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Wayne Shorter Biography

25 August 1933, Newark, New Jersey, USA. Shorter first played clarinet, taking up the tenor saxophone during his late teens. He studied music at New York University during the mid-50s before serving in the US army for two years. During his student days he had played with various bands, including that led by Horace Silver, and on his discharge encountered John Coltrane, with whom he developed many theoretical views on music. He was also briefly with Maynard Ferguson. In 1959 Shorter became a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, remaining with the band until 1963. The following year he joined Miles Davis, staying until 1970. Later that year he teamed up with Joe Zawinul, whom he had first met in the Ferguson band, to form Weather Report. During his stints with Blakey and Davis Shorter had written extensively and his compositions had also formed the basis of several increasingly experimental record sessions under his own name for Blue Note Records. He continued to write for the new band and also for further sessions under his own name and with V.S.O.P., with whom he worked in the mid- and late 70s. From the mid-80s onwards he was leading his own band and also recording and touring with other musicians, thus effectively ending his activities with Weather Report.

As a player, Shorter developed through his period with Blakey into a leading proponent of hard bop. His fiery, tough-toned and dramatically angular playing was well suited to the aggressive nature of the Blakey band. During his time with Davis, another side to his musical personality emerged, in which a more tender approach greatly enhanced his playing. This side had made its appearance earlier, on 1962’s Wayning Moments, but was given greater scope with Davis. On Davis’ classic 1969 recording Bitches Brew, Shorter also played soprano saxophone: two weeks later he employed this instrument throughout on his own Super Nova, playing with exotic enthusiasm. The years with Zawinul broadened his range still further, highlighting his appreciation of freer forms and giving rein to his delight in musical exotica. Although laying ground rules for many later fusion bands, Weather Report’s distinction lay in the way the group allowed the two principals to retain their powerful musical personalities. Later, as the group began to sound more like other fusion bands, Shorter’s exploratory nature found greater scope in the bands he formed away from Weather Report.

As a composer, Shorter was responsible for some of the best work of the Blakey band of his era and also for many of Davis’ stronger pieces of the late 60s. Recognition via the Down Beat critics finally arrived in 2003 when he won a clutch of awards; Best Composer, Best Soprano Saxophone, Best Acoustic Jazz Group, Best Album, Hall Of Fame and Best Artist. Soon after, he won the readers poll with an impressive four more awards, including Jazz Album Of The Year for Footprints Live!, together with similar awards in the Jazz Times readers poll.

A major innovator and influence on hard boppers and fusionists alike, Shorter remains one of the most imaginative musicians in jazz, constantly seeking new horizons but - owing to his broad musical knowledge - retaining identifiable links with the past.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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