Photos by Jen Uskolovsky
Wayne Shorter is known as one of the greatest jazz composers and saxophonists of all time. When asked about his commitment to music over other art forms, he replied by accrediting music’s sense of “velocity and mystery”. He had a uniquely wonderful way of articulating the joys of music and jazz, once saying, “The word ‘jazz’ to me only means ‘I dare you.’”. In describing the spontaneous intentionality of jazz improvisation, he says, “We don’t count how much water there is in a wave when we see the ocean.” He kept this casualty with music, never revealing or revering it too intensely, recording infrequently, and underemphasizing its importance with earnest respect.
Shorter met Herbie Hancock in Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet. Herbie once said, “The master writer to me, in that group, was Wayne Shorter. He still is a master. Wayne was one of the few people who brought music to Miles that didn’t get changed.” They were close friends and musical confidants. Shorter recently passed away in March of this year, and it was lovely to see Herbie pay homage to his musical footprint in “Herbie Hancock Celebrates Wayne Shorter”, his August 23 Hollywood Bowl concert.
I imagine that, considering the respect of the opportunity, Herbie had almost complete control over the jazz musicians he featured, but I’m curious to know whether convenience or intention took charge in his decision-making.
The first collaboration segment featured Terri Lyne Carrington, esperanza spalding, Leo Genovese, and Kamasi Washington. I appreciate that between Terri Lyne Carrington and the later drummer Cindy Blackman Santana, the proportion between male and female drummers was almost equal (crazy concept…).
The next segment focuses on Wayne Shorter’s Quartet with all of the original members except for Shorter playing — Danilo Pérez, Brian Blade, and John Patitucci. Chris Potter attempts to fill the shoes of Wayne Shorter himself as the main saxophonist. He looks somewhat uncomfortable in the limelight of that flashy stage, but his tone and breath are impressive. They play “Witch Hunt” and “Joy Rider”. “Witch Hunt”, as the name suggests, is anxious and dramatic. The opening phrase harmonizing the saxophone and trumpet is never repeated again, becoming a blues walk, and the drum fill is memorable. “Joy Ryder” is more controversial in the jazz community (as the AllMusic review states in reference to the Joy Ryder album: “Wayne Shorter’s occasional Columbia records of the 1980’s are all disappointments”). But, Herbie originally played on this album, so it makes sense that he chose to feature it (and neglecting it would play too much into reception bias).
The next segment is dedicated to Weather Report, the American jazz fusion band featuring Shorter on sax, active from 1970 to 1986. Weather Report’s music is very groovy and innovative. I appreciate the way they abandoned rules to pave fusion, but their music to me is mostly unlistenable (too chaotic and random seeming). Whether or not the recorded sound is palatable, the live performance is almost guaranteed engaging because of the emotion seeping out of the players’ relationships with their instruments. “Palladium” features playful keyboard, “A Remark You Made” is more melodically focused and slow, and “Birdland” is one of their most well known tracks, filled with very synths and sci fi vibes.
Then, plot twist: Joni Mitchell comes out! More a plot thickening than twisting because Shorter played on nearly every single Mitchell album. Mitchell has publicly shared her recounting of this beautifully sad story of her walking in on Miles Davis “talking music” to Shorter in the Hollywood Bowl dressing room 4 days before Davis died. In Mitchell’s words, “This was unusual, because Miles never talked music; he ordinarily didn’t give a lot of instruction. After the show I asked Wayne what they were talking about, and Wayne said that Miles was kind of passing the baton to him. He must have known he was gonna die …”. She held her own within the jazz circles of Davis and Shorter. She sings “The Circle Game”. It’s so surprising, almost jarring, to hear such succinct narrative lyrics after all the ambiguity of Weather Report. I think it’s beautiful in the way it indicates something about Shorter’s character. He was an eclectic, persuasive conversationalist; in every interview of his I’ve absorbed, I’m inspired by his articulation of anything from music to religion. The transition from Weather Report into Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” alludes to the duality of his character. Life is as chaotic, confusing, and unclear as his improvisation solos in jazz fusion, and yet it has sharp moments of clarity, of beginnings and ends, like his contributions to “The Circle Game”.
Herbie saunters onto the stage to announce an intermission. He maintains his playful mischievous demeanor throughout the night. Little mention of Shorter himself, no mournful speeches. Musicians speak through their instruments.
After the intermission, Herbie Hancock and guitarist Lionel Loukee accompany some of the earlier instrumentalists to play Milton Nascimento’s collaborations with Wayne Shorter in “Native Dancer”.
The next “Santana” section featuring Cindy Blackman and Carlos Santana is my favorite. Absolute power couple. Their independent and collective vibe is unmatched. The way Carlos Santana plays the guitar while smacking gum as if he has anywhere else to be but at the same time literally nowhere else to be is incredibly fun to experience live.
For the second to last Miles Davis section, they play “Delores” and “Pinocchio”. I felt an unwarranted pride to see Devin Daniels, recent saxophonist graduate from the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz, playing on the Hollywood Bowl stage. The last time I saw him was in the Music Library at UCLA. Ron Carter is 86; he maneuvers the physicality of holding and playing an upright bass without second thought.
They wrap up with a finale of “Footprints”. If the word jazz only means “I dare you,” then contributing a jazz standard—as Shorter accomplished with his composition “Footprints”—must be some completion of the dare (though I doubt Shorter would ever say that the dare of jazz is attainable). It’s a wonderful piece as a finale with each soloist leaving their all on the stage.
There was little explicit mention or recognition of Wayne Shorter over the course of the night, but the preparation required for such a seamless performance spoke enough to the contributions of Shorter to the jazz community as a composer and saxophonist, to Herbie Hancock as a friend, and to everyone as a source of inspiration transcending jazz.