Wayne Shorter, Legendary Jazz Saxophonist, Dead at 89

Wayne Shorter, the skilled and innovative jazz saxophonist who was a member of Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet before leading his own jazz-fusion band Weather Report, has died at the age of 89.

According to The New York Times, Shorter died Thursday, March 2nd, in Los Angeles.

Born on August 25th, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey, Shorter grew up in a musical family (his older brother Alan was a revered jazz trumpeter in his own right). Wayne began playing the clarinet at an early age before transitioning to saxophone.

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Following a stint in the U.S. Army, Shorter moved to New York City in the 1950s and became an integral figure in the city’s vibrant jazz scene. He was a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers from 1959 to 1963, where he gained a reputation for his virtuosic saxophone playing and his ability to write complex and innovative compositions.

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In 1964, Shorter joined the second iteration of Miles Davis’s legendary quintet, alongside Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. During a five-year period, the quintet released a number of now-iconic albums, including 1965’s E.S.P., 1967’s Miles Smiles, and 1968’s Nefertiti.

In Len Lyons’ book The Great Jazz Pianists, Hancock praised Shorter as “the master writer to me, in that group” and “one of the few people who brought music to Miles that didn’t get changed.” Likewise, Davis, in his autobiography, called Shorter “a real composer” who “brought in a kind of curiosity about working with musical rules.”

Shorter remained with Davis in the initial years following the dissolution of his quintet and the beginnings of his electric period, contributing to classics like Filles de Kilimanjaro, In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew.

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In 1971, Shorter formed his own band, Weather Report, with keyboardist Joe Zawinul and bassist Miroslav Vitous. Blending elements of jazz, rock, funk, and world music, Weather Report became the gold standard of the jazz fusion genre. They released 14 albums between 1971 and 1986, including 1977’s Heavy Weather — widely considered their opus. Between 1979 and 1985, Weather Report received five separate Grammy nominations for Best Jazz Fusion Performance, Vocal or Instrumental — winning one in 1979 for “8:30.”

Following Weather Report’s split in 1986, Shorter recorded and performed as a solo artist, releasing numerous albums throughout the next three decades. His solo work was characterized by his unique style of playing, which blended elements of free jazz, post-bop, and fusion. Over the years, Shorter also collaborated with the likes of Joni Mitchell, Carlos Santana, and Steely Dan (playing on the title track of Aja). He was even featured on the soundtrack to Harrison Ford’s The Fugitive.

In 1997, Shorter’s album High Life won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. That same year, he reunited with Hancock for a collaborative album called 1+1. In 2019, his album Emanon won Best Jazz Album and Best Jazz Instrumental Album at the Grammys.

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Shorter’s final release, Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival, came out in September 2022. Last month, the project earned him his 11th Grammy for Best Improvised Jazz Solo.

For his efforts, Shorter won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. He was also named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 1998, and received the Kennedy Center Honors Award in 2018.

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