Born on August 25, 1933, in Newark, NJ; married, wife's name, Anna Maria. Education: New York University, B.A., 1956. Addresses: Record company--Verve Music Group, 1755 Broadway, 3rd Fl., New York, NY 10019, website:

Wayne Shorter is considered one of modern jazz's most influential saxophonists and among its most original composers. Shorter, a tenor and soprano saxophonist, rose to prominence in the early 1960s when, as Mark Gilbert stated in Jazz Journal International, he introduced innovations to jazz which "were not piecemeal additions or alterations to mainstream tradition, but rather embodied a wholesale shift in perspective." Len Lyons and Don Perlo in Jazz Portraits: The Lives and Music of the Jazz Masters described Shorter's distinct contributions: "His compositions, characterized by unusual chord sequences and economical, impressionistic melodies ... portray images and sounds of his youth, foreign cultures, and films.... [While] as a saxophonist, Shorter developed a flexible, vocalized articulation and tone."

Shorter's diverse musical career includes distinguished work as a freelance musician, in addition to being a member of the Jazz Messengers, the Miles Davis Quintet, and Weather Report. Josef Woodard wrote in Musician that Shorter's "trademark approach, in which emotional fury is bound by a cool, linear economy, can be heard in altered or diluted form everywhere from James Newton to Branford Marsalis to George Howard."

Born into a family of non-musicians, Shorter grew up in Newark, New Jersey, and displayed an early fascination with sound, duplicating tracks of movies. He did not begin studying music, however, until the relatively late age of sixteen, when he took up the clarinet. Prior to his music studies, Shorter aspired to be a painter and sculptor, an ambition fueled after he won an art contest at a young age.

However, the "human interaction" of music swayed him away from art, and he became very interested in the be-bop music he heard on the nightly New York City radio program, Make Believe Ballroom. "I loved the energy and life of the music," he told Scott Yanow in Down Beat. "I couldn't wait to go to New York to see Bop City, the Bandbox, the Latin bands and the Palladium and Birdland. It seemed like being part of this music would initiate a lot of what I'd like to get out of life--a good time! But a good time with deep roots and meaning." Shorter began studying the saxophone and progressed quickly as a musician, to the point that while still in high school, he was invited to sit in with saxophonist Sonny Stitt. He had established a reputation as a budding talent with a fresh and adventurous sound; local musicians referred to him as "that kid from Newark."

Shorter moved to New York City after high school and received a degree in music education from New York University, where he frustrated music teachers by his mixing of music composition styles. Shorter continued to play locally, establishing connections that would serve him well when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1956. Shorter did gigs while he was in the Army, and was once asked to play at New York's Cafe Bohemia alongside such jazz greats as Oscar Pettiford, Art Blakey, Max Roach, and Jackie McLean. Shorter recalled to Yanow the importance of the event: "I was standing at the bar by the door, and Max Roach, whom I'd never met, came up to me and said, 'Hey, you're the kid from Newark.... Come on up and play,' he said. I did what I could but wondered what kind of contribution I could be making with all of these giants up there. I started to leave the stand, but someone grabbed me by the back of the shirt--I think it was Max--and he told me to play more. It was a great night for me."

Shorter got his first big break after the Army, when Art Blakey asked him to be musical director of his be-bop group, The Jazz Messengers. Under Blakey, Shorter was encouraged to develop his unusual compositions, and obtained much recording and concert experience. He also traveled around the world with the band, gaining experiences that would later figure into his appearance in the 1986 jazz film 'Round Midnight. Shorter played with the Miles Davis Quintet from 1964 to 1970, a period during which Lyons and Perlo stated he "reached maturity as a soloist." Throughout the 1960s, as Larry Kart reported in the Chicago Tribune, Shorter was considered "one of the most dangerous players to ever pick up a horn--a man whose solos were described by various critics as 'quietly maniacal' and 'clinically precise,' full of 'abrupt changes of mood' and 'wild satanic humor.'"

In 1970, Shorter and pianist Joe Zawinul founded Weather Report, a jazz/fusion group with which Shorter would play for the next fifteen years. A number of jazz commentators note that this period in Shorter's career saw much of his musical talent underutilized; Lyons and Perlo commented that "Shorter assumed an ensemble, texture-oriented role here." Shorter composed less with Weather Report and his previously active freelancing career diminished. In 1985, however, he broke away to form his own group--a move which delighted music enthusiasts who felt that Shorter's talents deserved more exposure. Shorter commented to Yanow about the decision to break away: "I just said to myself that if I don't do it now, I never will.... I've decided that it's time for me to be more sociable as a musician and, with this new band, to get around more."

Some felt this move was misguided. In the late 1990s, All Music Guide writer Richard S. Ginell opined that after his departure from Weather Report, Shorter "promptly went into a creative slump," characterizing his recordings of the late 1980s and early 1990s as "predictable and labored, saddled with leaden rhythm sections and overly complicated arrangements."

Shorter released Alegría, his first all-acoustic studio recording as a leader since 1967, in 2003. Musicians accompanying Shorter on Alegría include Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, and Brian Blade, all respected musicians in their own careers.

Shorter is known as an elusive conversationalist when talking about his career and music. Regarding the former, he told Yanow: "Describing music is very difficult. Eric Gravitt used to say that if he could describe how he played drums, he wouldn't need to play them. Music really has to be experienced. I used to try to explain to people what be-bop sounded like without playing a record. It can't be done. Members of our audience have called our music fresh, exhilarating, happy, hopeful, I even heard the word young--meaning enthusiastic."

A practicing Buddhist, Shorter is philosophical about the future direction of his music. Asked whether creativity is his primary guide, Shorter responded to Woodard: "The forces of the phantom navigator, to me, are a part of every human life.... Whether you're aware of it or not. It's a dormant part, but a very essential entity--the center of the entity of whatever life is. Whether we're alive or dead, there's this navigator which is not devoid of ourselves, but is actually us."

by Michael E. Mueller

Wayne Shorter's Career

Worked in a sewing machine factory prior to entering college; served in U.S. Army, 1956-58; saxophonist and musical director, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, 1959-63; saxophonist, Miles Davis Quintet, 1964-70; co-founded Weather Report with Joe Zawinul, 1970; saxophonist and co-leader, Weather Report, 1970-85; formed his own band in 1985; released High Life, 1994; released Footprints Live!, 2002; released Alegría, 2003.

Wayne Shorter's Awards

Grammy Award, Best Jazz Fusion Performance, Vocal or Instrumental (with Weather Report) for 8:30, 1979; Best Instrumental Composition (with Herbie Hancock, Billy Higgins, and Ron Carter) for Call Street Blues, 1984; Down Beat, Best Soprano Sax, 1984, 1985; Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual or Group (with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, and Wallace Roney) for A Tribute to Miles, 1994; Best Contemporary Jazz Performance for High Life, 1996; Best Instrumental Composition for Aung San Suu Kyi, 1997; Best Instrumental Jazz Solo for In Walked Wayne, 1999; Jazz Journalists Association Awards, Best Musician, Best Album, Combo of the Year, Tenor Saxophonist of the Year, 2003; Grammy Award, Best Instrumental Composition for "Sacajawea," 2003; Grammy Award, Best Jazz Instrumental Albu, Individual or Group for Alegría, 2003.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

February 8, 2004: Shorter won Grammy Awards for best jazz instrumental album, for Algeria, and for best instrumental composer for Sacajawea. Source: 46th Grammy Awards,, February 8, 2004.

February 8, 2006: Shorter won the Grammy Award for best jazz instrumental album, individual or group, for Beyond the Sound Barrier. Source:,, February 9, 2006.

Further Reading


Books Periodicals Online

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