Modern Jazz Giant Wayne Shorter, The 'Newark Flash,' Dies At 89

Wayne Shorter had "courage in his heart, love and compassion for all, and a seeking spirit for the eternal future," fellow jazz giant Herbie Hancock said of his best friend following his death.

Wayne "The Newark Flash" Shorter at a 2010 performance in Milan, Italy.
Wayne "The Newark Flash" Shorter at a 2010 performance in Milan, Italy. Photo Credit: Mattia Luigi Nappi, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Shorter, who influenced modern jazz as much if not more than most famed composers, passed away Thursday in Los Angeles.

"The Newark Flash" was 89.

Shorter was smooth before aficionados began calling jazz that. He was quite playful, too.

The 12-time Grammy Award winner may be most widely known as the leader of Weather Report, pioneering a sound that became known as fusion.

Shorter also collaborated with Joni Mitchell, Carlos Santana and other popular artists (If you think you've never heard of him, think of "Aja" by Steely Dan -- that's Shorter on tenor sax).

SEE: How Steely Dan Got Wayne Shorter

Others will instantly recall the richly lauded Wayne Shorter Quartet or the all-star Miles Davis Quintet.

In either case, the man was considered in a class by himself.

Shorter's career arc stretched back to the Sixties with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Davis's legendary outfit -- and a decade before that, to hot spots in and around his native Newark.

He was prolific with his own combo, as well, which would become one of his most endearing qualities.

In just about every one of those collaborations, Shorter took risks rather than lean back on what had already been heard.

“The word ‘jazz,’ to me only means ‘I dare you',” was one of his most quoted lines.

Shorter was born on Aug. 25, 1933 in the Brick City to a welder for the Singer sewing machine company and a furrier seamstress.

He grew up in the Ironbound and attended Newark Arts High School, the first of its kind in the U.S. to specialize in the visual and performing arts.

Bepop flourished in Newark. Savoy Records sprouted there, and live radio broadcasts from Manhattan held the young Shorter rapt.

He actually began learning the clarinet before switching to tenor sax and joining a local group with his trumpet-playing brother. They made a colorful pair, wearing rumpled suits and galoshes, prompting poet Amiri Baraka to coin the phrase "weird as Wayne."

After earning a degree in music education at NYU, Shorter served two years in the U.S. Army at Fort Dix, where he apparently became known as a sharp shooter.

He hit the ground running when he returned, playing with Blakely and composing tunes that became standards of their time.

He joined the Miles Davis Quintet in 1964, rounding out a powerhouse lineup with Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, drummer Tony Williams and the revered master trumpeter, Davis.

Shorter's writing flourished, with Davis exhorting him on. Shorter, in turn, stuck with Davis through his rock and funk explorations.

Weather Report emerged in 1971, changing players -- and styles -- with regularity before finding commercial success with Jaco Pastorius, considered by many the greatest jazz bass player ever.

Meanwhile, Shorter continued producing solo records.

Tragedy shook him twice as the world moved toward the new millennium.

Shorter's daughter, Iska, was only 14 when she died of a grand mal seizure in 1985. His wife, Ana Maria, and their niece, Dalila Lucien, were among 230 people killed in the TWA Flight 800 crash off Long Island's Suffolk County.

Shorter later remarried, to Carolina Dos Santos, a Brazilian dancer and actor who survives him, as do daughters Miyako and Mariana.

The Recording Academy awarded Shorter a lifetime achievement honor in 2015. Two years later, he took the international Polar Music Prize. Shorter was also a Guggenheim fellow and a National Endowment for the Arts jazz master.

At eighty-five years young, he was still creating, releasing the widely-acclaimed album "Emanon" in September 2018. Three months later, Shorter was among the recipients of a Kennedy Center honor.

Shorter also grew closer with Hancock as both men grew older. They recorded together and both served on the board of the non-profit Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz (now known as the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz).

In dying, Shorter was "ready for his rebirth," Hancock tweeted on Thursday after learning of his best friend's death.

"As it is with every human being, he is irreplaceable," Hancock noted. "He was able to reach the pinnacle of excellence as a saxophonist, composer, orchestrator, and recently, composer of the masterful opera 'Iphigenia.'

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

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