Wayne Shorter, GRAMMY-Winning Jazz Saxophonist and Composer, Dead at 89

Wayne Shorter
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Shorter died Thursday surrounded by his family in Los Angeles.

GRAMMY-winning jazz saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter has died, just weeks after winning his 13th GRAMMY. He was 89.

In a statement released by Shorter's reps, the musician died on Thursday in Los Angeles surrounded by his loving family.

The last few years of Shorter's life were filled with creativity, including the realization of his opera, Iphigenia, written in collaboration with Esperanza Spalding, which played to widespread critical acclaim across the country in 2020, and the 2018 release of his GRAMMY-winning triple album and graphic novel, EMANON.

Born in 1933 in Newark, New Jersey, Shorter had a career that spanned six decades. He first rose to fame in 1959 when he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers under Blue Note Records, transforming the group into a modern jazz ensemble, with compositions including "Lester Left Town," "Children of the Night," and "Free for All." Shorter was eventually signed to his own record deal under Blue Note, releasing a series of classic albums for the label between 1964-1970 including Night Dreamer, Juju, Speak No Evil, Adam’s Apple, Schizophrenia, and Super Nova

This time period also paralleled Shorter’s years with Miles Davis, first as a member of the trumpeter’s trailblazing quintet with Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, and later, as a part of Davis’ early fusion masterpieces. Shorter went on to co-found the pioneering group Weather Report in 1970 with keyboardist Joe Zawinul. Since 2001, he has led his own highly acclaimed quartet with Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, and Brian Blade.

Shorter returned to Blue Note in 2013 with the release of Without a Net, before releasing EMANON in 2018.The music was accompanied by a graphic novel penned by Shorter with Monica Sly and illustrated by Randy DuBurke.

A musical giant, Shorter’s works have been performed by the Chicago Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Lyon Symphony, National Polish Radio Symphonic Orchestra, to name a few, with the musician realizing over 200 compositions, earning the distinction of NEA Jazz Master, as well as 13 GRAMMY Awards and a 2018 Kennedy Center Honor.

Herbie Hancock, Shorter’s closest friend and collaborator for more than six decades, reflected on the saxophonist's death, calling him "irreplaceable."

"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. 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," Hancock shared. "I miss being around him and his special Wayne-isms but I carry his spirit within my heart always."

Blue Note President Don Was also weighed in, touching on his relationship with Shorter as both a musician and a friend.

"Maestro Wayne Shorter was our hero, guru, and beautiful friend," Was shared. "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."

Shorter is survived by his devoted wife, Carolina; daughters, Miyako and Mariana; and newly born grandson, Max.