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Shorter by name, but a giant of jazz
The Copenhagen Jazz Festival traditionally bestows the title of ‘Giant Jazz’ on a few choice concerts. Though they have done away with this, their longest running theme, there’s one man who would have little problem carrying that mantle: the brilliant saxophonist and one of jazz’s greatest composers, Wayne Shorter.
Now 78, Shorter’s career has seen him perform with some of the most famous names in jazz’s great book. He grew up in Newark, New Jersey listening to Thelonious Park and Charlie Parker on the radio, and he would cut school to go and see Dizzy Gillespie and other jazz artists playing in New York. But it was not long until Shorter started etching his own name into jazz lore. He joined Art Blakey’s classic group, the Jazz Messengers, eventually becoming the group’s musical director. The next stop was Miles Davis’s ‘second’ great quintet (after John Coltrane, that is), a group that like the first became one of the most influential in jazz history. Davis called Shorter his “intellectual musical catalyst”, and Shorter went on to compose some of Davis’s most famous numbers: ‘ESP’, ‘Nefertiti’, ‘Footprints’ and many others.
Shorter has played all over the spectrum, creating his own spectrum along the way. He is a co-founder of the great fusion group, Weather Report, and he has recorded with both Joni Mitchell and Carlos Santana, yet still remains fiercely independent and interested in exploring music’s great depths.
Kenneth Hansen, the musical director of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, is impressed by Shorter’s continued virtuosity. “He has a very strong intuition,” he tells InOut. “He has become very condensed in his expression – so everything he says is strong and very frail also. You feel like there is something in his tone that sounds like it is a struggle for him to say, but that he must say it. Like he is carving life’s truths into a tree when he is playing.”
Shorter has played the jazz festival a handful of times, most recently in 2008 at the new Opera House. This year he is returning to Copenhagen’s most regal stage, the Royal Danish Theatre’s Gamle Scene. Hansen, while acknowledging that an evening of Wayne Shorter on the saxophone could never be bad, thinks that this year’s setting is more appropriate for Shorter: “You will feel the music from the start, feel his tone – everything will be more up close. It will be a more physical performance from the start.”
Casual jazz listeners may be surprised to discover just how many of Shorter’s compositions, both as a sideman and a bandleader, are standards of the genre.
As a bandleader, you can’t go wrong with two of his more recent albums (both of which are Grammy winners): Beyond the Soundbarrier and Alegria, while Speak No Evil and Juju, two essential classics from the 1960s, are also recommended, as is his work with Art Blakey – ‘Three Blind Mice’ and ‘The Big Beat’ – and Miles Davis: ‘E.S.P.’, ‘Miles Smiles’, ‘Nefertiti’ and ‘Bitches Brew’.
Shorter has suffered tragedy in his life, losing his daughter to a seizure and later his wife and niece in a plane crash as they were flying to see him perform. He spoke about the loss of his wife in a 1998 New York Times interview. “There’s a drive here,” Shorter said, pointing to his chest. “And it’s coming from her. When someone very close to you dies, a lot of people might cut off what they’re doing or commit suicide or whatever. But eventually you start to listen to every fibre of life. The eternity of life is revealed, and you’re celebrating it through music rather than using your own life to celebrate music. My life is not music. I am not what I do, I do what I am.”
The Royal Danish Theatre, Gamle Scene, Kongens Nytorv, Cph K; Tuesday July 10, 20:00; tickets 150-550kr, 3369 6969; www.kglteater.dk