Legendary saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter, a major contributor to modern jazz whose influence spanned more than 50 years, passed away last week at the age of 89. In the late 1950s, he played with and composed for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He later joined Miles Davis' Second Great Quintet and co-founded the jazz fusion band Weather Report. As a side man, Shorter collaborated on groundbreaking albums by artists including Joni Mitchel and bands like Steely Dan, and he also recorded over 20 albums as a bandleader.
It was in that capacity that he arrived in Winston-Salem in 2012 to perform with his quartet (pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade) in Wait Chapel on the Wake Forest University campus. Prior to the concert, Wayne Shorter spoke with WFDD’s David Ford from his home in southern California.
On taking chances in performance:
Well, it feels like we're on a mission. And it's so easy to be courted away from the mission — to take the road most traveled ... It seems like it could be a lonely feeling. What does that feel like? When you’re jumping into that deep water, sometimes we feel like astronauts or the guys that want to climb the highest mountain or go beyond the horizon. I like the name — Robert Heinlein's last science fiction book — To Sail Beyond the Sunset. That's a picture right there. I feel like it’s a time for humanity right now to create a singularity ... You need to make yourself vulnerable on stage. You can't try to put all of your musical training — the foundation that you have in music — don't worry about putting all that on display. You're going to have train wrecks maybe, and you're going to actually maybe even demonstrate struggle. But after the struggle, you got to try to break through to something called victory. And the audience — that's what's been happening — the audiences have been like going with us, and after we finish, they say, "We felt this struggle in certain places and everything, and then you broke through the sunshine."
On the evolution of Shorter's jazz standard, "Footprints":
Here's what I say — there's no such thing to me as a finished piece of music. You just stop writing until you tend to go on. And the comment is like, "Oh, someone is reinventing themselves." I don't think about them reinventing. I just think they're continuing. And not just the same anymore. You continue. So, I don't let the words like reinvent stop the music that I've been working on. It’s unfinished. It will appear again grown up ... This moving on is supposed to kind of communicate something to the audience that you don't have to discard something because you think it has no value. But you can graduate. I'm dealing with not letting the illusion of something take me away from what we call the mission ... The illusion of getting older is well, "I can't do that young stuff anymore. Those were my dreams, my young dreams, my childish dreams. It's not possible." When I'm done dealing with it, it’s, "Yes, it is possible. Let's go to fantasy land. It's possible that reality is a fantasy and fantasy is the real reality. Yes, they did live happily ever after. You do live happily ever after. We are eternal."