At 80, Shorter performs 'without a net'
By Charles J. Gans ,APNEW YORK -- At age 80, Wayne Shorter isn't ready to rest on his reputation as one of the greatest composers in jazz history. Instead, whenever he performs the saxophonist can't resist the urge to “de-compose” his works and create something anew.
October 5, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
“Jazz to me is something that doesn't have to sound like jazz,” said Shorter, speaking by telephone from his home in the Hollywood Hills. “The word `jazz' means I dare you. I dare you to go beyond what you are. You have to go beyond your comfort zone, to break out of the box. ... You're talking about not just music, you're talking about life.”
Shorter, who celebrated his birthday with several concerts in August, is still going strong. He was a quadruple winner in this year's Downbeat magazine critics poll, topping the categories for Jazz Artist, Jazz Album, Jazz Group and Soprano Saxophone. Earlier this year, he was awarded the UNESCO Medal of the Five Continents during International Jazz Day celebrations in Istanbul, Turkey, and last month the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
“You could say that he's at the peak of his game because he's so full of creative vitality and potential at the age of 80, but how could anybody know Wayne Shorter's peak,” said pianist Herbie Hancock, Shorter's long-time friend, musical collaborator and fellow Buddhist. Hancock turned up to play duets with Shorter at birthday celebrations at the Newport Jazz Festival and Hollywood Bowl.
“I get the feeling that many people feel that when they reach a certain age they just want to pull away from things and rest,” Hancock said, “but the great joy of living is that there is no age where one needs to turn off the creative juices and Wayne is showing that.”
Hancock said he first played with Shorter in 1961 on trumpeter Donald Byrd's album “Free Form.” Three years later they members of Miles Davis' groundbreaking second classic quintet with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams.
Davis encouraged his musicians to bring in their compositions to record, but Shorter's were the only ones the trumpeter didn't change in the studio, Hancock said. These included such tunes as “E.S.P.,” “Nefertiti” and “Footprints” that became modern jazz standards.
Hancock said he was equally amazed by Shorter's skills as a saxophonist and improviser.
“When Wayne plays either the tenor or soprano, you don't hear the tenor and the soprano, you hear Wayne,” Hancock said.
Shorter said he's never believed in “maintaining a tradition for the tradition's sake,” which is why his compositions embrace multiple styles — bebop, modal, jazz-rock fusion, film music, classical, and free improvisation. He also eschews the “illusionary” pursuit of financial gratification — choosing to release records on his own timetable.