Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter Biography

Saxophonist, Songwriter (1933–)
Wayne Shorter is a noted jazz composer and musician who plays both the soprano and tenor saxophone. A jazz fusion pioneer, he has received nine Grammy Awards.


Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1933, jazz musician Wayne Shorter gained attention for both his skill on the saxophone and his compositions. In his career, he played with greats like John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, and co-founded Weather Report, a noted jazz fusion group. A nine-time Grammy Award winner, Shorter was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1998.

Early Life

Wayne Shorter was born on August 25, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey. At age 15, his life changed when he snuck into a Lester Young concert with some friends. There, they heard innovative jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. The music made Shorter want to play the clarinet, which he started at age 16. But it wasn't long before that instrument was replaced by the tenor saxophone.

While still a high school student, Shorter started a band called the Jazz Informers, and also played with the Jackie Bland Band. After entering New York University to study music, he supported himself by playing with the Nat Phipps orchestra. He also learned about jazz by visiting Manhattan clubs like Birdland and practicing with John Coltrane.

After graduating from college, Shorter continued playing his saxophone, and was deemed "The Newark Flash" due to his dexterity on the instrument. He encountered jazz greats like Max Roach and Art Taylor, but his career was interrupted when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1956.

Back to Jazz

Shorter's enlistment lasted for two years. Once out of the army, he picked up his saxophone again with gusto. From 1959 to 1963, he was with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, where he advanced to musical director. His impressive style was recognized when he was named "New Star Saxophonist" by DownBeat magazine in 1962.

In 1964, Miles Davis convinced Shorter to join his quintet. While in this group, Shorter started playing the soprano saxophone. He also worked on many compositions that won notice, including pieces such as "Pinocchio," "Nefertiti" and "Footprints." During this time, Shorter also gained attention for his recordings on the Blue Note label.

Shorter left Davis's group in 1970. Next, with Joe Zawinul, he formed the jazz fusion band Weather Report. The group was popular on tour, and won a Grammy (Shorter's first) Award in 1980 for 8:30. He stayed with Weather Report until 1985.

Later Years and Legacy

In the late 1980s, Shorter put out a few albums, and also toured with guitarist Carlos Santana. In 1996, he suffered a tragic loss, as his wife was on TWA Flight 800, which exploded shortly after takeoff. However, Shorter kept working, teaming up with pianist Herbie Hancock, a longtime friend, for 1+1 (1997). He also toured with Hancock in 1998, the same year that he was named a "Jazz Master" by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Shorter, a nine-time Grammy winner, still creates exciting music. The 2013 album Without a Net, which contains recordings from his 2011 tour in Europe, features Shorter at the head of a quartet that he has been playing with for more than a decade. Yet even while releasing albums and going on tour, he is also regarded as a living legend. As the New York Times avers, "Wayne Shorter is generally acknowledged to be jazz's greatest living composer."

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