Wayne Shorter Weekend

NJPAC salutes Newark’s visionary sax player as part of the TD Bank Jazz Series


He was known as “The Newark Flash,” a musician so dexterous that his fingers blurred when he played the sax during the heyday of nightlife his home city. Now 84, decades removed from when he scrounged for $1.25 gigs at the Y, Wayne Shorter will return to Newark to be paid in tributes.


Herbie Hancock, Esperanza Spalding, Wallace Roney and Christian McBride are a few of the names attached to Wayne Shorter Weekend (April 20-23), an homage to the saxophonist The New York Times matter-of-factly called “the most important living composer in jazz.” Produced and co-sponsored with TD Bank, the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University-Newark and WBGO Jazz 88.3FM, the five-concert celebration at NJPAC is part of the TD Bank Jazz Series, which is crowned by the TD James Moody Jazz Festival held each November – and named after another of the city’s most revered saxophonists.


“NJPAC takes great pride in opening its doors once again as a home for jazz artists,” says David Rodriguez, NJPAC’s Executive Vice President and Executive Producer. “Wayne Shorter Weekend is part of our efforts to provide year-round jazz programming beyond the festival and it’s a privilege to honor one of New Jersey’s own. Wayne Shorter is among the truly seminal saxophonists and composers in jazz today.”


Miles Davis. Art Blakey. Maynard Ferguson. John Coltrane. There’s a zero-degree separation between Shorter and these jazz hall-of-famers – all of whom he’s played alongside. When Shorter was 15 and a student at Arts High School, he and a couple of buddies were hanging outside the Adams Theater and caught a glimpse of saxophonist Lester Young entering the building. The teens managed to sneak into the mezzanine to witness the Stan Kenton and Dizzy Gillespie bands, Charlie Parker and Illinois Jacquet performing in a Norman Granz’ Jazz at the Philharmonic road show.


One of Shorter’s earliest appearances was with Sonny Rollins and Max Roach at a nightclub in Newark during a leave from the Army. Years later, literally running from show to show in Newark, he recalled in one interview that he accidentally dropped his prized Number 6 Meyer mouthpiece down a sewer grate on McCarter Highway, never to be retrieved, despite his best efforts.


“There will be a lot of memories when we all get back together in Newark, that’s for sure,” says the 10-time GRAMMY® winner. “We’ll be spending time creating value ‘in the moment’ in this momentous space for jazz. I’m really looking forward to performing with my quartet and longtime friend and collaborator Herbie Hancock.


“Having a homecoming here is one of those full-circle moments,” added the jazz master, whose career path was foreshadowed in childhood when he listened, fascinated, to the infancy of bebop on the radio.


The weekend salute begins on Thursday, April 20 with a concert that carries the overtone of a treasure hunt. Shorter’s composition Universe (1968-69), an ambitious, large-ensemble piece written during his tenure with Miles Davis’ quintet, was bequeathed by Shorter to trumpeter Wallace Roney, Davis’ sole protégé. Unrecorded and unperformed until recently, it will be given a New Jersey premiere by Roney and his orchestra in Prudential Hall. An excerpt from an upcoming documentary about the work’s progress in the recording studio also will be screened.


Among Roney’s featured musicians are bassist Buster Williams, drummer Lenny White and pianist Patrice Rushen, all of whom collaborated on Roney’s 2016 album A Place In Time.


Cécile McLorin Salvant, one of today’s most exciting voices, was handed a GRAMMY Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album last year to share the mantel with her prize from the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. On April 21, she draws on a repertoire of rarely heard jazz and blues numbers, accompanied by pianist Sullivan Fortner, a New Orleans wunderkind and the 2015 Cole Porter Fellow in Jazz of the American Pianist Association. Rounding out the lineup in the intimate Victoria Theater is the Emmet Cohen Trio, led by a young dynamo on both jazz piano and the Hammond B3 organ.   


As co-founder of the jazz fusion group Weather Report (1970-85), Shorter saw the release of 16 much-awarded albums, such as Heavy Weather and the live LP 8:30. In a one-of-a-kind concert titled Weather Report and Beyond Reimagined on April 22, Shorter’s compositions for Weather Report and selections from 2005’s Beyond the Sound Barrier will be rendered by an all-star band: five-time GRAMMY-winning bassist Christian McBride, NJPAC’s Jazz Advisor and the evening’s musical director; the prolific pianist Rachel Z, who worked on Shorter’s mid-‘90s album High Life; and her musical collaborator-spouse Omar Hakim, former drummer for Weather Report.


Percussionist Manolo Badrena – another Weather Report alum – will be on hand, as well as a pair of compelling saxophonists: veteran sideman Joe Lovano, glowingly described by The Los Angeles Times as “an important, world-class jazz talent,” and multi-instrumentalist Steve Wilson, a recognized educator and former member of the Blue Note 7.


McBride sits down for an afternoon One on One with fellow bassist Esperanza Spalding on Sunday, April 23. Part performance and part patter, the get-together is sure to spark memories of Spalding’s friendship and partnerships with Shorter on stage and in the recording studio. (He wrote “Gaia” for her.) The recipient of four GRAMMYs, including best new artist, Spalding is equally acclaimed for her powerful vocals and adroitness in seguing among jazz and other musical genres.    


Shorter himself is on deck for the weekend’s grand finale on April 23. Joined by Oscar-winning music legend Herbie Hancock – a pal and bandmate dating back to the Sixties – the Wayne Shorter Quartet will feature pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade. The combo is likely to perform a selection from their 2013 album Without A Net, Shorter’s first release on Blue Note Records in more than four decades.


In addition to having Hancock as a special guest pianist and vocalist, Shorter also will welcome Gretchen Parlato, a star-is-born jazz singer and songwriter who considers him a mentor – she returned the favor by penning lyrics for his ‘60s composition “JuJu.”  


To music critic Ben Ratliff, Wayne Shorter is “jazz’s all-around genius, matchless in his field as a composer, utterly original as an improviser.” To Newark, he’s all that and the local kid who made real good. To get tickets to this special homecoming, call 1-888-GO-NJPAC (466-5722), click to njpac.org, or visit the box office at One Center St. in downtown Newark.


Feb. 28, 2017