Website: Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter (By Rufus Reid)
May 18, 2019
From 1979 to 1999, I was the Director of Jazz Performance at William Paterson University, located in Wayne, New Jersey, not far from Newark, where Wayne Shorter was from. In 1982, the Mayor of Newark declared a Wayne Shorter Day, and we were prepared at the University: we knew about the event a few months in advance, and we had six small jazz ensembles studying Wayne’s music, because when he came to the school, we chose one tune for each group to play for him. It was amazing because that was the first time that I recall that we saturated the halls of the Music Department with his music. It was thrilling to walk every day and hear these songs – Nefertiti, Fall, Witch Hunt, Infant Eyes, Lester Left Town, etc. – each one of them was so infectious, and I know for a fact that at the end of that period, when it came to that day, the students were transformed! Many of them have never focused on one kind of composition or composer, and it was amazing to see the transformation of all of us.
On the day that Wayne Shorter came, he listened to all the groups. He didn’t talk much. The Mayor had given him the key to the City of Newark and the first thing he said was: “what am I going to do with it?” And with that he broke the ice, while we all wondered what he was going to say next. What I truly remember him stating to all of the students was “don’t save anything for a later day; when you play, whether you rehearse or when you just pick up your horn; don’t save it, throw it down, really give it your all, because who knows one day this might be the last time to do it” – which was kind of a heavy concept, but his whole life has been that way.
The first time I heard him on recording with Art Blakey, and then years later I heard and saw him live with Miles, and then I got a chance to play with him that day; WBGO Jazz Public Radio sponsored the event and recorded it. I remember this manuscript paper that he wrote the bass line and all the chord changes to Footprints, which I have framed in my house.
Wayne has been a compositional force for almost every group that he touched. He continues to write, and he has seriously affected my life. Because of his music, the multitude of compositions that come out of him, he is very inspirational. It is a joy for me to recognize him in this way.
Rufus Reid is an award-winning composer, legendary bassist, educator, and the author of the book “The Evolving Bassist.”