American Saxophonist and Composer Wayne Shorter has Died, Aged 89
One of the most influential jazz musicians for over six decades, Shorter also blurred the lines between the classical and jazz genres
Across his multi-decade career, Wayne Shorter performed to great acclaim, contributed many pieces to the jazz canon, and oversaw pivotal shifts and developments in the genre. Shorter was a 12-time GRAMMY Award-winner, and in 2015, received the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award.
Born in 1933 in Newark, New Jersey, Shorter was encouraged by his father to pursue a music career. At age 16, he began learning the clarinet, and later — inspired by jazz icons such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Lester Young — took up the tenor saxophone and formed his first ensemble in 1952.
From 1956 to 1958, Shorter studied music education at New York University. After serving in the Army for two years, he began playing with two highly celebrated jazz ensembles in the genre’s history — Art Blakey’s “Jazz Messengers,” where he played until 1964, and the Miles Davis Quintet, where he remained until 1970.
During the 1960s, Shorter also produced his own records, including Night Dreamer, Juju, and Speak No Evil, establishing himself as a tenor saxophonist, composer, and bandleader for Blue Note Records. Shorter wrote over 200 compositions, many of which are standard pieces in the jazz repertoire.
His works have also been performed by leading international orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Lyon Symphony, National Polish Radio Symphonic Orchestra, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Prague Philharmonic, and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
He was also commissioned by the National, St. Louis, and Nashville Symphony Orchestras, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the La Jolla Music Society.
In 1971, he and pianist Joe Zawinul, created the pioneering jazz fusion band, “Weather Report.” For 15 years, the band bolstered Shorter’s fame as a composer and in 1977, released their highest-selling record, Heavy Weather.
WEATHER REPORT | BLACK MARKET | MONTREUX JAZZ FESTIVAL | 1976
Shorter also recorded songs with artists Don Henley, Carlos Santana, and Joni Mitchell. In the 1990s, he often worked with American jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, playing as an entirely improvisational duo.
“Wayne Shorter, my best friend, left us with courage in his heart, love and compassion for all, and a seeking spirit for the eternal future,” said Hancock, Shorter’s friend of over 60 years, in the LA Times. “He was ready for his rebirth.”
A major influence in the jazz scene for future generations, Shorter continued working through his sixties and seventies — touring and producing recordings with his longest-running group. The Wayne Shorter Quartet comprised himself, pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade.
In 2021, he composed his opera “Iphigenia,” to a libretto by esperanza spalding. Shorter combined both classical and jazz forms for the full orchestral score, also featuring his groundbreaking uses of symphonic improvisation. The opera premiered to great acclaim at the Kennedy Center.
In 2016, Shorter became a Guggenheim Fellow, and in 2018, at age 85, was a Kennedy Center Honoree. In that same year, he released his final album, “Emanon,” which included his own science fiction comic. In February 2023, Shorter won his 12th GRAMMY for improvised jazz solo on “Endangered Species,” and was considering a jazz ballet for his next project.
“I think that music opens portals and doorways into unknown sectors that it takes courage to leap into,” Shorter said. “I always think that there's a potential that we all have, and we can emerge, rise up to this potential, when necessary. We have to be fearless, courageous, and draw upon wisdom that we think we don't have.”
As reported in The New York Times, Shorter died at a Los Angeles hospital, surrounded by family members. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, and a grandson. Our condolences to his family, friends, students, and colleagues.
WEATHER REPORT | BIRDLAND | 1977