of Wayne Shorter
CHAT WITH WAYNE SHORTER
I have done my fair share of Firesides (500 or so last census). I have
favorites. Certainly, the first Sonny Rollins was memorable. Cecil Taylor,
Charles Lloyd, Joe Chambers, and Lester Bowie were provocative. Willie
Nelson was high (allegedly) and Tony Bennett was cool. I was the last
interview for a handful of artists, a considerable honor. But this Wayne
Shorter interview is dear to my heart. Shorter is an icon. Speak No Evil,
JuJu, The All Seeing Eye, his work with Lee Morgan, Art Blakey's Jazz
Messengers, and Miles Davis' now infamous Quintet is legend enough. Furthermore,
Shorter rarely does interviews. And you will begin to understand why as
I have as you read on. Shorter spoke with me from his home, candidly about
his hopes, his time with Blakey and Miles, his Weather Report days, his
recordings on Blue Note, and his new record Footprints Live!, as always
unedited and in his own words.
FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
WAYNE SHORTER: Well, what happened was when I was in the Army, my last
three months in the Army, I was being called. Horace Silver called. He
had my mother call the Army base in Fort Dix, New Jersey. Andsince I had
three more months left, he wanted to know if I could be released long
enough to play a weekend and ten days, ten days in one place and a weekend
in another place at Philadelphia and Canada. The company commander said
to go ahead because I only had three more months to go in the Army, so
not much to do. I was released to go and play. Then, at that time, the
last month in the Army, we went to go see Miles Davis play, which was
a little ways over. It was in Washington D.C., not too far from Fort Dix.
He was there with John Coltrane and Abbey Lincoln sat in and sang. She
sang a song called "Mean and Evil." "You're so mean and
evil, even rain don't fall on you." And Cannonball was there and
all that. We were there with our uniforms, guys in the Army, sergeants
and everything just having a good time checking out Miles. Then when I
left, I got another job with Horace Silver, when I left the Army. I got
one more job with Horace Silver. It was like a matinee somewhere in New
York City. It was at that matinee, during the end of it, at the end of
the matinee, a lady came up to me backstage and said that somebody wanted
to meet me and I said, "Yeah, who?" I put my horn away and I
turned around and it was John Coltrane. We started talking and all that
and he invited me to his house. Then he told me that Miles, that he was
leaving Miles. And he invited me to his house for a whole week. I went
back and forth from Newark, New Jersey to New York and he had me stay
overnight one night and he came to my house too for Thanksgiving dinner.
He was telling me that I could have the gig, I could have the thing if
I wanted it. But at that time, I was, let's see, I had just joined, I
was working at Minton's Playhouse at 118th Street and Amsterdam, Minton's
Playhouse for about six weeks and I joined Maynard Ferguson's band for
three weeks. I played with him for three weeks. That's when, in Canada,
Lee Morgan came across the field when they finished playing with Art Blakey
and the Messengers, he came across and asked me if I wanted to join the
Messengers. Lee had called me back when I was home in Jersey, one Monday
evening, he and Coltrane were playing in Newark at a Monday night gig
and Lee called my house and said, "Come on down and play. This is
Lee Morgan." We hadn't met. When Lee left Dizzy Gillespie's big band,
the last couple of gigs he played with Dizzy's band and I went into the
club, a big club where they were playing and that's how I met Lee Morgan
like very quickly. I didn't know that Lee had been around listening to
me at different places and then he invited me to play with John that Monday
night. John also invited me to play with him on a Monday night at Birdland.
That's when he had, Elvin Jones walked in the door and he sat in on the
drums and I could see the formulation of Coltrane's group beginning. So
the word got around about me when I was drafted into the Army, after I
graduated from NYU. I had gone to a nightclub called Café Bohemia,
just to see some music and musicians for the last time. Of course, I was
very dramatic. I'm going to see these guys for the last time as an audience
participator. Max Roach was standing at the bar and asked me if I was
the kid from Newark. I said, "Yeah," and I showed him my draft
notice. I had it in my back pocket and I said, "Well, I'm going in
the Army," and he said to come on up and play. I played with him.
Oscar Pettiford was on the cello and the bass. Art Blakey was on, people
were taking turns and Art Blakey played drums. Somebody else played the
drums. Walter Bishop played the piano. Cannonball came in there and played.
He had just come into town. Miles was looking for him. There is a lot
of stuff going on. So when I went into the Army, after basic training,
they grabbed me and put me in the Army band. They said, "We got some
news about you." They called me the "Newark Flash." "You're
the Newark Flash." Max Roach said, "You're the Newark Flash."
WAYNE SHORTER: (Laughing) Yeah, I guess they were saying that I came out
of nowhere real quick, that kind of thing. In those days, it was colorful.
Almost everyone had something said about them that was like a handle.
That is sort of a carry over from Lester Young's dialogue on life because
Lester Young called everybody "lady." So everyone got their
own self-style after Lester Young. So anyway, after Coltrane left Miles,
I was with Maynard for three weeks. Lee Morgan came running across the
field in Canada, Toronto, Canada and asked me if I wanted to join the
band. So I left Maynard Ferguson, joined Art Blakey's band and stayed
with him for five years and then I left Art Blakey. But during the five
years, the second year I was with, the third year I was with, let's see,
I joined Art Blakey in 1959, 1961, Miles Davis called, or 1962. He called
me. I didn't want to leave Art Blakey that soon. He told me, "When
you get ready to leave, let me know." He called again around 1963.
He called right in the middle of a rehearsal (laughing). Art Blakey picked
up the phone. I stayed with Art Blakey until 1964 and then I left. Miles
agent called me and told me that Miles had just come back from Japan and
he said to give him a call at the Chateau out in, the Chateau Marmont
(Hollywood, CA), the Chateau where John Belushi (Belushi died there) was
hanging out and all that. But Miles was there before John Belushi. Miles
went out there years before that. So I called Miles and he sent me a first
class ticket and he sent me to his tailor to get a tuxedo made and I went
on and got the tuxedo made and flew out there and joined the band. The
first concert we played at the Hollywood Bowl, after thatfirst concert,
he said, "You got any music?" I said, "Yeah." He said,
"We're going torecord Monday,"tomorrow, the next day. And we
recorded the next day and that was the E.S.P. album.
FJ: "E.S.P." was your composition.
WAYNE SHORTER: Yeah.
FJ: Most are familiar with "Footprints (Miles Smiles)," but
you also penned "Nefertiti," "Prince of Darkness (Sorcerer),"
"Paraphernalia (Miles in the Sky)," and "Sanctuary."
WAYNE SHORTER: Yeah, "Dolores," "Orbits," a couple
of things, "Limbo."
FJ: Was your tenure with Art Blakey extended because of the chemistry
between your tenor and Morgan's trumpet?
WAYNE SHORTER: Oh, yeah, Lee was the guy. Miles really liked Lee Morgan
of all the young people. You don't have to say young. He just liked Lee.
Dizzy was crazy about Lee and Miles was crazy about Dizzy. He knew that
Lee was coming through the foundation. Lee was really coming through sort
of a foundation and not really playing the trumpet book, the trumpet book
so to speak. Lee, actually, he was the most original, he was thoughtful
when he played. He just didn't play a lot of notes to dazzle. Every note
Lee played counted.
FJ: He didn't waste notes.
WAYNE SHORTER: Right and also he played as if he was talking. He played
as if he was talking. He wasn't going to play to show you that I could
play the trumpet or like it was a demonstration. He loved the whole, Lee
had some perception and vision. That's why he was on that album with Trane,
FJ: And your collaborations with Blakey led to your own dates for Blue
WAYNE SHORTER: Oh, yeah, Fred, being with Art, you are going to be recording
on Blue Note.
FJ: You recorded Night Dreamer in 1964 and followed up with JuJu and Speak
No Evil, a very good year.
WAYNE SHORTER: Yeah, we were like, actually, if you didn't do anything
else, that was your living. If you're not on the road, you were preparing
to record to maintain yourself, whether you're single or married. But
that was where income came from. It was, like you did it all in one move.
You came home from the road and you thought about recording and then you
would do it. You would record so you could stand on your own feet at that
time. Everything was lower then, housing, rent. At that time, for an apartment,
it would average around a hundred dollars a month for an apartment.
FJ: A significant amount of your compositions had Asian references e.g.
"House of Jade," "Mahjong," and "Oriental Folk
WAYNE SHORTER: Oh, yeah, at that time, yeah. Yeah, "Mahjong,"
that's the game. The Japanese Americans who were in American barbed wire,
concentrated camps at the time of World War II, I was told they still
played games. They spent a lot of time playing games in the camps, mahjong
and poker and others.
FJ: Did you join Miles before or after Speak No Evil?
WAYNE SHORTER: After.
FJ: So your association with Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter (both appear
on the record) began prior to Miles.
WAYNE SHORTER: Well, actually, it was Herbie. Herbie came to town with
Donald Byrd. While he was recording with Donald Byrd, I met Herbie after
the Donald Byrd recording. I also heard that Herbie was the guy that Miles
chose to be his pianist. They were talking about this guy from Chicago.
"Have you heard this guy? This guy Herbie Hancock from Chicago?"
I said, "Man, Miles knows how to pick guys." Miles get them
before everybody else.
FJ: Your older brother, Alan, was featured on The All Seeing Eye release
(Blue Note) before going on to record the classic Orgasm (Verve).
WAYNE SHORTER: Oh, yeah, Fred, he was out there. He wanted to do exactly
what he wanted to do. He did it the way he knew how and he was actually
making a statement about how he felt about society. He has a book that
he wrote, a big, fat book that he wrote his thoughts about life and places
where he had been. He has a chapter on France (laughing). He had chapter,
how do I put this if this is going out in the newspaper, but it is interesting.
He had a chapter on France and on this one page, he said, "As I was
leaving France, the customs officer asked me if I ever intended to return
to France," and he said, "I answered, 'Pour qoui?'"
FJ: Blue Note has just released The Classic Blue Note Recordings, a retrospective
from sessions with Blakey and Morgan as well as signature material from
your classics. There certainly is enough material to release a mammoth
WAYNE SHORTER: That's up to them. That is up to whoever is running that.
I think they are going to sneak in there and do it.
FJ: Let me make some calls.
WAYNE SHORTER: (Laughing) They might start getting in there and doing
it after the Latin release of the last album (Moto Grosso Feio).
FJ: The 1965-68 Miles Quintet has gone onto become along with Trane's
quartet, the preeminent band in the history of this music.
WAYNE SHORTER: Miles just asked if I had any music and I said, "Yeah,"
and he said, "Bring it." We never had any rehearsals really.
We would just go to the studio and I had this book with music in it that
I had been writing, some of this music before I went in the Army around
1956, when I was in my last year of college, I was writing some of this
music and he used to say (in an uncanny imitation of Miles), "You
got the book?" They referred to that band as royalty (laughing).
FJ: What prompted your departure?
WAYNE SHORTER: Well, after five and a half, close to six years, it was
about time for me to, time for me to go ahead and check out some other
stuff. It was really actually time, the band was really actually going
into, Miles was going into, after Bitches Brew, because after Bitches
Brew, that's my last recording with Miles. Then I started to think about,
I was checking the guitar player from Canada and somebody else and somebody
else and I did an album called Super Nova. In Japan, they gave me something
called the Silver Award for that album. It was actually time. Miles was
talking to me and he said, "Hey, looks like it is time for you to
start your own band, huh?"
FJ: It was on Super Nova, where you made the recording switch from tenor
WAYNE SHORTER: Yeah, well, somewhere around '68, I went and brought a
soprano and that was getting me back to the way you hold a clarinet because
I started on the clarinet when I was about fifteen and a half, sixteen.
That feeling of when you hold it straight out, that ventured back to the
clarinet as sort of a snap back to it, like when you get into a fetal,
sometimes you see that as an analogy, a memory.
FJ: Was it long after you left Miles that along with Joe Zawinul, you
formed Weather Report?
WAYNE SHORTER: No, we formed Weather Report in 1970. Joe and I, that went
on for about fourteen years. We also had the contracts with CBS. They
were taking up the options, renewing the contracts and it was their option
to renew and when they renewed, the thought of leaving Weather Report,
nobody thought of leaving the group in a place where, without the known
creators of the group, the signature names. We thought about leaving,
but thinking about starting to get the new person known and even then,
they were not like rock stars, but we needed every chance we could muster,
so we had the names of Joe Zawinul, myself, Miroslav Vitous and we had
been with Miles. Joe had been with Cannonball. He was with Cannonball
for close to ten years. Miroslav Vitous, if he hadn't gone with Weather
Report, he may have, Miles wanted him. Miles was going to check him out.
FJ: When did you last see Miles?
WAYNE SHORTER: On my birthday. He was at the Hollywood Bowl and I went
to see him. I had a birthday party somewhere, a surprise birthday party
at a big restaurant. A lot of people were there and we all said, "Let's
go up and see Miles." It was Danny Glover, the actor, Joni Mitchell,
my wife through the surprise party. We all had a caravan of cars going
up to the Bowl to see Miles. I got there and I saw Miles in his dressing
room. He just wanted to see me first alone before he went on stage. We
talked and everything. He hugged me and then when he went on stage and
I was sitting down in my seat, the place was loaded with people and he
played "Happy Birthday."
FJ: Classic Miles.
WAYNE SHORTER: And I have that on tape. Carlos Santana called me later
on that month and he was there and he got a tape of it too and he sent
it to me and said, "You may already have this, but check it out."
Carlos is a nice guy.
FJ: You have closely collaborated with Joni Mitchell through the years.
WAYNE SHORTER: I met her at the Roxy. She came to the Roxy when Miles
was there with his new band and she came with Clive Davis (formed Arista).
He was bringing her in and having her meet everybody. Around the same
time, it was in New York, when Carlos and I met. Carlos Santana, myself,
and Joni, we met around the same time. Carlos and I are very good friends
all through these years, to date, I mean, super friends. His children
are growing. Family is nice and all that. He has maintained his spirituality.
FJ: You kept me ringing my hands, recording only three albums over the
WAYNE SHORTER: Well, you know, Fred, there was nothing actually to record.
There is so much more to living and life than doing music. It is working
on, not working on, but exploring the areas of life that can be left unattended.
You can do music, music, music, and then still be a cripple when it comes
to what you're really here for. You think you might be here for music,
then the human condition, the humanity part of your life can be, you can
be blinded to that part, be really out of touch and when somebody is saying
something, you can't always equate it with what you're doing. There is
a chance that the world revolving around baseball or music or boxing or
whatever. It was like finding out what is your real purpose in life. I
used to walk by a mirror and look in the mirror and say, "What's
your real name?" And we've been named as we are born and "what
is your real name?" What is anybody's real name? That sparked what
are you supposed to do? What are you supposed to do also? By playing music,
I am doing less than a fraction. Music is a drop in the ocean of life.
FJ: Having gained knowledge and wisdom that comes with living, what is
the purpose of your life?
WAYNE SHORTER: At this point, it is to celebrate life in such a way that
it, the celebration translates to other people, that they can translate
it to mean that we are eternal and since we're eternal, there's no need
to count our neighbor's fortune and rob our neighbor's fortune because
prior to being convinced that we live eternal, you think you only live
once, because you only think you're here for a short time, you've got
to go out and rob banks. You want what someone else has if you don't have
it. You want the shortcut if you can get away with it. You may pay for
it by being executed or something like that, but that's all there is to
it. That's not all there is to it. If I, through music or painting, if
I paint again, I don't know if I will do that, but through music or music
with or without motion pictures, I can do music for movies that will never
be made as long as the person that is listening or embracing it can start
to make movies of their own lives and so they become the producer and
director and actor, so it is no one else making them puppets. If I can
do musically, be a musical catalyst for self-decision or self-thought,
person who thinks about themselves and not have to join the club of popularity,
the popular club, where everything is sold with a pop package. I am talking
about cars and food and voting and voting unilaterally. It is another
word for popular or it is another word for thoughtless, mindless. (Long
pause) To actually support, I would say, to support all pervading law
of life itself and saying that we are that law. We are the manifestation
of that law. When we do negative stuff, the law reveals the negative effects.
The law of ourselves doesn't punish us. We reward or punish ourselves.
I am talking about blame outside of ourselves. Blame when something goes
wrong or goes down, something tragic happens and you start to blame. Of
course, there are opposing forces among people. The opposing forces have
come about because of an unawareness of person by person by person taking
advantage of unawareness from birth. In other words, Fred, there is a
whole karmic something that we are able to erase form this moment on,
one by one, to lessen karmic retribution.
FJ: What kind of kick in the head are we looking for with society as self-involved
as it is? After all, this is the day of reality shows to escape from reality.
WAYNE SHORTER: I would say if the power of music could turn things around,
turn people's thinking around, to turn it around, to be an ambassador
to music. We played in Turkey last year again. We've been to Turkey more
than once. To play in a place in proximity to Iran, I played someplace
near in Turkey where Iranian journalists and young people came to the
dressing room with presents and paintings of their history. They are
artists. They like art and culture and all that. If the businessmen of
the world and the politicians, people who are encased in those careers,
wow, this chief has everybody around him talking to him (watching the
Montgomery County Police Chief giving a press conference on television
about recent sniper attacks), like we met Colin Powell at the State Department
this year. We meaning the Thelonious Monk Institute, which the son of
Thelonious was there and some people who were working with the Clinton
administration. The Monk Institute's headquarters is in Washington on
Wisconsin Avenue. We met with Colin Powell and his wife and he got up
in the stands and talked. It is big, the State Department. They had trees,
shrubbery in the form and shape of saxophones. It was the competition
for the saxophone this time. They have a competition every year. They
had a lot of hors d'oeuvres food all over the place and people were eating
and all that. What's his name was there too, the monetary guy.
FJ: Alan Greenspan.
WAYNE SHORTER: Alan Greenspan, he was there. The head, he had the same
job that Colin Powell had. He was the head of the Army and Navy and all
of that. He's an Air Force general. General, what's his name?
FJ: General Myers.
WAYNE SHORTER: He is the chief of the Joint Chief of Staff. He's the top
guy. If something happened to the Secretary of Defense, I think he would
be next. I'm not sure. I had presented to me a crystal saxophone at the
Monk Institute. He was invited and he came from Afghanistan and participated
in presenting me with a crystal saxophone for life achievement work that
I've been involved with. He heard that we were going over to the State
Department and he had something on Sunday morning earlier on a Sunday
morning show and he ended up going to the State Department. He called
and cancelled his dinner and he went to the State Department. General
Myers and he and I talked about doing R.O.T.C. at the same time. He's
the same age, 1953. We did Air Force R.O.T.C. at the same time. He said
he never thought he would be where he is now. Colin Powell got up on the
bandstand and said, "Contrary to popular belief. Some Republicans
do have rhythm." (Laughing) And so you do things that change. It
might be negligible, something you see in the corner of your eye, a little
movement and that might be the start. You never know. You can't count
anything out. To get all these people, from Saddam Hussein and I just
came from Hawaii and we did a peace conference there. It was two weeks
in Hawaii. We were with the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and the nephew
of Nobel and the Dean Lawrence Carter of Morehouse College and another
lady who was with two thousand people in Columbia, where they go around
the world to get to the non-violence level with different programs that
they are instituting. She was with four people who were kidnapped by drug
dealers in Columbia. So we were there with them. These kinds of meetings
went on unbeknownst. You're not going to see this in the newspaper. My
wife was involved with fourteen countries this weekend, translating. Her
daughter was translating in French, Portuguese, my wife from Portuguese
to English, Italian. Fourteen countries about peace as opposed to violence,
but new thinking, ways of new thinking, this is going on and it is non-stop
now. It is not we have to get peace and sit down on it. Just like the
opposite, they are non-stop with feeding, as soon as the child is born,
the feeding begins and we have to know the difference.
FJ: Footprints Live! showcases your new quartet (Danilo Perez, Brian Blade,
and John Patitucci).
WAYNE SHORTER: Oh, yeah, the guys are good. They have fun with that. We
are going out on the 22 of October. We are going to do some universities
and weekends around the United States in October, November. I am going
to France on December 7, Lyon. We're doing something with the Lyon Symphony
Orchestra and the band, the quartet. And then in the spring, we are going
to England and to France and do some concerts. We're going to be doing
Carnegie Hall with an orchestra and the band, Montreal Symphony Orchestra
with the band, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, probably, with the band, and
something in August. Something we are working on. An idea at the Hollywood
Bowl and we may have some interesting people to celebrate. We have a recording
that is coming out in January. It is being worked on. It is being mixed
now. It is the band plus now. There will be trumpets, woodwinds, and some,
a few strings. It is not going to be four of us on the record, but it
is different pieces of music with different sized groups and combinations.
It might be a bit of a surprise as to what you're going to hear.
FJ: Are you playing both soprano and tenor?
WAYNE SHORTER: I'm playing that again, but there is other sounds on there.
We're doing a Villa-Lobos piece and I am doing one piece by Leroy Anderson.
There is an old Welsh, legendary folk song. There is another piece from
the thirteenth century and another piece about Angola and another piece
that Miles gave me from Spain. It is called, "Vendiendo Allegria,"
FJ: Good mantra.
WAYNE SHORTER: Yeah, it is.
Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and the tribe has spoken. Comments? Email