Every jazz musician has his or her gurus—jazz icons who, through their jazz “chops” and musical invention, inspired them to become the musicians they are. As a saxophonist, my answer (to anyone wishing to know which saxophonist was most influential in my jazz development) is easy—John Coltrane. As a ground breaking musician with a deep spiritual reservoir, Trane always will be at the top of my list. But coming in at a close second is Wayne Shorter.
Wayne has been around for a long time, beginning his career with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, performing with Miles Davis, and then during the jazz-fusion era he co-founded Weather Report with pianist, Joe Zawinul. Many of Shorter’s compositions have become jazz standards: Footprints, Infant Eyes, Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, Black Nile and many, many more. He’s performed outside the jazz arena with Joni Mitchell and Carlos Santana.
During this Lent I’m listening intently to Ang San Suu Kyi, from his album 1 + 1 with Herbie Hancock: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rspu8iciF7U. The song won the Grammy Award for the best instrumental composition of 1997.
The song is his tribute to Aung Sun Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Prize winner from Myanmar who was placed under house arrest by the Burmese military for more than twenty years. Her crime? Espousing democratic ideals, and winning the presidential election of 1990 by an overwhelming margin. In 2010 she was released and again won the country’s top election post. Well, almost. Seems that due to political technicalities she was forbidden to assume the presidency, but became the State Counselor, and for all intensive purposes, the country’s political leader.
I’ve never heard the story of how Shorter was inspired to compose the music but I can guess that it had something to do with his Buddhist philosophy and deep concern for humanity. Shorter doesn’t like to comment on his music. He lets his horn do the talking. There are several concert versions of Ang San Suu Kyi that you can find on You Tube. My favorite is his live performance in 2003 at the Montreal Jazz Festival with his quartet—Danilo Perez (piano), John Patitucci (bass) and Brian Blade (drums): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xtbwnZroPc
It begins with an extended free form piano solo before getting to the melody and solos. I had the privilege to hear the group perform at the Tri-C Jazz Festival In Cleveland, about a decade ago. It was one of the most incredible musical performances I’ve ever experienced. This week I’m delving deeply into this song as my Lenten meditation.
Lenten Jazz Blessings.