Jazz Fest Minutes: Wayne Shorter — Connecting With The Beat

Apr 15, 2013

Saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter.
Credit Robert Ascroft

Wayne Shorter is one of the top saxophonists and composers in jazz. It was, strangely enough, getting caught at 15 years old playing hooky from school that put him on a path into music. His punishment: enrollment in the music theory course at his Newark, NJ arts high school.

“The teacher was a disciplinarian, and before they sentenced me they asked me ‘Where do you go when you play hooky?’ And I said to the theater; one day they had a double feature film and a stage show,” Shorter said. “They said ‘You like stage shows, huh? Alright... You kinda like the music, you like what’s going on on the stage, okay.’ They picked up the phone and called Achilles D’Amico, the teacher there and put me in his class.”

You know, this is like signs, reading signs,” he said. “The first thing he said in that class was, he had three records on his desk, and he said, ‘Music is going to go in these three directions. He held up the first record, it was a Latin record, with this singer from Peru, Yma Sumac, who had that eight-octave range, something like Minnie Riperton had. And then he held up Igor Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring.’ Then, the third one was Charlie Parker. He said, ‘Music is going to go in these three directions. And then he started to play Mozart’s G minor No. 40.”

Shorter connected with the beat of the piece as a drum and cymbal beat. “I said, Mozart plays jazz!”

And soon enough, so did Wayne Shorter, with Art Blakey, Miles Davis and Weather Report, all the while composing work Mozart likely would have appreciated.

Shorter brings his quartet of 13-year’s standing to Jazz Fest, Sunday, May 5.