Wayne Shorter

Biography

As a followup to 2003's Grammy® Award-winning Alegria, saxophonist-composer Wayne Shorter returns with another exhilarating live document that captures the risk-taking chemistry of his celebrated quartet on tour. Beyond the Sound Barrier continues the remarkable group-think and deconstructivist aesthetic that Shorter established with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade on 2002's acclaimed Footprints Live!, Shorter's first all-acoustic foray since his early '60s Blue Note years.

Says the bandleader of his highly interactive unit consisting of pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade: “We’re playing a similar outline in different cities, but we’re getting further and further away from anything sounding the same from night to night. These guys all have that kind of forward-looking attitude. They understand that it’s OK to be vulnerable, to open oneself and take chances, and not be afraid of the unknown. So if somebody feels like they want to bring something else to it, they do it. We don’t have any mandates in this band. Our attitude is, ‘Let’s paint in watercolors, use good oils or get white out, if that’s what you want to use.’”

In typical Shorter fashion, the conversational title track to Beyond the Sound Barrier carries a certain intellectual heft and sci-fi expansiveness to it. Likewise, “Adventures Aboard the Golden Mean” refers to that mysterious natural proportion used in art, architecture and music by the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci, Debussy, Bartok and Beethoven, but Shorter puts a sci-fi twist to it. “The golden mean is neither captive to the right, left, east, west, north, south or the middle,” says Shorter. “It is attached to no extreme. That’s a place to try to get to in terms of freedom of thought and choice and all that stuff. And I think it has nothing to do with an almighty power or nothing like that, but a place that we have inside us that’s just asleep a little bit. And I’m thinking of it like a spaceship called the Golden Mean. I picture a lot of kids on there flying around, having a good time. And they’re going somewhere along the Golden Mean."

The collection opens with an open-ended take on Arthur Penn's "Smilin' Through," which inveterate film buff Shorter dug up from the deeper recesses of his memory. As he explains, "That’s an old Irish song that was used in a movie with Jeanette MacDonald and Brian Ahearn. At some point in the movie she’s at the piano and she plays this song, ‘Smilin’ Through.’ The message of the tune is, whenever a tragedy comes, can you smile through it? And that stuck with me.” Shorter on soprano is pushed to some ecstatic heights on this tune by Blade's powerhouse traversing of the kit.

"As Far As The Eyes Can See" opens with a free-flowing four-way conversation with Shorter on tenor and gradually evolves into a remarkable example of group improv. The piece actually developed from a fragment that originally appeared in “Go” from the Footprints album. “It’s like a tag that becomes a piece of music,” says Shorter. “You only hear it one time (on ‘Go’). There’s only two measures and it stops, but this one takes on a whole other harmonic thing and it’s more of an experience of the eye...how far are you willing to see? People who say they don’t feel this

or that -- they don’t feel classical or they don’t feel country, or all they feel is country. all they want is the safety zone or comfort zone, what they can relate to and everything. Well, I say, if your feelings are only red, blue and yellow, how far can you extend yourself in a world that needs extending today?”

Felix Mendelssohn’s “On Wings of Song” is a piece that caught Wayne’s ear in 1995. “I still lived in California then and I was driving home when I started thinking about old movies I had seen, and this song popped into my head. It was from a western movie...something with the fort, the union soldiers, and they were having a ball. John Wayne would be waltzing with Maureen O’Hara with this song would be playing in the background. So when this song came to me, I stopped the car, found a piece of paper and wrote down the first few notes so I wouldn’t forget that I thought about it.” Shorter's tenor sax investigates the simple melody here and is underscored by Perez's chamber-like aesthetic on piano and Patitucci's buoyantly interactive groove.

The ethereal "Tinkerbell" is distinguished by a freewheeling conversation betwteen Perez's piano and Patitucci's bowed bass while the more turbulent "Joy Ryder" is anchored by Blade's muscular yet flexible backbeat and Patitucci's deep, minimalist groove. Shorter stretches out on soprano sax on this remake of the title track from his 1988 Columbia album. The quartet's in-the-moment extrapolation here is yet another great example playful group improv. "Over Shadow Hill Way" (also from 1988's Joy Ryder) gets a looser, more interactive interpretation than its original incarnation. Shorter takes a philosophical stance about recreating old works:

“Since I don’t believe in the words ‘beginning’ or ‘end,’ then nothing is ever really finished," he says. "A tune may be put aside but in reality there are still things there that are worth investigating and developing. Gustav Mahler used to go back and look at stuff he had written when he was a kid. It was supposed to be finished but then he would incorporate it into other pieces, developing it in his adult years. Beethoven too, and Mozart. So it’s a continuation.”

Shorter dedicates Beyond the Sound Barrier to a list of people -- all explorers in their own way -- who didn’t let their physical or social circumstances stop them from their missions: Dr. Vivien Thomas (pioneer in treatment of blue baby syndrome), Bess Colman (groundbreaking WWI aviator), Henrietta Brodkrany (submarine torpedo experimentation in her kitchen sink), Gary Morgan (inventor of the traffic signal and the gas mask), Nicolai Tesla (electricity and beyond), Dr. Linus Pauling (DNA pioneer), Dr. Stephen Hawking (quantum physicist), and Christopher Reeves (stem cell advocate).

More than half a century after embarking on his lifelong musical adventure, Shorter is universally regarded as a living legend in jazz. His great body of work as a composer for such illustrious groups as Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Miles Davis’ famous mid ‘60s quintet and fusion supergroup Weather Report is enough to ensure him a spot in the Jazz Hall of Fame. But if the prolific composer had never written a single tune, his signature sound and choice of notes, sense of economy and unparalleled expression on both tenor and soprano saxes would have earmarked him for greatness. Combine the writing prowess with the fragmented, probing solos and the enigmatic Buddhist philosopher presence and you have the makings of a jazz immortal. “Life is so mysterious, to me,” says Shorter. “I can’t stop at any one thing to say, ‘Oh, this is what it is.’ And I think it’s always becoming, always becoming. That’s the adventure. And imagination is part of that adventure."

Born in Newark, New Jersey on August 25, 1933, had his first great jazz epiphany as a teenager: “I remember seeing Lester Young when I was 15 years old. It was a Norman Granz Jazz at the

Philharmonic show in Newark and he was late coming to the theater. Me and a couple of other guys were waiting out front of the Adams Theater and when he finally did show up, he had the pork pie hat and everything. So then we were trying to figure out how to get into the theater from the fire escape around the back. We eventually got into the mezzanine and saw that whole show -- Stan Kenton and Dizzy Gillespie bands together on stage doing ‘Peanut Vendor,’ Charlie Parker with strings doing ‘Laura’ and stuff like that. And Russell Jacquet...Ilinois Jacquet. He was there doing his thing. That whole scene impressed me so much that I just decided, ‘Hey, man, let me get a clarinet.’ So I got one when I was 16, and that’s when I started music.”

Switching to tenor saxophone, shorter formed a teenage band in Newark called The Jazz Informers and later got some invaluable bandstand experience with the Jackie Bland Band, a progressive Newark orchestra that specialized in bebop. While still in high school, Shorter participated in several cutting contests on Newark's jazz scene, including one memorable encounter with sax great Sonny Stitt. He attended college at New York University while also soaking up the Manhattan jazz scene by frequenting popular nightspots like Birdland and Cafe Bohemia. Wayne worked his way through college by playing with the Nat Phipps orchestra. Upon graduating in 1956, he worked briefly with Johnny Eaton and his Princetonians, earning the nickname "The Newark Flash" for his speed and facility on the tenor saxophone. But just as he was beginning making his mark, Shorter was drafted into the Army. He recalls a memorable jam session at the Cafe Bohemia just days before he was shipped off to Fort Dix, New Jersey. "A week before I went into the Army I went to the Cafe Bohemia to hear music, I said, for the last time in my life. I was standing at the bar having a cognac and I had my draft notice in my back pocket. That’s when I met Max Roach. He said, 'You’re the kid from Newark, huh? You’re The Flash.' And he asked me to sit in. They were changing drummers throughout the night, so Max played drums, then Art Taylor, then Art Blakey. Oscar Pettiford was on cello. Jimmy Smith came in the door with his organ. He drove to the club with his organ in a hearse. And outside we heard that Miles was looking for somebody named Cannonball. And I’m saying to myself, 'All this stuff is going on and I gotta go to the Army in about five days!'"

Following his time in the service, Shorter had a brief stint in 1958 with Horace Silver and later played in the house band at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem. It was around this time that Shorter began jamming with fellow tenor saxophonists John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. In 1959, Shorter had a brief stint with the Maynard Ferguson big band before joining Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in August of that year. He remained with the Jazz Messengers through 1963, becoming Blakey's musical director and contributing several key compositions to the band's book during those years. Shorter made his recording debut as a leader in 1959 for the Vee Jay label and in 1964 cut the first of a string of important recordings for the Blue Note label. He joined the Miles Davis band in 1964 and remained with the group through 1970, contributing such landmark compositions as "Nefertiti," "E.S.P.," "Pinocchio," "Sanctuary," "Fall" and "Footprints."

In 1970, Shorter co-founded the group Weather Report with keyboardist and Miles Davis alum, Joe Zawinul. It remained the premier fusion group through the '70s and into the early '80s before disbanding in 1985 after 16 acclaimed recordings, including 1980's Grammy Award-winning double-live LP set, 8:30.  Shorter formed his own group in 1986 and produced a succession of electric jazz albums for the Columbia label -- 1986's Atlantis, 1987's Phantom Navigator, 1988's Joy Ryder.  He re-emerged on the Verve label with 1995's High Life.  After the tragic loss of his wife in 1996 (she was aboard the ill-fated Paris-bound flight TWA 800), Shorter returned to the scene with 1997's 1+1, an intimate duet recording with pianist and former Miles Davis quintet bandmate Herbie Hancock. The two spent 1998 touring as a duet and by the summer of 2001 Wayne began touring as the leader of a talented young lineup featuring pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John

Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade, each a celebrated recording artist and bandleader in his own right. The group's uncanny chemistry was well documented on 2002's acclaimed Footprints Live!  Shorter followed in 2003 with the ambitious Alegria, an expanded vision for large ensemble which earned him a Grammy Award.

Shorter sees his current recording, the live Beyond the Sound Barrier , as part of a creative continuum. "It’s the same mission...fighting the good fight," he says.  "It’s making a statement about what life is, really. And I’m going to end the line with it.:  He adds, "A lot of musicians worry about protecting what I call their musical foundation. They want to be on their Ps and Qs on stage, put their best foot forward, play their best runs, their best and try to impress people. But I'm at a point where I’m just going say, 'To hell with the rules.' That’s all I’m doing with the music now. I'm 71, I've got nothing to lose now. I'm going for the unknown."