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All That Jazz…A Metaphor of Life?


One of the most eclectic and influential saxophonists/composers of our lifetime, Wayne Shorter wields a profound and lasting influence that has touched a whole new generation of musicians. His career spans several decades, starting with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in the 1950s, Miles Davis in the 60s, and the seminal fusion group Weather Report during the ’70s, progressing to his own very creative groups to date. At the age of 77, his talent is still sought after for concerts, studio work, and film compositions.

Far more than exclusively a jazz musician, Wayne Shorter is a deep thinker who sometimes speaks in cryptic, elliptical analogies and similes, with a decided penchant toward science fiction. Above all, he’s a keen and compassionate observer of the human condition, with insights that can be appreciated and applied by anyone receptive to the message…

TB: “At this stage of your career, what do you want to convey most through your music, to your audiences?”

WS: “I hope the music will change people’s minds about how they live…they may want to look at how they live, a way they’ve been taught and conditioned…being “hi-jacked” from the cradle is something to watch out for…some grow up and sacrifice themselves for someone’s notion of how life should be, instead of saying, ‘I want to think and investigate for myself…open up to other possibilities. Improvisation, jazz, is to me an expression of that desire to open up, that says, ‘Wake up, stay awake.’ You can listen to music and still be asleep. Music can awaken one’s awareness to possibility when you enter it, really listen, let it engulf you. The word “jazz” means to me no category, but when you get stuck into wanting to do something the way it was with the “jazz emblem” or logo chained around your neck, you play in a frozen moment in time and you keep fermenting the (way it was) saying jazz should be this way or that. Well, if jazz to me means no category, then I’ve got the green light. And if it keeps crossing over (to other musical genres), it’s what I wanted to do in the first place. I like the way Stravinsky and those guys did things. They expressed something fresh and spontaneous.”

TB: “It seems that the message of your music these days is about thinking beyond, going beyond boundaries. Your quartet appears to test those boundaries moment to moment.”

WS: “I think about Stephen Hawking a lot, who went beyond the barrier of his own body, denying himself the length of time that anyone in his condition should have. And he broke past that. I recently got one of Stephen Hawking’s tapes where he’s talking to the science fiction writer Gregory Bedford, and he’s saying, ‘I want to talk about boundaries in space.’ It gave me chills. People might think of the end of space almost like the end of life. But then, you come to the conclusion that there’s no such thing as beginning or end. So those words, they’re kind of artificial in a sense. And a lot of people give their lives for something that’s artificial or an illusion. And illusions can hit you in the face harder than what you think reality is.”

TB: “So you see music as a form of mind expansion.”

WS: “I want my music to connect with people. People say it’s getting a little too high falutin’ for marketing, a little too cerebral and all that. I’m thinking that I want this music to just impact people, so if they get a chance to hear more of it, they’ll get it. This music is saying that someone who’s not famous is just as important as kings and presidents. Yeah, this is music for the common folk and it keeps us human. Back when I was 15…hearing Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and all of them in high school…we played a little bit of that music and people would say, “It’s far out, it’s too deep, too technical”. I recently played that for a lady who never heard Charlie Parker before and she said, ‘Sounds like he’s talkin’ to us’. And I’m thinking, ‘Wow, here’s a real 21st century person’. We need more people like her. I know what the marketing of music has been, historically…basically trying to get the formula for what works. But I’ve been trying to avoid all that…the labels and categories…and just play music.

TB: “There was a period of your life when you recorded only three albums within a decade or so…”

WS: “There is so much more to living and life than doing music. It is working on, not working on, but exploring the areas of life that can be left unattended. You can do music, music, music, and then still be a cripple when it comes to what you’re really here for. You think you might be here for music, then the human condition, the humanity part of your life can be, you can be blinded to that part, be really out of touch and when somebody is saying something, you can’t always equate it with what you’re doing. It (taking time off from recording) was like finding out what is my real purpose in life. I used to walk by a mirror and look in the mirror and say, ‘What’s your real name?’ And we’ve been named as we are born and ‘what is your real name?’ What is anybody’s real name? That sparked, what are you supposed to do? What are you supposed to do also? By playing music, I am doing less than a fraction. Music is a drop in the ocean of life.”

TB: “With all the accumulated knowledge and wisdom, have you come to a conclusion about the purpose of it all?”

WS: “At this point, it is to celebrate life in such a way that it, the celebration translates to other people, that they can translate it to mean that we are eternal and since we’re eternal, there’s no need to count our neighbor’s fortune and rob our neighbor’s fortune because prior to being convinced that we live eternal, you think you only live once, because you only think you’re here for a short time, you’ve got to go out and rob banks. You want what someone else has if you don’t have it. You want the shortcut if you can get away with it. You may pay for it by being executed or something like that, and you may think that’s all there is to it. That’s not all there is to it.

I can do music for movies that will never be made as long as the person that is listening or embracing it can start to make movies of their own lives, and so they become the producer and director and actor, so it is no one else making them puppets. If I can do musically, be a musical catalyst for self-decision or self-thought, person who thinks about themselves and not have to join the club of popularity, the popular club, where everything is sold with a pop package. I am talking about cars and food and voting and voting unilaterally. It is another word for popular or it is another word for thoughtless, mindless.

To actually support, I would say, to support all pervading law of life itself and saying that we are that law. We are the manifestation of that law. When we do negative stuff, the law reveals the negative effects. The law of ourselves doesn’t punish us. We reward or punish ourselves. I am talking about blame outside of ourselves. Blame when something goes wrong or goes down, something tragic happens and you start to blame. Of course, there are opposing forces among people. The opposing forces have come about because of an unawareness of person by person by person taking advantage of unawareness from birth. In other words, there is a whole karmic something that we are able to erase from this moment on.”

Excerpt from “”The Replenisher,”
A publication of Terry Braverman and Company
© 2010 All Rights Reserved

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