American saxophonist Wayne Shorter, who wrote some of jazz’s most acclaimed compositions and whose often plaintive playing changed the sound of jazz in the 1960s before he explored rock-fusion, died today (March 2), aged 89.
His publicist, Alisse Kingsley, said he died in Los Angeles, without citing a cause.
Shorter made his name playing the tenor sax with drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the late 1950s and joined trumpeter Miles Davis’ influential 1960s quintet alongside pianist Herbie Hancock, bass player Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams.
Shorter wrote some of the group’s most famous songs including E.S.P. and Nefertiti. Davis hailed him as his band’s “idea person, the conceptualiser of a whole lot of the musical ideas we did” who also “understood that freedom in music was the ability to know the rules in order to bend them”.
Hancock also hailed Shorter’s songwriting.
“The master writer to me, in that group, was Wayne Shorter,” the keyboardist said. “Wayne was one of the few people who brought music to Miles that didn’t get changed.”
Shorter led his own band to produce a string of albums in the 1960s including Juju, Speak No Evil and Adam’s Apple which featured one of jazz’s greatest standards Footprints.
He co-founded jazz fusion band Weather Report in 1969 around the time he began to focus his playing on the soprano sax, and the band recorded one of the best-selling jazz records of all time, Heavy Weather, in 1977.
Other hit records included Native Dancer featuring Brazilian singer Milton Nascimento which mixed jazz, rock and funk with Brazilian rhythms.
In 2000, Shorter formed his first permanent acoustic group with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade, which led to four albums of live recordings.
Shorter co-wrote an opera Iphigenia with singer and bass player Esperanza Spalding that premiered in 2021.
He won 12 Grammy awards including one as recently as last month.
Shorter suffered tragedy in his life with the death in 1985 of a daughter he had with his second wife, Ana Maria Patricio, who herself died when a TWA jetliner exploded shortly after taking off from New York in 1996.