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Wayne Shorter (born August 25, 1933) is an Americanmarker jazz saxophonist and composer, commonly regarded as one of the most important American jazz musicians of his generation. His efforts have arguably made him a household name amongst jazz fans around the world, and won him honors and recognition, including multiple Grammy Awards. He is widely considered jazz's greatest living composer.

Shorter has recorded over 20 albums as a leader, and appeared on dozens more with others including Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in the late 1950s, Miles Davis's second great quintet in the 1960s and the jazz fusion band Weather Report, which Shorter co-led in the 1970s. Many of his compositions have become standards.

Early life and career

Shorter was born in Newarkmarker, New Jerseymarker, and attended Newark Arts High Schoolmarker. He loved music, being encouraged by his father to take up the saxophone as a teenager (his brother Alan became a trumpeter). After graduating from New York Universitymarker in 1956 Shorter spent two years in the U.S. Army, during which time he played briefly with Horace Silver. After his discharge from the army he played with Maynard Ferguson. It was in his youth that Shorter was given the nickname Mr.Gone, which would later become an album title for Weather Report.

In 1959 Shorter joined Art Blakey. He stayed with Blakey for five years, and eventually became musical director for the group.

With Miles Davis (1964-70)

When John Coltrane finally left Miles Davis' band in 1960 to pursue his own group (after previously trying to leave in 1959), Coltrane proposed Wayne Shorter as a replacement but Shorter was unavailable and Davis went with Sonny Stitt on tenor followed by a revolving door of Hank Mobley, George Coleman, and Sam Rivers. In 1964, Miles Davis persuaded Shorter to leave Blakey and join his quintet alongside Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Miles' quintet with Shorter is considered by many to have been Davis's strongest working group. Shorter composed extensively for Miles Davis ("Prince of Darkness", "ESP", "Footprints", "Sanctuary", "Nefertiti", and many others; on some albums he provided half of the compositions), typically hard-bop workouts with spaced-out long melody lines above the beat.

Herbie Hancock had this to say of Shorter's tenure in the group: "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." Davis said: "Wayne is a real composer. He writes scores, write the parts for everybody just as he wants them to sound. He also brought in a kind of curiosity about working with musical rules. If they didn't work, then he broke them, but with musical sense; he understood that freedom in music was the ability to know the rules in order to bend them to your own satisfaction and taste."

The Miles Davis Quintet that included Hancock and Shorter has frequently been cited by musicians and critics as one of the most influential groups in the history of jazz, and Shorter's compositions are a primary reason for the group's unique sound. In the liner notes to Wynton Marsalis' album "Black Codes from the Underground," Marsalis described Shorter's importance as a composer: "“In every era you have composers who stand out and who set up directions. Ellington and Strayhorn tower over everybody. Then you have Monk. Then Wayne Shorter. Right now, it is easy to see that Wayne took the music in a fresh direction because of his organic conception of the interaction of melody, harmony, and rhythm. Some of the avant-garde composers wrote interesting lines, but I haven’t been impressed by their harmonic ideas. Wayne Shorter knows harmony perfectly and, just like Monk, every note and every chord, every rhythm, every accent–each of them is there for a good reason.”

Shorter remained in Davis's band after the breakup of the quintet in 1968, playing on early jazz fusion recordings including In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew (both 1969). His last live dates and studio recordings with Davis were in 1970.

Until 1968 he played tenor saxophone exclusively. The final album on which he played tenor in the regular sequence of Davis albums was Filles de Kilimanjaro. In 1969 he played the soprano saxophone on the Davis album In a Silent Way and on his own Super Nova (recorded with then-current Davis sidemen Chick Corea and John McLaughlin). When performing live with Miles Davis, recordings from summer 1969 to early spring 1970 he played both soprano and tenor saxophones. By the early 1970s, however, he chiefly played soprano saxophone.

Solo Blue Note Recordings

Simultaneous with his time in the Miles Davis quintet, Shorter recorded several albums for Blue Note Records, featuring almost exclusively his own compositions, with a variety of line-ups, quartets and larger groups including Blue Note favourites such as Freddie Hubbard. His first Blue Note album (of nine in total) was Night Dreamer recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in 1964 with Lee Morgan, McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman and Elvin Jones.

JuJu and Speak No Evil are well known recordings from this era. Shorter's compositions on these albums are notable for their use of:
  • pentatonic melodies harmonised with pedal points and complex harmonic relationships;
  • structured solos that reflect the composition's melody as much as its harmony;
  • long rests as an integral part of the music, in contrast with other, more effusive, players of the time such as John Coltrane. Indeed the rhythm section on Night Dreamer included Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner of Coltrane's classic quartet that had recorded A Love Supreme the previous year.

The later album The All Seeing Eye was a free-jazz workout with a larger group, while Adams Apple of 1966 was back to carefully constructed melodies by Shorter leading a quartet. Then a sextet again in the following year for Schizophrenia with his Miles Davis band mates Hancock and Carter plus trombonist Curtis Fuller, alto saxophonist/flautist James Spaulding and strong rhythms by drummer Joe Chambers. These albums have recently been remastered by Rudy Van Gelder.

Shorter also recorded occasionally as a sideman (again, mainly for Blue Note) with Donald Byrd, McCoy Tyner, Grachan Moncur III, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, and bandmates Hancock and Williams.

Weather Report period, 1971 to 1985

Following the release of his Odyssey Of Iska album in 1970, Shorter along with keyboardist Joe Zawinul (also a veteran of the Miles Davis group) formed the fusion group Weather Report. The other original members were bassist Miroslav Vitous, percussionist Airto Moreira, and drummer Alphonse Mouzon. After Vitous' departure in 1973 Shorter and Zawinul co-led the group until the band's break-up in late 1985. A great variety of excellent musicians that would make up Weather Report alumni over the years (most notably the revolutionary bassist Jaco Pastorius) helped the band produce many high quality recordings in varying styles through the years — with funk, bebop, Latin jazz, ethnic music, and futurism being the most prevalent denominators.


Shorter also recorded critically acclaimed albums as a bandleader, notably Native Dancer, which featured his Miles Davis band-mate Herbie Hancock and Brazilianmarker composer and vocalist Milton Nascimento. Shorter was to work with both of these musicians again later. He also contributed to many albums by Joni Mitchell. On the title track of Steely Dan's 1977 album Aja, he played a solo that moved the critic writing the album's liner notes to the point that he called it "suitable for framing" (meaning 'beautiful' rather than 'wooden').

Concurrently, in the late 1970s and the early 1980s he toured in the V.S.O.P. quintet. This group was a revival of the 1960s Miles Davis quintet, except that Freddie Hubbard filled the trumpet chair instead of Miles.

For further discussion of V.S.O.P. please see Herbie Hancock.

Performing on soprano and tenor saxophone, Shorter was also cast as a 1950s jazz musician in Bertrand Tavernier's 1986 film Round Midnight.

Recent career

Shorter performing Photo by Tom Beetz

After leaving Weather Report, Shorter continued to record and lead groups in jazz fusion styles, including touring in 1988 with guitarist Carlos Santana. He has also maintained an occasional working relationship with Herbie Hancock, including a tribute album recorded shortly after Davis's death with Hancock, Carter, Williams and Wallace Roney. He continued to appear on Joni Mitchell's records in the 1990s. Shorter's distinctive sound is also apparent in the soundtrack for the Harrison Ford film "The Fugitive" released in 1993.

In 1995 Shorter released the album High Life, his first solo recording for seven years. It was also Shorter's debut as a leader for Verve Records. Shorter composed all the compositions on the album and co-produced it with the bassist Marcus Miller. High Life received the Grammy Award for best Contemporary Jazz Album in 1997.

Shorter would work with Hancock once again in 1997, on the much acclaimed and heralded album 1+1. The song Aung San Suu Kyi (named for the Burmesemarker pro-democracy activist) won both Hancock and Shorter a Grammy Award.

In 2009, he was announced as one of the headline acts at the Gnaoua music festival in Essaouira, Morocco.

The Quartet

Shorter formed his current band in 2000, the first permanent acoustic group under his leadership, a quartet with young musicians, pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade, playing his own complex compositions, many of them reworkings of tunes from his substantial portfolio going back to the 1960s. Two albums of live recordings featuring this quartet have been released (Footprints Live! (2002) and Beyond the Sound Barrier (2005)). The quartet has received great acclaim from fans and critics, especially for the strength of Shorter's tenor saxophone playing. The Shorter biography Footprints by journalist Michelle Mercer contains an insight into the working life of these musicians as well as insight into Shorter's life, thoughts and Buddhist beliefs. Beyond the Sound Barrier received the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Jazz Album.

Shorter's 2003 album Alegria (his first studio album for ten years, since High Life) received the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Jazz Album; it features the quartet with a host of other musicians, including pianist Brad Mehldau, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and former Weather Report percussionist Alex Acuña. Shorter's compositions, some new some reworked from his Miles Davis period, feature the complex Latin rhythms that Shorter specialised in during his Weather Report days.

Personal life

Shorter's wife Ana Maria and their niece Dalila were both killed on TWA Flight 800marker in 1996, and he married Carolina Dos Santos, a close friend of Ana Maria, in 1999. Shorter is a Nichiren Buddhist and a member of Soka Gakkai.


Title Year Label
Introducing Wayne Shorter 1959 Vee-Jay
Second Genesis 1960 Vee-Jay
Wayning Moments 1962 Vee-Jay
Night Dreamer 1964 Blue Note
JuJu 1964 Blue Note
Speak No Evil 1965 Blue Note
The Soothsayer 1965 Blue Note
Et Cetera 1965 Blue Note
The All Seeing Eye 1965 Blue Note
Adam's Apple 1966 Blue Note
Schizophrenia 1967 Blue Note
Super Nova 1969 Blue Note
Moto Grosso Feio 1970 Blue Note
Odyssey of Iska 1970 Blue Note
Native Dancer with Milton Nascimento 1974 Columbia
Atlantis 1985 Columbia
Phantom Navigator 1986 Columbia
Joy Ryder 1988 Columbia
High Life 1995 Verve
1 + 1 with Herbie Hancock 1997 Verve
Footprints Live! 2002 Verve
Alegría 2003 Verve
Beyond the Sound Barrier 2005 Verve




  • Michelle Mercer, Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter (Tarcher/Penguin, 2005)

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