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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