A Two-Song Salute to Wayne Shorter, Jazz’s Foundational Force, Who Turns 88 Today

Wayne Shorter in 1987Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty

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“You were a champion and still are. You’re always gonna be a champion to me,” the saxophonist Wayne Shorter told the drummer Roy Haynes in our Mother Jones tribute on Haynes’ 96th birthday this year—and the recognition runs both ways. Shorter, who turns 88 today, is, as one listener summed up in a quote highlighted by Michelle Mercer in her biography Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter, “jazz’s all-around genius, matchless in his field as composer, utterly original as an improviser.”

Shorter is a pillar of the postwar canon and an evolving adventurer, from hard bop to fusion to operatic ballads boundlessly open with space and time. For his 88th birthday, start with the classic “Footprints.” Herbie Hancock, who’s on there, gets straight to the heart of Shorter’s music in the foreword of Mercer’s book: “Wayne has gleaned deeper meaning from a question by using it as a springboard for an answer that will ‘knock your socks off’ and perhaps change your life for the better.”

For a live listen, spin “Free for All” by Shorter and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. If you’re looking to tussle, email us at recharge@motherjones.com to spar over whether Shorter’s version of “Free for All” is more electrifying than, or equally as jolting as, Bobby Watson’s “Free for All” on Blakey’s own birthday at Bubba’s in Florida on October 11, 1980.

Also in today’s birthday lineup is Linda May Han Oh, the fast-rising bassist who turns 37 and who was named 2021’s bassist of the year by the Jazz Journalists Association. Her vital, expansive music is extraordinary in settings with pianist Vijay Iyer and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, most recently on Uneasy, an album that traces the contours and connections of jazz, justice, and social change.

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is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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