To me, jazz means: I Dare You!" says 81-year-old NEA Jazz Master and living legend Wayne Shorter. The tenor saxophonist/ composer holds court with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis in Rose Theater on May 14 _16 as part of this year's Wayne Shorter Festival. The celebration takes place in all three venues at Jazz at Lincoln Center: Rose Theater, The Appel Room, and Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola.
As Jazz at Lincoln Center Director of Programming and Touring Jason Olaine explains, "Over the years, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has enjoyed collaborating with modern jazz masters, arranging their music and performing it together on our stages, from Chick Corea, Kenny Garrett, and Ahmad Jamal, to the Sachal Jazz Ensemble. This year we look forward to an historic union with Wayne Shorter, whom Wynton Marsalis calls 'the heir to Thelonious Monk's seat as Poet Laureate of Jazz.'
In discussing the importance of Wayne Shorter, Marsalis points out that Mr. Shorter has a body of unique and definitive compositions, sophisticated in melody and harmony, done in the rhythm of jazz. His music has been the centerpiece of three definitive forces in jazz: Art Blakey, Miles Davis, and Weather Report. Mr. Shorter is also one of the giants of jazz improvisation, with a haunting, lyrical sound and a keen depth of harmonic perception in his playing _ perhaps the best in the world.
For two nights in The Appel Room, saxophone titan Joe Lovano and trumpet icon Dave Douglas will lead their Wayne Shorter-inspired Sound Prints Quintet. Over the weekend in Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, an all-star group of younger musicians, led by bassist Russell Hall, takes on Mr. Shorter's early compositions. The group also features three distinctive saxophonists _Stacy Dillard, Tivon Pennicott, and Julian Lee _as well as trumpeter Bruce Harris, pianist Sullivan Fortner, and drummer Evan Sherman."
In this exclusive interview with Shorter, a Buddhist, he explains the magic of performing on stage: "It's getting to know each other and working on a lot of other stuff that the nations [of the world] should work on. The whole thing is about trust. Jazz is dealing with the respect for one another and keeping what you call the 'ego' in check...making the ego work for you for the better of all, rather than all working for the ego. The ego becomes an ally rather than a director."
What shall we expect at his upcoming concert? He answers the question with a smile and one of his own; "How can you rehearse 'connect the moment'? How can you rehearse the unknown? The unexpected? We hope we can inspire people of other professions to check out improvisation, where you have to make decisions based on trust and the heart. It makes it more difficult to 'rely' when you improvise. If we don't improvise, someone else will. You are to be fearless. The challenge is to fear nothing. And to know that fear is tricky; sometimes there's a lot of laughter and humor that hides the fear that is lurking. A lot of joking and laughing gives the impression that everything is going to be all right. As with instant gratification, if you get what you want too fast, it gets out of proportion. We all have to study more about what we are. Being in the moment has a lot to do with it."
Shorter does not think like the rest of us. His mind searches the universe for answers. His thoughts are not limited to this material world. It takes some getting used to. His thought process is refreshing and challenging. "People go to war with music; with the blare of the trumpets and the beat of the drums and the physical celebration of going to war. Music is not the thing that soothes the savage beast. Music is a double-edged sword.
People get touched by all kinds of stuff. Some people get touched by the familiar. I like to see more people reaching across the aisle. (laugh) Reaching across the great expanse that divides. And examining their own perception of what they think life is supposed to be...and discovering that their perception is very limited...not right or wrong, but just limited. We have to go beyond limits."
Having worked with his current quartet since 2001, the group has become a family. "Now everyone is married and has family," he says. "What we do on the stage extends into the home. We are family." The Wayne Shorter Quartet consists of Danilo Perez (piano), John Patitucci (bass), and Brian Blade (drums). They appeared recently in an exciting performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater. For this show, however, Shorter stands alone with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis.
I caught up with Wayne on the phone in his hotel room in Poland. He was performing that day with the Polish National Radio Orchestra. He says that performing with orchestras is familiar territory. With the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra he says, "There will be moments where we can all agree on something. It will be open-ended in some instances. We should be able to challenge enough to traverse and move freely among the elements. That's a challenge...to move through the elements instead of becoming too rigid to hold on to every handle you can grab onto within an arrangement. An arrangement should be something to travel through, not to stay within. A lot of it has to be based on 'there's no such thing as a 'mistake.' The same with life; nothing should be thrown away and nothing should be wasted...to strive to not be destructive and intrusive."
He continues speaking in parables, "Let's go outside, and 'outside' becomes the playground. Outside of the limitations of what is supposed to be accepted and mandated as form."
This is not the first time Shorter has played with Marsalis: "I played with Wynton a long time ago in San Francisco. It was myself, Wynton, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Toshiko Akiyoshi _we were at an event dedicated to a journalist, Conrad Silvert. He had maybe two or three weeks left to live and he wanted to get everyone together and have some fun with him. Wynton and me and Tony Williams, we all played together. It was back around 1980."
Shorter explains that the whole point of playing music is to have fun. "In jazz music, it's the people. Have fun with the people. And have fun with the people that are not here: Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and all those guys. Celebrate all the people, not just music _ celebrate architects, scriptwriters, novelists, all that stuff! And what the astronauts are doing now...the multi-universe.
Sometimes you have to go a long way to shake hands with ourselves. You have to go a long way to walk across the street and say hello to somebody that doesn't look like you at all. Our perception is so limited, it takes a long time to get things out of the way."
Come enjoy music and interpretations of the world of master musician Wayne Shorter. He concludes with the simple, yet profound statement that life and music are "...another element of what is mystically unknowable _ because there is no such word as 'what' or 'why' _ there is no beginning or end. It is to continue. We're just gonna have some fun, that's all!"
Scott H. Thompson is an internationally published writer and jazz publicist.
For more information and the full schedule, visit jazz.org or call CenterCharge at 212-721-6500 for reservations. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Box Office is located on Broadway at 60th Street, Ground Floor. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10am _6pm; Sunday, 12pm _6pm. For groups of 15 or more: 212-258-9875 or jazz.org/groups.