Jazz virtuoso Wayne Shorter joins in the celebration in his honor at NJPAC this weekend.
Living jazz legend Wayne Shorter has been called many things during his 60+ year career, but one has to wonder if anyone’s compared him to a diety, as virtuoso Christian McBride did recently.
“He’s like a real-life Buddha. Being around Wayne, you get so much inspiration from him, even without hearing him play,” McBride said. “As a jazz musician, I think I can speak for many of us when I say Wayne has been a source of inspiration.”
Shorter, a Newark native, will be honored there during a multi-day celebration dubbed “the Wayne Shorter Weekend.” McBride, the jazz advisor to New Jersey Performing Arts Center, is one of the artists scheduled to appear there, as are Wallace Roney and his orchestra, Esperanza Spalding, Steve Wilson and Omar Hakim. Shorter, 83, and his eponymous quartet, joined by Herbie Hancock, will close out the festival Sunday.
“NJPAC has some barn-burning shows this weekend,” McBride said. “I’m so excited to be part of it.”
Shorter, a graduate of Newark Arts High School, began his professional career more than six decades ago and shows no sign of slowing down. He played with Art Blakey in the 1950s, joined Miles Davis in the 1960s, then began leading his own band, Weather Report, in the 1970s. As a solo artist, he’s collaborated with Joni Mitchell, appearing on 10 of her studio albums; toured with Carlos Santana; and taken home 10 Grammy Awards, including 1997’s Best Contemporary Jazz album honors for “High Life.”
Shorter’s skills as a musician are well-known — he plays both soprano and tenor saxophone. In 2008, The New York Times referred to Shorter as “a contender for greatest living improviser.”
But it’s Shorter’s gift for song writing that will assure his star never fades. Some of the prolific composer’s works are already jazz standards, like “JuJu,” “E.S.P.” and “Footprints.”
“Wayne Shorter has written so many great songs it’s not even fair. Everything the man writes is a masterpiece. We all want to be like that,” McBride said. “There’s never been any fluff in Wayne’s music. Every song he’s ever written has been killin'”
Perhaps even more impressive is how Shorter continues to create new music. His most recent work is 2016’s “The Unfolding,” co-commissioned by the Kennedy Center and the Monterey Jazz Festival among others. Christopher Heacox, director of Opening Nights Performing Arts at Florida State University, told The Tallahassee Democrat that Shorter’s “sense of melody is extraordinary.”
“Be it an improvisation or a composition, he is a storyteller. That at 83 years old, he continues to create new compositions — and tour — is truly a testament to his commitment to the art form and his life’s journey,” Heacox said.
Shorter plans to keep telling stories, new stories, stories that are hard to imagine. As he told NPR in 2013, “Jazz shouldn’t have any mandates. Jazz is not supposed to be something that’s required to sound like jazz. For me, the word ‘jazz” means ‘I dare you.'”
Wayne Shorter Weekend
New Jersey Performing Arts Center
One Center St., Newark. 888-GO-NJPAC.
Through April 23. See www.njpac.org for tickets and times.