The Jazz Life: Q&A with Wayne Shorter

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Most jazz aficionados agree: At 81, saxophonist Wayne Shorter is playing better than ever. 

Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) will celebrate Shorter in May with 
a three-night festival devoted to his work. The former Miles Davis sidekick and Weather Report copilot isn’t so different in conversation than he is on the bandstand—spirited but elusive, preferring to talk about his music in metaphors and taking pleasure when he gets off a good one.

What does it take to thrive for so long in such a challenging medium? To me, it’s not even about the music. It’s about the discovery. I never ice-skated, and now I’ve started. I can do it pretty well. I’m running around on the ice in Rockefeller Center. To me, life is like a great adventure—with prizes!

Have you decided what you’re going to play at your own festival? Miles called me before he passed [in 1991], and I didn’t know how sick he was at the time, but he said, “Hey, Wayne, write something for me with an orchestra. You know, with strings and all that stuff, but put a window in there so I can get out.” That’s what Wynton [Marsalis, the managing and artistic director of JALC] and I are talking about. Wynton’s attitude is “Whatever you want to do.”

You just won your 11th Grammy. Did you hear any music you liked at the show? Did you see that song “Chandelier,” by Sia? She faced the wall and sang while two other girls danced? When it was done, the audience hesitated before they clapped. They were like, “What do we do with this?” I loved that.

Where do you think jazz is going? Where is jazz going? [Laughs.] It’s gone! Jazz is just another word for creativity, to dare one’s self.

Wayne Shorter will be performing from May 14 to 16 at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Broadway and 60th St., 5th fl., New York; jazz.org.