Though the Guggenheim Foundation has in recent practice conferred several of its prestigious annual fellowships on musicians of jazz or beyond, only Wayne Shorter, the great 83 year old saxophonist-composer — an NEA Jazz Master, co-founder of Weather Report, veteran of Miles Davis’ great 1960’s quintet and before that Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers — represents music creativity from that legacy in this year’s slate of 178 honorees and beneficiaries named April 6, drawn from U.S. and Canadian citizens in humanities, sciences and the arts.
The Guggenheim is, according to its website, “intended for men and women who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.” Shorter certainly qualifies — he’s been a star soloist and creative composer (his fellowship category is “Music Composition”) essentially since his 1959 recording debut. Today he leads a fearless improvising quartet comprising pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade — their most recent album is Without A Net — but many of us (well, I) favor his albums and featured spots since the ’60s, including these recommendations:
- Speak No Evil (1965) — moody, crisp, memorable, perfectly balanced band
- Native Dancer (1974), gloriously featuring the great Brazilian vocalist Milton Nascimento;
- sinuously melodic HighLife (1985);
- tracks he cut for Blakey (Shorter wrote the entirety of Roots and Herbs);
- contributions with Miles (“Footprints,” “Iris,” “Orbits,” “Delores,” “Masqualero” not to mention amazing ensemble interactions;
- his best years with Joe Zawinul and Jaco Pastorius;
- his long creative collaboration with Herbie Hancock;
- stellar spots with Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan and Santana;
- jousts with Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard, among others
— Shorter’s had quite a career. For a sense of it, and the man, check out Michelle Mercer’s biography of the man. Congratulations to him, and what will he think of next?
Since 2006, Guggenheim recipients have included Geri Allen, Darcy James Argue, Jamie Baum, Jane Ira Bloom, Don Byron, Etienne Charles, Billy Childs, Steve Coleman, Paquito D’Rivera, Anthony Davis, David Fuiczynski, Joel Harrison, Fred Ho, Earl Howard, Jin Hi Kim, Steve Lehman, George Lewis, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Myra Melford, Jean-Michel Pilc, Bobby Previte, Rufus Reid, Elliot Sharp, Ed Simon, Wadada Leo Smith, Kenny Werner, Randy Weston and Miguel Zenon — averaging about three a year. So maybe the music specialists thought they’d exhausted the field of innovators working with interactive, rhythmically motivated, melodic improvisation? They haven’t.