Wayne Shorter, the enigmatic, intrepid saxophonist who shaped the color and contour of modern jazz as one of its most intensely admired composers, died on Thursday in Los Angeles. He was 89.
His publicist, Alisse Kingsley, confirmed his death, at a hospital.
Mr. Shorter had a sly, confiding style on the tenor saxophone, instantly identifiable by his low-gloss tone and elliptical sense of phrase. His sound was brighter on soprano, an instrument on which he left an incalculable influence; he could be inquisitive, teasing or elusive, but always with a pinpoint intonation and clarity of attack.
His career reached across more than half a century, largely inextricable from jazz’s complex evolution during that span. He emerged in the 1960s as a tenor saxophonist and in-house composer for pace-setting editions of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the Miles Davis Quintet, two of the most celebrated small groups in jazz history.
He then helped pioneer fusion, with Davis and as a leader of Weather Report, which amassed a legion of fans. He also forged a bond with popular music in marquee collaborations with the singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, the guitarist Carlos Santana and the band Steely Dan, whose 1977 song “Aja” reaches a dynamic climax with his hide-and-seek tenor solo.
Mr. Shorter wrote his share of compositions that became jazz standards, like “Footprints,” a coolly ethereal waltz, and “Black Nile,” a driving anthem. Beyond his book of tunes, he was revered for developing and endlessly refining a modern harmonic language. His compositions, sleek and insinuating, can convey elegant ambiguities of mood. They adhere to an internal logic even when they break the rules. [Continue reading…]