Wayne Shorter takes Jazz Weekend to new heights

Chris Swade

(Patrick Sorrente)

Over the years, Lawrence University has had some big names come through as part of its ongoing “Jazz Artist Series.” Dave Holland, Brad Mehldau, Wynton Marsalis, Bobby McFerrin… the list goes on and on. This year Lawrence will continue to meet its own high standards of excellence by bringing in one of the most famous, innovative, and prolific saxophonists of all time, Wayne Shorter.Shorter will appear this Saturday night, Nov. 2, at 7:30 p.m. in the LU Memorial Chapel.

Shorter is most famous for his work with the legendary trumpeter Miles Davis as a part of Davis’ renowned quintet in the 1960s and for his groundbreaking work with the jazz-rock fusion group Weather Report.

Shorter is known not only for his dynamic sax playing, but also for his ability as a composer. Herbie Hancock, a longtime collaborator with Shorter, once said of his work with the Davis quintet, “The master writer to me, in that group, was Wayne Shorter. He still is a master. Wayne was one of the few people who brought music to Miles that didn’t get changed.”

Music was not always the focal point of Shorter’s life. He did not even begin to learn how to play an instrument until he was already 16 years old in the late 1940s. After that, though, it did not take long for Shorter to rapidly develop both his enthusiasm for music and his skills as a musician.

He went to NYU, earning a degree in music education, but found his outlet in performing. In 1959, he began performing with the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra, and then burst onto the small ensemble scene as a member of the great jazz group Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Blakey’s group developed a reputation for showcasing the best up and coming jazz musicians. Over the years, Blakey’s group included such names as Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, and Freddie Hubbard. Blakey’s group also gave Shorter a means of developing his compositions.

Shorter was still young and raw, however, and it was not until he joined Davis, Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), and Tony Williams (drums) that he began to mature and contour his performing and composing styles.

During this time, Shorter also developed his ideas in his own solo recordings for Blue Note Records. However, the body of work produced in the Davis Columbia sessions proved to be some of the most influential jazz recordings ever and would pave the way for experimentation with new ideas in jazz.

Later on in the 1970s, Shorter, former Jazz Messenger collaborator Hubbard, and the Davis Quintet rhythm of Hancock, Carter, and Williams recorded under the title V.S.O.P. Quintet, which produced some of the most astonishing jazz recordings ever.

Saturday, Shorter will bring with him an impressive group of support musicians. Brian Blade, John Patitucci, and Danilo Perez are some of the most recognized musicians in today’s modern jazz scene.

Look for the Shorter Quartet to produce a vibrant performance drawing from Shorter’s impressive catalog of compositions. If you want to check out some of Shorter’s recordings, try Caravan by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (originally on Riverside Records) for his earlier work; the Miles Davis Quintet album Miles Smiles (Columbia); Speak No Evil and Night Dreamer from his Blue Note solo albums; and Heavy Weather (Columbia) for his fusion work. Shorter’s more recent albums include High Life (Verve) and Footprints Live (Universal).

Another great Shorter recording is the V.S.O.P. recording Live at Newport Jazz Festival (Columbia, 1977).

Tickets are available through the Lawrence Box Office, 920-832-6749. The cost is $18 and $16 for adults, $16 and $14 for senior citizens, $14 and $12 for students, and $7 and $6 for LU students/faculty/staff.