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Wayne Shorter: An Appreciation

Miles Davis is a gateway drug. For my birthday, my man Mikey gave me the Miles Mono box. Boss. Now if you dig Miles, it's not too long before you get back to Trane. Then Herbie. Down the jazz rabbit hole. I have never been proficient at playing jazz, trust me I tried. I don't speak jazz very well; although I did take a course in college where I did audio projects on Charlie Christian and Thelonious Monk (who remains an icon to me on a multitude of levels, and whose music I revisit regularly). But no, the hook that Miles has put into me is a mood elevator named Wayne Shorter.

Yesterday was Wayne's 81st Birthday. So first off, Happy Birthday, Mr. Shorter. I had planned on penning this yesterday but with our Emmy adventure, I felt it better to wait. Second, the addiction reference is real. You all know how I am about music. Prior to being exposed to Mr. Shorter via Miles' 1960s Quintet (which featured Herbie Hancock), I only knew him as the cat that wailed on Steely Dan's "Aja." That is one if the great jazz-pop moments and I love Steely Dan. So wanting to expand my Miles experience past the box set, I put on my vinyl copy of Miles Smiles and read the liner notes and there's this name: tenor sax and composer - Wayne Shorter (That album is a gas, a classic just a half-step behind Kind of Blue). Oh, no. Now I've got to know more about Wayne. What? He's still alive? He's won 10 Grammys? He's released solo material for over 50 years? Where have I been? Sleeping on Wayne Shorter, y'all. That's where.

So, I started by picking up another Miles Quintet album ESP. Whoa, Mr. Shorter is all over this supporting Miles with some outstanding tunes and solos. Then it's time to take the plunge. Solo Shorter. But, is he going to sound too much like early '60s Trane, whom I dig? 'Cause, if I want Trane, I dig Trane.

Uh, no. Trane is Trane. Wayne is Wayne. I picked up Wayne's album Juju and it was all over.

Juju is the kind of LP that once you put it on you have to hit repeat. Depth, layers, love, subtlety. His compositions and playing are sublime. Yes, he's got Trane's rhythm section and I am a sucker for McCoy Tyner, but Juju is a winner across the board. It's not for everyone; hard-bop & post-bop aren't. The LP was released on Blue Note about the same time as A Hard Day's Night. How do these 50 year old albums sound so fresh?

The title track is a lilting waltz that casts a spell, well - "Juju." The titles of this and the bookended LPs, Night Dreamer & Speak No Evil, have exotic titles and clearly, Wayne is excited to take us on a journey. "House of Jade" plays like a soundtrack piece. The very Asian-moded "Mahjong" is a stunner. McCoy is playing these evocative figures and solos, while legendary drummer Elvin Jones rumbles around in rhythm defying manner only to set up Wayne's brilliant, smoky motif. I can hear why Steely Dan crapped themselves when he agreed to play on "Aja." Like I said, I speak jazz poorly. I need Rosetta Stone.

I picked up the other two aforementioned Wayne Shorter discs. Nearly as masterful as Juju. But this man has a vast catalog. I'm three albums in and just up to 1965.

If you know about or can recommend more Wayne Shorter music leave it in the comments. You got some Jazz your grooving to? Leave a comment.

If you've heard Weather Report, perhaps the most famous fusion band, you know more about Wayne than I do. I'm not particularly a fan of fusion, but guess what? I'm going to try listening with open ears now.

The discovery of music is one of the beauties of this life. It is one of the greatest gifts artists give us. I am so thrilled that Mr. Shorter is among us to be appreciated and loved. Thank you, Mr. Shorter. I close with this bit of brilliance...

"Jazz means I dare you!" - Wayne Shorter


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