The Music of Wayne Shorter (Blue Engine Records)

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis 

Released January 31, 2020

Jazziz Best Albums of 2020




How would I describe Wayne Shorter? It would be way too easy to call him something like a “legend” or a “genius.” Those are words that get thrown around much too easily in today’s 140-character culture. Wayne’s career is well-known and widely celebrated by not only the jazz community, but by music lovers all over the world. Simply put, he helped to expand the language of modern American music as both a composer and a saxophonist. All of his music has been truly beautiful music, in the sense that it celebrates the beauty and joy of optimism—but, if I had to choose one word to describe Wayne and his music outside of the obvious superlatives, the word that comes to mind is “imagination.”

Wayne Shorter’s imagination got its start in the gritty, soulful city of Newark, New Jersey. He was born there in 1933 and developed a deep fascination with science fiction and superheroes that would fuel his creative energy forever. The inside jacket of his 1987 Columbia album Phantom Navigator includes samples of a teenage Wayne’s artwork. It was a revelation to many that, to the naked eye, young Wayne was already on his way to becoming perhaps the next great animator. But there was something more revealing about his artwork—it was actually a sci-fi short story that Wayne had both written and animated. He called it “Other Worlds.” Although there are only 12 panels of artwork and story on the inside jacket, the story called to mind H. G. Wells or Arthur C. Clarke.

There are two stories that come to mind that exemplify the imagination and daring that Wayne Shorter brought to his career as a composer and bandleader. The first was told to me by pianist Renee Rosnes and involves her first rehearsal with Wayne’s group in the late 1980s. As the musicians gathered in Wayne’s rehearsal room, he asked them to first sit and watch the Ridley Scott classic Alien. Midway through the viewing, Wayne got up to pause the tape just as the famous, gory scene of an alien bursting through a human chest unfolded. As most of the band sat squirming in their seats while this bloody creature was frozen on the screen, Wayne pointed at it and said, “THIS… is how I want this band to sound.”

The second story happened in 2002, when I played a performance with Wayne Shorter’s quartet in Den Haag. Upon my arrival, I was quite trepidatious about the gig, as I wasn’t going to have much time to rehearse with the quartet. I called Wayne in his hotel room to let him know I arrived. When I shared my fear of playing with him unrehearsed, Wayne paused and said, “If I remember, you’re a big comedy fan, right? Well, play that. Play me some comedy.” What I learned from Wayne is that, with a strong imagination (and skill), uncharted territory becomes less intimidating… and sometimes quite fun.

Wayne’s music has become basic instrumental vocabulary for all of us who came after him. For anyone wishing to play jazz, it is a must that you come through the music of Ellington, Monk, and Shorter. Much of Wayne’s music is architecturally perfect in terms of its harmonic and melodic structure. As creative musicians, we take liberties with interpretations of every legend’s music, while keeping a conscious eye on a song’s DNA.

The bulk of the material that the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis chose to arrange for this performance was composed in the first decade of Wayne’s career. “Mama ‘G’,” “Armageddon,” “Contemplation,” “Hammer Head,” “Teru,” and “Lost” were all written between 1959 and 1966. His material from this period has become part of the foundation of modern jazz. “Diana” (pronounced “Gianna”) was composed in 1974 just as jazz fusion and, particularly, Weather Report were reaching their zenith. “Endangered Species” and “The Three Marias” both come from Wayne’s 1985 flagship album Atlantis. This album’s foundation was 80s keyboards and other various electric instruments. The JLCO does a remarkable job of creatively arranging Wayne’s music while keeping a watchful eye on the core structure of these songs. Most importantly, Wayne’s trust of the band is evident.

To describe each song’s orchestral highlights would be, I feel, antithetical to Wayne’s modus operandi of daring to experience the unknown. I encourage you to listen yourself and, of course, to use a little imagination.

Christian McBride (November 15, 2019)

Track Listing:

Disc 1

1. Yes or No (Wayne Shorter) 10:20

2. Diana (Wayne Shorter) 07:39

3. Hammer Head (Wayne Shorter) 07:42

4. Contemplation (Wayne Shorter) 07:20

5. Endangered Species (Wayne Shorter / Joseph Vitarelli) 07:49

Disc 2

1. Lost (Wayne Shorter) 10:03

2. Armageddon (Wayne Shorter) 10:27

3. The Three Marias (Wayne Shorter) 08:10

4. Teru (Wayne Shorter) 05:03

5. Mama “G” (Wayne Shorter) 13:04


Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra


Sherman Irby: alto & soprano saxophones, flute, piccolo, Bb clarinet

Ted Nash: alto & tenor saxophones, flute, alto flute, piccolo, Bb clarinet

Victor Goines: tenor saxophone, Bb & Eb clarinets

Walter Blanding: tenor & soprano saxophones, Bb clarinet

Paul Nedzela: baritone & alto saxophones, bass clarinet


Ryan Kisor, Kenny Rampton, Marcus Printup, Wynton Marsalis


Vincent Gardner, Chris Crenshaw, Elliot Mason

Rhythm section:

Dan Nimmer: piano

Carlos Henriquez bass

Ali Jackson: drums

Recorded May 14 – 16, 2015, at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall

Front of House Engineer: David Robinson

Recording Engineers: Rob Macomber and James P. Nichols

Mixing Engineer: Todd Whitelock

Editor: Gloria Kaba

Production Assistant: Wes Whitelock

Mastered by Mark Wilder

Art Direction & Design: Brian Welesko

Illustrations: Paul Rogers


Over the years, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has put on phenomenal tribute concerts that have often turned into phenomenal tribute albums. The Music of Wayne Shorter is no different, enhanced by the presence of the legendary saxophonist himself performing new arrangements of some of his most iconic compositions, matching his fabled musicianship with that of the members of this acclaimed orchestra, led by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

Matt Micucci (Jazziz)