To a certain extent, Wayne Shorter is one of the guideposts on my way to becoming a jazz fan. A two-CD retrospective, Footprints: The Life and Music of Wayne Shorter, served as definitive confirmation of that fact.
Back in the late 70s, through a mutual acquaintance I ended up with several music majors as roommates. The closest I had come to jazz was being a fan of Blood, Sweat & Tears or Chicago. These music majors, though, were putting things on the turntable I couldn’t believe. Two of those many LPs were Weather Report’s Heavy Weather and Shorter’s own Native Dancer.
Some people are critical of fusion but Weather Report’s explosion on the popular scene and the growing popularity of similar groupings led many people to begin exploring more standard jazz idioms. And who do you find there? Wayne Shorter and his tenor and soprano sax. You find Shorter playing with The Jazz Messengers. You find Shorter on his own as a leader. You find Shorter working with Miles Davis and moving from bop into the “post-bop” and electric experiments of the mid to late 1960s. Then, contemporaneous with Weather Report, you can find Shorter playing solos for Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell. After leaving Weather Report, Shorter eventually returns to more standard bop-oriented fare (albeit with some electric and synthesizer influences), some of which was not as well received by the jazz world as his earlier work.
All of that is here. The first CD gives us Shorter compositions from The Jazz Messengers (“Lester Left Town”) through the pre-Jaco Pastorius versions of Weather Report (such as “Mysterious Traveller”), together with one non-Shorter tune performed with the Gil Evans Orchestra (“Time of the Barracuda”). In the midst of this, of course, is Shorter’s own Speak No Evil, which presaged what is seen in cuts from four Miles Davis releases that appear here.
That, in and of itself, could be a highly successful career. Yet the second CD shows us not only the explosion of Weather Report (including Shorter’s “Palladium”) but the wide range in Shorter’s solo work. This includes “Ponta de Areia” from the Brazilian-influenced Native Dancer, through his excursions with Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell, to his subsequent solo ventures, including a duet project with long-time compatriot Herbie Hancock.
The release is a companion to an authorized biography of Shorter of the same name. Author Michelle Mercer also pens the liner notes to this compilation, analyzing not only the musical components but also the context in Shorter’s life.
Maybe self-appointed aficionados will complain about Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell tunes showing up on the retrospective of a jazz legend. But that’s also what makes Footprints special. You don’t just get Shorter the bop player. You don’t just get the Shorter of “the Miles era.” You don’t just get Shorter the fusion player. You get a taste of the full range of Shorter’s tremendous breadth and talent both as a performer and a composer.
Other than quibbling over the particular selections, the one criticism of Footprints is inherent in the nature of retrospectives. Two CDs just canot do full justice to Wayne Shorter’s contribution to modern American music. Yet this is a damn good overview that will show both jazz fans and newcomers the true stature of the man.