The composer and saxophonist died on March 2, at the age of 89. From the 1950s to today, he was one of the essential links in the history of jazz, of which he was perhaps the last adventurer.
The man who had committed himself to Buddhism left his earthly shell and left behind his tenor and soprano saxophones, and dozens of records that tell the story of a journey guided by the greatest of freedoms. For the native of Newark (a suburb of New York) in 1933, this great journey began with his brother, with whom he threw himself into music in the wake of the bebop revolution, forming the Shorter Brothers. After two years in the army, he joined Art Blakey’s famous Jazz Messengers, imposing his style and solos with constant unpredictability. He became the bandleader of the Messengers, before attempting a formidable adventure with the Miles Davis quintet (1964-68), with whom he assumed the same role.
He even introduced Coltrane to the trumpeter, before opening a new chapter, always at the forefront of the times, by creating the incredible group Weather Report with the keyboardist Joe Zawinul. A group that will be his laboratory for fifteen years, experimenting in all directions (funk grooves, R’n’B, borrowings from traditional music, synthetic madness, collective improvisation) growing the sax with immense talents such as the bassist of the group Jaco Pastorius, the percussionist Mino Cinelu and so many others…
Shorter also pursued his personal projects, and recorded, among a flurry of records as free as ever, the magnificent album Native Dancer (1975) with the Brazilian composer, singer and guitarist Milton Nascimento, who notably signed the famous « Ponta de Areia ». When Weather Report broke up in 1986, the saxophonist continued on his award-winning path, winning a Grammy ten years later for his duet album with Herbie Hancock. And even though life imposed terrible trials (he lost his daughter, then his wife died in a terrorist attack), he opened a new chapter in his life at the beginning of the year 2000, by forming a new acoustic quartet with Brian Blade (drums), Danilo Perez (piano), and John Patitucci on bass. Until the end, or almost, he will have composed, coming back after 15 years of absence in the studio for a concept album, Emanon (2018), which accompanies a graphic novel of science fiction, as a return to one of his first loves, the comic strip (he had drawn one in his early youth). A way to close the loop, and to take his part in the eternal restart.
The one who, in the evening of his life, meditated on our human ability to scuttle humanity, and on our place in the universe, confided to Jacques Denis (in the newspaper Libération): “The real mission, according to me, is the one that Mark Twain described as follows: ‘The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you discover why.'” Something to take a step back from death, which has just taken him away.