Wayne Shorter, a saxophonist and composer widely recognized as one of the most original and influential jazz artists of the past six decades, passed away Thursday at the age of 89.
Shorter, who worked closely with Art Blakey and Miles Davis and co-founded the influential jazz fusion ensemble Weather Report, died in an LA hospital, “surrounded by his loving family at the time of his transition,” his publicist Alisse Kingsley confirmed. to the Los Angeles Times. No cause of death was given.
“Wayne Shorter, my dear friend, left us with courage in his heart, love and compassion for all, and a searching spirit for the eternal future. He was ready for his rebirth,” Herbie Hancock, Shorter’s best friend for more than six decades, said in a statement Thursday.
“Maestro Wayne Shorter was our hero, guru and beautiful friend,” Don Was, president of Blue Note Records, said in a statement Thursday. “His music possessed a spirit that came from somewhere, far beyond and made this world a much better place.”
In early February, Shorter won his 12th Grammy—he was nominated 23 times—for improvised jazz solo on “Endangered Species,” and most recently was contemplating his next project, a jazz ballet. In all, he had more than 200 compositions, many of which became modern standards.
His achievements as a saxophonist — playing tenor and soprano saxophone — were equally impressive. Moving freely across an expressive horizon – from bebop to free improvisation – Shorter enhanced his imaginative solos with a rich palette of saxophone sounds and textures.
His influence, which followed the impact of John Coltrane’s playing, can be heard in the work of a wide variety of contemporary tenor saxophonists, including Joe Lovano, Branford Marsalis, Chris Potter, Ravi Coltrane, and countless others.
Born August 25, 1933 in Newark, NJ, Shorter and his brother Alan, a trumpeter, were encouraged by their father to pursue a career in music. But Shorter’s early artistic interests as a young teen were in the visual arts, especially film, painting and sculpture. It wasn’t until 1948, when he discovered the rise of bebop and the playing of pioneering jazz icons such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Lester Young, that he took up the saxophone and formed his own first band in 1952.
“I loved the energy and life of the music,” he told Down Beat magazine. “I couldn’t wait to get to New York to see Bop City, the Bandbox, the Latin bands and the Palladium and Birdland.”
After graduating from New York University in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in music, he was drafted into the army, where he served for two years.
Shorter already established a reputation as a highly regarded young talent while still employed and playing with Horace Silver. Upon his discharge, he joined the Maynard Ferguson Big Band.
But his first known jazz associations began in 1959, when he joined Blakey’s Jazz Messengers as an instrumentalist and the band’s music director.
His first recording as a bandleader, “Introducing Wayne Shorter”, was released in 1959. It would be followed by two dozen highly acclaimed albums, including such classics as “Speak No Evil”, “JuJu”, “Adam’s Apple”, “Native Dance” , ‘Alegria’ and ‘Without a Net’.
After leaving the Jazz Messengers in 1964, Shorter took over the saxophone role in the Miles Davis Quintet, replacing John Coltrane and became a major contributor to a band that is still recognized as one of jazz history’s most influential ensembles .
In 1970, he founded Weather Report with keyboardist Joe Zawinul. For the next decade and a half, the group pioneered the development of jazz fusion, with Shorter’s works often at the forefront of blending funk, rock, and world music elements into Weather Report’s colorful musical mix.
Throughout the remainder of his career, Shorter’s creative versatility was on full display. He was one of the main members of the band VSOP, an ambitious remake – with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard – of the Miles Davis Quintet.
Always eager to work together, Shorter and Hancock played a series of critically acclaimed programs in the ’90s as a completely improvised duo. Shorter also recorded with pop stars Don Henley, Carlos Santana and Joni Mitchell.
Beginning in 2000, Shorter led a stellar ensemble that included pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade. Describing his enthusiasm for the band, Shorter told The Times in 2013: “Nobody knows what’s going to happen every night. I always say, we don’t really rehearse. How do you rehearse the unknown?”
Shorter married Teruka Nakagami in the early 1960s. Several of his compositions – including “Infant Eyes” and “Miyako” – were dedicated to their daughter, Miyako. After that marriage ended in 1964, he married Ana Maria Patricio in 1970. Their daughter, Iska Maria, was born the following year.
Shorter’s successes as a creative jazz performer were offset by several major personal tragedies. His daughter Iska Maria, then 14, died unexpectedly from an attack in 1986. Ten years later, his wife Ana Maria and his niece Dalila died in the crash of a Boeing 747 from TWA’s Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island. Shorter often acknowledged that his faith as a Nichiren Buddhist helped him cope with his grief.
After the death of his wife Ana Maria in 1996, he married her good friend Carolina Dos Santos in 1999.
Shorter received nine Grammy Awards between 1979 and 2005. He was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1998. In 2018, he received the Kennedy Center Honors along with composer-pianist Philip Glass, singer Reba McEntire, singer-actor Cher and the four co-creators of the Broadway show ‘Hamilton’.
But Shorter was not one to be impressed by prizes.
“When you go on stage,” he told the Washington Post in 2013, “you have to put away all your Grammys, your awards, all your newspaper articles. Go there in your pajamas and tell a story.
The musician is survived by his wife, Carolina, daughters Miyako and Mariana, and grandson Max.
Heckman, a longtime jazz critic for The Times, died in 2020. Times staff writer Christie D’Zurilla contributed to this report.