The Polar Talks – Wayne Shorter

Leadership / Mentorship, People

For more than six decades, listening to Wayne Shorter equaled a swing mood from a woodwind in brass. For sixty minutes, listening to jazz saxophonist legend meant arcs in time, emotional inflexions, thoughts and witty stories. It happened at the Polar Talks in Stockholm, the newly session heralding The Polar Music Prize Award, whose 2017’s Laureates were Sting and those more than six decades of Wayne Shorter.

The prize was founded by Abba manager Stig “Stikkan” Anderson. It debuted in 1992 and since then, it landed to a gallery of artists including Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, B.B. King, Ennio Morricone, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and many others.

Miriam Aida, music journalist and jazz musician, was the one luring Mr. Shorter into talking jazz, as opposed to playing the talk, like Miles Davis would entice him whenever Wayne explained something, Miles would say: “Play that. Play the argument.” And so he did for the six years spent in the Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet.

Everything is impressive about Mr. Shorter, but is the nothing that impressed me the most. The one line keeping him self-contained, the not-giving-away answer he and his brother would always have in their Doc Strange and Mr. Weird teen persona pockets, whenever they would come back from playing with galoshes in their feet and gloves in their hands, from the late 1940’s streets of New Jersey’s Newark, while their parents would ask “what have you been doing all day?” “Nuthin’.”

The universe behind the humbling word might as well constitute the entire universe. Mr. Shorter’s previous orchestral jazz piece, “The Unfolding”, which premiered last year at Kenney Center, was inspired by origin talks with friends from Stanford University’s Galaxy Formation & Cosmology Group, namely by “Stephen Hawking’s observation that there’s no such thing as nothing, that there wasn’t a Big Bang, there was an unfolding.

In jazz slang, Big Bang reads Bebop, the fast tempo style starting to develop in the same 1940’s of Wayne’s life and musical awakenings. In jazz half recent history, his chapter still unfolds. With the same humbleness, one career and ten Grammy’s later, his preparing to launch a new recording entitled “Emanon”, which reads “no name” backwards. It spares the injustice a name can make to the meaning of its represented material. Or to what he has been doing all day, all life.

The new recording composed for his quartet and the 36-piece Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which is also the score of a new comic book signed by award-winning graphic novelist Randy DuBurke, is going to premiere on September 1st, on Labor Day weekend, at the Detroit Jazz Festival.

“A science fiction, multi-universe kind of thing,” describes it Shorter, who didn’t hesitate to bring on the stage terms like dark matter, black hole or thorium, expressing interest way beyond his art. “Not the art” says Wayne, “it’s the artist who changes the world.” And the scientists who move it forward. As he reminded, scientists go a long way pushing the human race to discover elements from earth, up there in space. There is, of course, the Shorter way of finding the sawdust to negotiate the human nature, down on earth, from a woodwind in brass and a soothing look in the eyes.

For Wayne Shorter, jazz is “I dare you”. Jazz is “let’s go play”.

Material written by Lucian Talpes