his upcoming show with the SFJAZZ Festival in October- Wayne revealed his sincere feelings towards his life, his music, his friendships and, his respect for the many world-class musicians with whom he has collaborated with throughout his impressive career; and we explored his evolution as an artist and these relationships, and his passionate commitment to spirit of the music, life, and his spontaneous, improvisational approach.

All About Jazz: Your Footprints Live! (with Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on Bass, and Brian Blade on drums) is your only live CD and it's all acoustic, can you compare this CD to some of your earlier work with groups such as Weather Report (where you collaborated with Joe Zawinul on material)?

Wayne Shorter: The biggest difference to me, was, one was electric and the other was acoustic, one was in a different space and time, and the other was in a current time and space. Weather Report had different personnel at that time and space, with different stories to tell, with a different form and space on the page to tell the story.

AAJ: The compositional process was different between you and Joe on Weather Report, what was the concept with the Footprints Live! CD?

WS: There's a compositional process on a live performance, the composition meaning...what comes about, once it's done, it's a composed piece. The personnel on Footprints Live! mainly were at liberty to extend themselves from where the were formally accustomed to playing with their own groups. They then extended themselves from those kinds of situations to a place where...they didn't have to think about a group or the personalities they were in their own group, (where they were band leaders)...it was a true collaboration.

AAJ: That's right, Danilo, John and Brian all have their own groups...so when you guys got together, you were more spontaneous with the music?

WS: Yes, they didn't have to think about looking for a sound, or looking for a musical signature...they were composing something with the knowledge and feeling they had about the piece.

AAJ: How did you hook-up with Danilo, John and Brian...how were they chosen?

WS: I knew that John lived in New York, he moved from California to New York, and I had heard about Brian Blade for sometime, and I saw Danilo on television the first time with Dizzy Gillespie a while back, and then met him in Washington, D.C. and then, slowly began to hear him (Danilo) perform... like a spot check kind of thing, I wasn't checking him out...but after meeting someone, I kind of...in my mind, initially threw the colors together of how these guys would sound together, I was thinking: 'I think this is going to work'.

AAJ: All of these guys are interested in telling stories with their music, kind of like the way you seem to approach allot of your material...

WS: Yes, that's true, I thought it was going to work without an extended rehearsing process. The first concert we played together we had no rehearsals.

AAJ: That must have been interesting, one of pieces, 'Aung San Suu Kyi', was something you wrote back in 1952 while you were in a modern harmony class in college at NYU. You pulled this out for this CD. And also 'Sanctuary', the title track, what was your concept behind these pieces and the others on the CD?

WS: Have you read Edith Warton's 'House of Mirth'? Well, it was in one of her early editions, in her introduction, she talked about concept, the way in which concept is used...it covers so much...I mean people go to court over concept...Coppola tried to stop Carl Sagan's concept. Sagan had his concept for his movie since he was fifteen years old. And then I hear people saying whose concept it is with some on the Beatle material...whose concept in the world we live in, the degree of blame, etc...in reverse, it's like who is the achiever and 'concept' seems to be a lead-in to ratify ownership of the initial idea.

AAJ: 'Sanctuary' seems to be hinting of something coming down the road, it's starts slow and then builds, it sets up a story for the rest of the CD...

WS: Yes, that's right. I'm laying into this concept discussion so long, because it could be the topic of another whole interview, people are always looking for the impetus between something tragic to something blissful...and what is missed is something called 'cognizant', so with this CD, that why I had no rehearsals, I didn't want any concept or thought process to get in there, more than it has historically...

AAJ: So you wanted to leave it wide open?

WS: Yes...It was like...to grasp something all by oneself, it leaves a person with their own decisions (along the way). Many people believe that their tastes are their own, they will die for this sometimes, you know, I don't like this, I don't like that...so like a story with no beginning and no ending...it was always there, even when it was just a twinkle of an idea in somebody's eye.

AAJ: You recently found out you had a Cherokee ancestry, how did that effect the lyrical development of the piece 'Masquelero'?

WS: I wrote Masquelero a long time ago, but just recently discovered that I have Cherokee ancestry, so it seemed right to revisit this piece. I thought it would be nice to celebrate this because playing music right now for me, (and the guys are saying it too now), the music is a form of celebration and celebrating life...celebrating the eternity of life...and all this compositional stuff and searching for a way to be original, could be just a way of returning the gift of life, which is hard to give back. Life has everything, what are you going to give back? The quest for originality, as opposed to, sound-like 'pop stuff' or, 'million-dollar hit' stuff, where to give back to life is the most original reflection of oneself, and getting something in return would not be a million dollars, the return is already built-in...eternity...it's not about music alone...music is not separate than life... music sometimes may spark the celebration that people will join in, in other words.. that life is eternal and you don't have to go robbing banks just becuase you think you only live once. When you have twelve brothers and sisters you don't have to go grabbing at the bread first...there's plenty there to go around. That's my bank robbing analogy.

AAJ: You seem to be using the tenor saxophone more on Footprints 'Live' than on the earlier Weather Report material where you were using the soprano. Eight out of the ten tracks were tenor, any reason for that?

WS: The tenor can be mixed and heard in an acoustic situation better, from the middle, down, below the iceberg of sound, undertones, overtones, sidetones, perpendicular tones, everything...and it's left up to mixing job to separate everything.

AAJ: Did you play a number of these tunes just with the soprano to see how they would sound?

WS: I thought about the soprano, like when we were playing for about nineteen thousand people in Tokyo three weeks ago, in Tokyo Stadium. Herbie's Band was there, another group from Norway and a Big Band from Cuba. I used both the soprano and tenor, the group from Norway had all this techno, electric, all kinds of stuff...

AAJ: Did you play an acoustic set to broadcast to that large a crowd?

WS: Yes, the other bands had synthesizers and everything, they had their trumpets hooked-up to interface with everything...and Herbie had his Future-to-Future Band, which has allot of electronics...so I used the soprano alot in that setting, and when we finished we got a standing ovation. And you know it's different in Japan, everybody is historically so polite, they don't even move in their seats normally, so when they stood up...well, that was a great experience.

AAJ: I heard you were playing just after Tokyo at a peace conference, how did that go?

WS: The Peace Conference had hundred-piece orchestra, a whole ballet and dance segment, with singer Anita Hall...all in conjunction with promoting world peace... we placed flowers with our families in Arizona...they had four wreaths, for myself, Herbie, Dr. Carter (Dean of the Chapel at Morehouse College), the grand nephew of Alfred Nobel, Michael Nobel. Also there was the grandson of Gandi, UN representatives, all these beautiful people from all over the world were there.

AAJ: We can look forward to allot of new music coming from all of these inspirational people and experiences?

WS: There are more (World Peace) events coming, there is a big orchestra coming from Brazil, that started in the ghetto of Favela, the deepest ghetto in Brazil, allot of those people started playing when they were only seven years old and now they're seventeen.

AAJ: So are you thinking about doing a Latin CD?

WS: It won't be just Latin, I just got this orchestras' CD, they're doing music of the world, they are not thought of as a novelty, they are not thinking about the Americanized approach to Latin music, which is to put a clave rhythm to all of these great pieces.

AAJ: You've played with so many world-renowned musicians throughout your career; Maynard Freguson, Art Blakely, Weather Report, Herbie, your own bands, what's been you most memorable 'life' experience so far?

WS: That would have to be my experience with Miles Davis. Miles Davis used to say:' I am not what I do, I do what I am'. That's when we musicians would watch musicians on shows like Johnny Carson, and we'd call each other on the telephone and ask: 'Do you think he's going to get to the couch?' you know, beyond the instrument, a human-being. Dizzy Gillespie was the first one to make it to the couch. What I'm speaking about is the whole change in philosophy about management, the corporate thing, like record companies...it used to be they didn't want you to do any talking, just wanted you to play. Well, it ain't like that, that's all changed, the artist has to get totally involved and do everything themselves at this point.

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?...now 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 god...it'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: www.bluematrix.org or www.thewritingschool.com

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