Born in New Jersey in 1933, Wayne Shorter was a jazz saxophonist who today is best known for being one of jazz’s most accomplished living songwriters. Shorter has composed a number of jazz standards and is the recipient of a number of Grammy Awards.
Shorter began playing the saxophone in the 1940s, encouraged to take up the instrument by his father. He attended New York University and graduated in 1956, enlisting in the United States army shortly after. Shorter spent two years in the military, where he met and collaborated with jazz pianist Horace Silver.
After leaving the army, he played with Maynard Ferguson for a short time before joining Art Blakey’s group. He played with Blakey for five years, eventually becoming the band’s musical director.
While still playing with Blakey in 1960, Shorter was approached by Miles Davis, who was searching for a replacement for the recently departed John Coltrane. Shorter declined the offer, but was eventually persuaded to join in 1964. Shorter left Blakey’s group to join Davis alongside Herbie Hancock and several other notable jazz artists.
The group would eventually be referred to as Miles Davis’s second great quintet, with the first great quintet coinciding with Coltrane’s tenure with the band. Shorter’s involvement with the quintet has led jazz aficionados to deem the group one of the most influential jazz collectives of all time. Shorter wrote a number of popular songs for the band, which helped him establish himself as one of jazz’s top composers.
Although the second great quintet disbanded in 1968, Shorter and Davis remained frequent musical partners, with Shorter contributing to Davis’s early jazz fusion albums like Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way. It was around this time that Shorter first began playing soprano saxophone, having previously only played tenor saxophone. By the early 1970s, the soprano saxophone would become Shorter’s primary instrument.
Throughout his tenure with Miles Davis’s groups, Shorter was also an active solo musician. He released a number of celebrated albums, most of which he composed by himself. These albums are perhaps the best example of Shorter’s versatility as a songwriter, alternately showcasing relatively unstructured free jazz alongside carefully composed music firmly rooted in the classic jazz tradition. From 1971 to 1985, Shorter formed Weather Report with Miles Davis, Joe Zawinul and several other musicians. Like Shorter himself, his band was praised for its ability to produce quality music in a number of diverging styles, such as funk, Latin jazz and futurism.
Since the break-up of Weather Report, Shorter has remained an active member of the jazz scene, recording with artists like Don Henley and Carlos Santana. He formed the Wayne Shorter Quartet in 2000, with which he still plays today.
This is a clip of Shorter playing a medley on Tenor Sax with the Wayne Shorter Quartet: