Wayne Shorter, pioneering jazz saxophonist, dies at 89

The artist made his debut in 1959 and was a member of two of the genre's most seminal groups

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Wayne Shorter, an influential jazz innovator whose lyrical, complex jazz compositions and pioneering saxophone playing sounded through more than half a century of American music, has died. He was 89.

Shorter died on Thursday surrounded by his family in Los Angeles, said Alisse Kingsley, a representative for artist, who has won several Grammy awards. No cause of death was given.

“Visionary composer, saxophonist, visual artist, devout Buddhist, devoted husband, father and grandfather Wayne Shorter has embarked on a new journey as part of his extraordinary life — departing the Earth as we know it in search of an abundance of new challenges and creative possibilities,” Kingsley said. He was described as a gentle spirit, who was “always inquisitive and constantly exploring".

Shorter, a tenor saxophonist, made his debut in 1959 and was a member of two of the most seminal jazz groups — Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the Miles Davis Quintet. Over the next eight decades, Shorter's wide-spanning collaborations would include co-founding the '70s fusion band Weather Report, about 10 album appearances with Joni Mitchell and further explorations with Carlos Santana and Steely Dan.

Many of Shorter's textured and elliptical compositions — including Speak No Evil, Black Nile, Footprints and Nefertiti — became modern jazz standards and expanded the harmonic horizons of jazz across some of its most fast-evolving eras.

Herbie Hancock once said of Shorter in Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet: “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.”

Hancock praised Shorter for his musical expertise and leaving a special mark in his life.

“Wayne Shorter, my best friend, left us with courage in his heart, love and compassion for all, and a seeking spirit for the eternal future,” Hancock said.

"He was ready for his rebirth. As it is with every human being, he is irreplaceable and was able to reach the pinnacle of excellence as a saxophonist, composer, orchestrator, and recently, composer of the masterful opera ‘…Iphigenia’. I miss being around him and his special Wayne-isms but I carry his spirit within my heart always.”

As a band leader, Shorter released more than 25 albums and won 12 Grammy Awards. In 2015, he was given a lifetime achievement Grammy. Last month, he won a Grammy in the category of best improvised jazz solo for Endangered Species with Leo Genovese.

Shorter's work has been performed by several popular symphonies, including Chicago, Detroit and Lyon along with the National Polish Radio Symphonic and Orpheus Chamber orchestras.

In his career, Shorter has had more than 200 compositions and was a Kennedy Centre honoree in 2018.

“Maestro Wayne Shorter was our hero, guru, and beautiful friend,” said Don Was, the president of Blue Note Records, the label where he recorded several albums.

“His music possessed a spirit that came from somewhere way, way beyond and made this world a much better place. Likewise, his warmth and wisdom enriched the lives of everyone who knew him. Thankfully, the work he left behind will stay with us forever. Our hearts go out to Carolina and all who loved him.”

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Updated: March 03, 2023, 9:23 AM