Wayne Shorter – An Interview
A Conversation With
by S. H. Watkins, Sr.
JazzUSA: Hi Wayne, how are you?
WS: Ok how you doing?
JazzUSA: Great, and congratulations on the CD ‘Footprints Live‘, I understand this is your first live recording ever?
WS: Yeah… well, the only other live recording I was involved in was when we had Weather Report, that was called 8:30. You know as a group, that was the only other live, marketed album that I was involved with. The only thing that was still floating around was this video of us with Miles, we had tuxedos on. It’s Tony Williams and Herbie and Ron, and I think it was Miles in Sweden, or something. But I don’t know it that was a saleable item, it was just floating around so much it might as well have been for sale.
JazzUSA: I also notice that this is your first recording as a band leader in some years.
JazzUSA: So why did you take three prominent band leaders with you?
WS: Actually they chose to do this. We refer to ourselves as “The Family”. It’s not “Wayne Shorter this and that” it’s just the family. Like Crazy Eddy used to say in his commercials “for union members and their faaaaamilies.”
JazzUSA: This CD seems to be a throwback to the days of “Real Jazz” we were listening to 10-15 years ago. Now days some of the jazz folks seem to be trying very hard to incorporate the ‘new’ sounds into the music, abandoning the roots, sort of. What do you think of this ‘new sound’?
WS: I think that the spirit of jazz is almost like the real diamond and the Zircon, you take your monocle and you see … “Uh oh, this is trying to pass AS……. I’m trying to stay away from the word fake because I think everything has some value, even if the value is dormant, and the value depends on the human being handling the merchandise or the sound. I would say that modern music in America is sorely needed…. Everything stopped with the modern music. Some people say ‘pure this or pure that’ but I say modern music needs the spirit of jazz, that word jazz means to me ‘no category’, but you know when you hear the real thing in whatever… Copeland, Gershwin, Charlie Parker and all the guys we know, Bud Powell, all the guys… Bill Evans from my state, New Joisey. I surprised some people when I was going to N.Y.U., I said ‘Beethoven, Motzart had the spirit of jazz, even though the word wasn’t born yet.’ They had that jazz spirit, or that going on… Stravinsky had it, certain people all over the place… Mali. That’s not advertised worldwide, wherever that spirit appears.
JazzUSA: What else is coming up?
WS: We’re going to do something May the 20th with the Monk Institute in Washington D.C.. It’s going to be a concert and I don’t know how many people but it’s gonna be Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and people like that. And were going to be playing for the Members of Congress, and Members of the Supreme Court!
WS: Not to get up there and start carrying posters, but it’s actually kind of been spearheaded by the Monk Institute jointly with Orrin Hatch and some of his comrades in government. Orrin Hatch is a songwriter, you know. I met Colin Powell again recently at the State Department and he said to me “Surprisingly, some Republicans DO have rhythm”… (laughing.) So the spirit which the Monk Institute, Tom Carter President and Thelonious Monk, Jr., we’re all together, Herbie, we’re in concert trying to keep this spirit of jazz moving forward, past the Ken Burns thing. (Laughing)
JazzUSA: What’s your opinion of that? Was it beneficial for Jazz?
WS: Yeah, yeah… we ran into Aaron Spelling and some other people at a farewell speech Al Gore was doing in Bel Air. Herbie and I walked into this magnificent house, Aaron Spelling and some other guys zoomed in on us and asked “What do you think about the Ken Burns Thing?” I’m thinking in my head “What about you guys not putting that stuff on TV.” During the conversation, they arrived at the conclusion that the upside was that the Burns thing exposed jazz to generations that thought Jazz was maybe, ‘march music’ (doing a Miles Davis Voice). I know some felicity has been thought of as ‘when it’s simple, you can communicate’ and all that, but life is not simple! I think the complexity of life is a great adventure. With the right attitude toward it you can be like a magnet to the benefits of life.
JazzUSA: We live in a world where N’Sync sells more copies of one CD in a year than all the combined jazz sales, don’t we need to think about targeting the youngsters?
WS: There is hope! We just came back from playing in Minnesota at the Mann theater. There were four groups in town. Wynton Marsalis, and a couple of other groups that were there for spring break, and N’Sync was in town as well. Years ago they would have cancelled some of the jazz groups when a major act hit town, but nothing was cancelled! We went, we played, the place was sold out! They ranged from 15-16 to the 40’s and 50’s and up. Somebody yelled ‘it’s filled to the rafters!
JazzUSA: What do you think people should know about Wayne Shorter?
WS: I think that music, or a song, in a very real sense … a piece of music can never actually be finished. Getting to the thing about beginnings and all that, for instance I hardly ever buy short stories. That’s a marketing thing and life itself…well we use the words ‘beginning’ and ‘end’ to comprehend, to keep our sanity. And in actually the notion that there is a borning and a growth and an expansion and a decay and then a continuation of this borning thing, the notion that space is not only continuous but space can born. Stephen Hawking talked about the fact that the universe moves in time and creates space.
JazzUSA: I recall reading about that in his book “In the Matter of Time and Space”
WS: The other one I have of his is the new one, “Universe in a Nutshell”. It’s a nice big one, large size with a lot of pictures and illustrations, goes right to the meat of the theories.
JazzUSA: Speaking of science, I understand you also have some type of tie to another artistic genre, fantasy comics…
WS: I like science fiction and all that, but I also like biographies and autobiographies. I did create a comic book in 1949, 56 pages, science fiction entitled “other Worlds”. I had two copies made and had one fully laminated. I was about 15 years old at the time.
JazzUSA: Maybe we’ll see that in print some day..
JazzUSA: Well congratulations again on your new CD and thanks for the time out.
WS: No problem.