Interview with Wayne Shorter, Pt. 1

56918_4654004946882_435411389_oOn September 24, 2012, I interviewed saxophonist, composer, bandleader Wayne Shorter for the Smithsonian/NEA Jazz Masters Oral History Series. For the interview, I did my research and prepared seven pages of questions. As it turns out, I didn’t ask a single one of them. Shorter was in an expansive mood that morning and I basically just listened and asked an occasional follow-up question. Here is Part 1 of that conversation, which began even before the interview started. Shorter was talking about bassist Ben Tucker buying up the publishing rights for Bobby Hebb’s song “Sunny.”

Shorter:   …his first three months’ royalty on “Sunny”… It was something… He didn’t have to play the bass. He said, “I’m not playing the bass…” He played in this club, at a restaurant… They’d shot a long scene in there, and did the…well, the thing that was…the Billy Strayhorn thing…you know, that Duke Ellington recorded… “Something in Paris.” [SINGS REFRAIN]

That song that a lot of singers find hard to sing.

Appelbaum:   “Lush Life.”

Shorter:   “Lush Life.” There was some stuff in there. And Sean Young was playing the piano… She was between takes and everything. She was playing…she’s…

Appelbaum:   She can play.

Shorter:    Yeah. And tap dancing and all that. But she was like sand-dancing, and waiting for things and all that. I said, “Hey, why don’t you put her in…”

Appelbaum:   Did Ben Tucker co-write “I’m Comin’ Home, Baby”?

Shorter:   Ok. He wrote it.

Appelbaum:   Oh, yeah?

Shorter:    Do you remember the mechanicals, “Notice Of Use” thing… There was something about that. The flute player…

Appelbaum:   Herbie Mann…

Shorter:   …recorded it, and he was in court. There was a court thing, and it was hinging on the first recording, whoever recorded it at first, and the Notice of Use… They straightened all that stuff out since then. Even if you had a copyright, the Notice of Use thing could be a roadblock. So he had to prove… He won the case, I think.

Appelbaum:    Good for him. I hope he didn’t sell the rights to that.

Shorter:    No. Ben was… He was a buyer. I mean, he wrote that, but he… I said, “How did you get Bobby Hebb…where was Bobby Hebb…?” He said Bobby was not savvy at that time, you know. He wasn’t a businessman. Anyway…

Appelbaum:   Anyway. Before we start, is there anything you particularly want to talk about, or things you don’t want to talk about?

Shorter:   I’m talking about… Right now, whenever I do something, it’s not really about music for music’s sake any more.  When you’re talking about music and this-and-that, and the sound and chords, and how does something come, and… It’s more like what it’s related to. Like, a lot of young guys, and girls… For instance, it… You can start it rolling right now.

Like, Art Blakey, when somebody was playing sometimes… Back then, in 1959, I used to…somebody was playing… We were in a club, and somebody else was playing, and they would walk up to Art and say, “How did you like… Mr. Blakey, could you tell us what you think?” And he would say to a drummer, for instance, “You have a lot of technique…” With that voice of his, you know, “You got a lot of technique and everything, but where are you? I don’t see you.” This is not a real young, a young-young…relatively young, but still old enough to have… They meant… They kind of knew what he meant. “What do you mean… Like, when Benny Golson wrote ‘Along Came Betty,’ he saw somebody walking…? That’s what you mean?” And Art said, “I’m talking about your…some experiences…”

I have a tape of Charlie Parker talking, giving a music lesson. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that one. He’s giving a music lesson. The guy, he’s talking, and he asked Charlie Parker, “You mean I’ve got to learn all these scales? There are so many scales. The major and relative minor scales and all this stuff?” And Charlie Parker had…pronounced…he said, “Yes, you have to do that, you have to do that.” He said, “Once you learn all those scales, forget them.”

Someone was interviewing Bird and he said, “What are you thinking about when you play?” He said, “Mountains, valleys, streams,” and stuff like that. He didn’t go into side-street or the cement jungles talking all that stuff. But he did… You might expect him to say, “flying like a bird” or something. But that’s as free as he got… Like, mountains and streams, that was on the way to, like, being free of himself or whatever.

The same question was asked of Miles by another young… We were in a club somewhere, and they said, “Miles Davis…” We all walked in this club, and this kid is playing on the bandstand. “Miles Davis is in the house.” So when they had an intermission they came down… It was a horn player or whatever, piano… The guy asked…the little boy…little boy…he wasn’t little…he was maybe 23, 24… “Mr.  Davis, what do you think of the set we played, and how I played?” and everything, and Miles took him to the side, and he didn’t loud-talk…you know, denigrate… He said [MILES’ VOICE], “When you played, do you dance…” No. “Do you talk to your girlfriend like that?” [LAUGHS] The guy’s eyes lit up and he said, “I think I…yeah, I know what you… I didn’t think of that.”

From those days, and those scattered conversations that I’ve heard, whenever music was talked about, or art, in Miles’ house… He had those little scores of Shostakovich and…the classical stuff… In fact, Miles wanted to do the section from…uh…one of the classical composers… He really wanted to do it. He wanted Gil Evans to get it, but Gil was sick, too, so… But he had all that stuff. Also he had books on architecture…not a whole bunch, but some on the kitchen table…he had one here, one there… Counting all the many times I’ve been to his house. And I didn’t know, he was in another room sometimes, drawing. So after he passed away, here comes these… He was doing that, too!

So when I do interviews lately, or am invited to do a Q&A thing at someplace, a university, or one of those residences in Europe or something like that, there’s a lot of English spoken… I ask the kids, girls and guys, what are they reading. “What kind of books do you read?” Then later on I’ll say, “What is music for, do you think?” What is music for other than to entertain, to make a living, make a lot of money sometimes, or fame, or something like that? What is it for? And before they answer I say, “what is anything for? What do you think anything…” I’ve been grappling with that, you know. “What is it for?” I want to see what they say.

When I first started talking like that, one of the first things a guy said, “I read auto mechanic… I like cars.” I’m at the university in San Francisco, and Angela Davis was teaching there. At that time… She had a twin sister, too, or has it—and she was there. And we were talking like that… I was talking a little bit like this, back and forth with the audience, and somebody raised their hand. I couldn’t see the…I saw the hand—and Carlos Santana was there. He wanted to take this whole…you know, somewhere. Later on, we talked about it… He and I have been talking on the phone about the human…the development of the humanitarian, you know, stuff…the human aspect of what you’re doing, no matter what profession it is.

Even lately, I’ve been hearing some people getting letters from people who, they’ve known 20 or 15 years ago… I got some letters from a dentist, a doctor, and he said, “The art that has been coming out of the United States, the art that has been trying to survive… He was talking about Jackson Pollock, jazz, maybe even dance. He said, “It’s a hard thing. Dance is supposed to be through…” Now they’ve got this thing, it’s like (?—10:15) dance and all that… What do they do? Teach? He said, “This challenge for art to survive, coming from this country, inspires me to become a better doctor and a better husband and a citizen.” This was an Austrian. And I heard the same kind of response, even more lately, from other people. Hey, this guy is saying he saw somebody somewhere, he saw a group somewhere and everything like that, and he wants to do this and everything… He wants to be an artist in what he does. What is he… He said he’s a male nurse in one of the facilities in Europe somewhere. He’s more and more…

So Danilo Perez, I know you’ve heard about this… I don’t know if you heard it. He had a foundation, the Perez Foundation in Panama. Last night, the head of UNESCO was there, the lady and her husband…from Bulgaria… We were in Paris when Herbie was inducted into the Goodwill Ambassadorship, the global ambassadorship role. I was going to…we were in Europe…

Oh yeah. Danilo and I, about a month ago, we did a Skype thing… They had something at the UNESCO in Paris, and we did a skype thing there, and some of the students from Berklee were in Paris, and they were talking about this-and-that, and talking about music, and they played something, something like a jazz thing, and they stripped, they just stripped it and just played the rhythm, and then replaced the jazz with one of Tito Puente’s Latin things and everything. Then Danilo spoke, and they were speaking back and forth for just a little…about five minutes… Herbie was there. There was a whole big thing going on there. And they requested Danilo’s participation with his global institute. He’s President of the Global Institute…initiative…some global initiative, something like that…

We’re going to go to Panama in January for his festival. Roberto Duran is… He’s there. I’ve met him. He said, “You need me…” This is a…

Danilo went up in the mountains there. This is what I’m talking about, what music is for. He went up to find some kids, and there was resistance from… Some people wanted the children to do other things, like make them messengers or… Danilo was threatened, you know…among other people who were threatened…

Last night, we were at the Monk Institute, and friends of ours, which… My wife has gone to the Amazon with Sara DuPont. Her initiative to make people more aware of what… It’s not just deforestation, but the follow-through of that, going for gold and leaving the mercury and all that stuff. We had some of the top-of-the-line scientists at the event last night, at the Monk Institute thing. Young… There’s one from there, from Brazil or wherever…Peru…Enrique…and another one… And they will go in there under threat for their lives, and… It’s just BRAVE, courageous. One is only maybe about 33 years old. We saw a film with them on the boat. Esperanza Spalding went with them at the beginning of this year. In a storm… I saw them in a storm in a small, narrow boat. My wife went two times. Also Herbie Hancock’s wife went with the expedition. All these scientists, maybe five times, to Machu Pichu and all that stuff.

We were in North Carolina just before we arrived for the Monk Institute thing. My band… Well, it’s not my band. It’s that we get together and play. We were at the Wake Forest University, and I’m saying to myself… It’s the first time I’ve been there. It’s in Winston-Salem, and the guy who started Reynolds and all that… But the kids, the university… We did a fundraiser for the Amazon, and I’m thinking, “This is a think-tank, man; this is REALLY happening.” Kids from all over… It’s not easy to get in there. They were saying that the kids, when they go into…what do you call it…to be interviewed, in certain areas, that some of them were shaking… They’re brilliant, too, brilliant kids, but still, “Am I going to…”

We did a fundraiser there. Then, at the reception, some kids who were still applying, they were at the event, and they said…the people who were coordinating and all… One of the coordinator’s father implemented…works at NASA…implemented the designs and stuff for Neil Armstrong to get on the Moon. She said… She had spent a lot of time there, and she said, “I saw some of the new inductees in their offices.” She said, “They had their shoulders down because they had a good time at the concert and all that.” She said, “I hope they’re thinking it’s not going to be all…I’m going to make it through this…” She was trying to say that some of these people, the kids who are brilliant, doubt themselves until they see… They’re not fully-formed about what  they want to do, but that they see something… Maybe they saw how Danilo handles himself when he’s playing the piano, and they hear it…he has this foundation in Panama and everything like that… They get information about us that we don’t know about. Maybe some of them heard that I got a doctorate at NYU, at the new Yankee Stadium, with Alec Baldwin!—he got his at the same day and everything. And the CEO of Xerox, the lady, she was brought up in the projects in New York City, and she said she grew up listening…her father listening to bebop… She’s still CEO. Oh, I don’t know if it’s the whole Xerox thing, but enough…there’s more than one, I think.

So when we talk… Ok, I played Detroit recently. They honored me there. I don’t mean to be talking about myself… The director of the whole festival in Detroit, or enough of it, a portion of it, came to my house and he did an interview, and he said, “What we want to do in Detroit, and sort of illuminate beyond the city limits and all that, is a mentorship mindset.” The word “role model” is not good enough any more. You know, the ‘role model’… It’s kind of expedient to say, “You want to be a good role model.” But mentorship… I was talking to some kids, and I was talking like you solo. I was actually talking to them thinking about their ego, and I was saying a lot of kids, young people who heard the word “role model”…it kind of rolls off the back and everything like that… But there are a lot of young people who might hear the word “mentorship” or “mentor,” and look it up in the dictionary, or even if they don’t look it up, there’s an initial… Because when I was young, I heard the word “mentor”…I was 16 or 17…hearing it over and over… My ego said, “I don’t need any mentor!” You think you’re special. “I don’t need nobody to mentor me. I’m mentoring myself.” But as I got more knowledgeable about sometimes the workings of human nature, or looking in the mirror a lot at myself, I was finding out what the mentor is supposed…not be written in stone, but that process of mentoring a student or mentoring whatever…

So I was thinking, I tell them now, sometimes I see some of these faces who have resistance to hearing something that sounds like academia or some clinical Q&A stuff, and they don’t want to be there. But after I finish saying what I’m going to say now, they got really, “Yay,” and clapping a little bit. I said, “Take the little kid who goes to the parade with his father, and the parade is coming down the street, and not too many people are there, and the kid can stand there and watch the parade with his father, and then the sidewalk gets real crowded, and the parade…bands are still coming, and so many people that they boy can’t (or the girl cannot) see. So the father will take the boy and stand him on his shoulders, so he can show the boy what he’s seeing. Then he leaves the boy on his shoulders so the boy can tell the father what HE can’t see. They liked that.

Then I did that the student is supposed to surpass the mentor, because that’s the mentor’s wishes. This is like a win-win. You’re giving and not losing anything. I said, “Yeah, and you’re learning how to know the parameters, or you’re getting acquainted with your ego, and ego run wild…” I was saying, like, when you’re playing, and you’re playing for music, you want to play to…like in the Olympics, you want to show what you can do…

I like that documentary where Sonny Rollins, he’s talking about Nica De Konigswater… I mean, it was about her, but he was asked… I don’t know if you saw that—that documentary, when he said he was asked, “Why do you play this bebop?” and he said, he doesn’t play…he’s not playing to show off (that’s what he meant) or as to how well they can execute or this or that. He said he’s playing this new music to be human. And to be human to me means, when you’re in the recording studio you don’t need any A&R people looking over your shoulder, or self-appointed producers coming in and all of that stuff.

That’s what I’m talking about in the back-and-forth with kids about… Out of that, I start talking about when you play…when Charlie Parker said, “Forget all that stuff that you learned.” He was actually saying forget your ego. Because when you’re free of that, you have a story to tell. Your imagination is at work, your imagination about playing what you wish… It’s to challenge yourself to play how you would wish the world to be.

There’s a movie, Humphrey Bogart, the way he walks… Miles is watching it, he’s watching Humphrey Bogart, watching it on the screen one time, and he said, “I like the way he walks, man. Maybe I can play that. Can you play that?”

Appelbaum:   Or the way he throws a punch.

Shorter:    Yeah, the way he throws a punch.  Cagney, you know. Or something you read… The first book I read all the way through, when I was 12 years old, like at recess in grammar school…or lunch hour…was Water Babies. We made a recording… Then after I left Miles, here comes Miles out with this album called Water Babies. So Miles is retaining, if not… He didn’t read that book, man. He’s retaining something… Some of the  comments he would say to me on the bandstand while Herbie’s soloing and all that. He’d ask me, “You ever feel like playing music that doesn’t sound like music?” Then the other time, “Can you play as if you don’t know how to play?” You have to go to those extents to forget about that thing about being a perfection…to being the one that can do this and do that. “I can play like a violin on the saxophone.” I have a pretty good idea that Charlie Parker really listened to Art Tatum a lot.

Appelbaum:   What makes you say that?

Shorter:   Because it… It doesn’t sound like he was trying to play like a pianist, but there’s something about the essence of the harmonic story, that he could do his own…he was going for or working for his own way of creating that warmth and excitement and adventure and phrases and all that. Because when Charlie Parker played…

I was with Ray Brown one time. I played one job with him at the Russian River Festival. He told me he was at Minton’s Playhouse, he said he was young, he walked in there, and Charlie Parker was in there and he saw him for the first time. He said, “Man, Wayne, I didn’t know what he was doing, but it sounded CORRECT!” So I’m thinking of the word…listening to the word, “correct,” “it sounded correct”… Maybe when you elaborate on a word, carry a word to its Nth degree, “correct” could mean not just musically correct, but there’s…it’s like a film there, it’s like it has like a head…a beginning, a middle and… He had that “once upon a time,” and then… A lot of guys you say, “What are you going to say after you do ‘once upon a time’?” You start your solo… Don’t ever start a solo or playing with your handcuffs on.

I heard Dizzy Gillespie somebody… They had a jazz festival in Las Vegas one time. I was with Art Blakey and the Messengers, with Lee Morgan. Dizzy was behind the bar. He wasn’t clowning. He was serving… He jumped behind the bar and started serving. Some other group was there, and they came to the bar, surprised to see Dizzy was acting like a bartender… Some of them played trumpet. They were talking with Dizzy, and Dizzy had… He heard them. They tried to push him against the wall to get him to say something about how they had performed. So Dizzy said, “don’t try to play everything you know in one evening.” Then Dizzy said… He wasn’t joking, but he said, “Hell, I can play everything I know in one measure.” I was wondering if they got… That’s like one of those riddles, inverted riddles, something like that. It socks you.

So that has to do with how you behave when you’re not playing, too. You’re an emissary of the country you come from. You’re an emissary… If you’re from the United States, you’re an emissary… Art used to say ALL THE TIME, “Don’t go to Paris…” He wasn’t talking to us. He was talking to some other people he had… “Don’t go all the way to Paris talking about how good the subway sandwiches in Philadelphia area.”

Appelbaum:   The cheesesteak.

Shorter:    Yeah. “Don’t be… You’re eating in a French restaurant or the hotel or whatever, and keep bragging about how great the subway [sic] sandwich… And about how they treat people. He was talking to someone thick-headed. He said, “you’re still on the bandstand when you’re walking down the street, and when you’re playing…” We played a lot of club concerts then, too. “When you’re playing in a club, don’t be arrogant to the waiters and everything; we’ve got to come back here maybe 15 years from now, and that waiter is going to own the club—he’s going to be the promoter.” So he was always really cool about Europe and Japan.

There’s something I didn’t know about Art Blakey. When I was doing…asked to do certain (over the years) interviews, I caught myself going back about Miles a lot, and Weather Report…Miles… But kind of recently, I caught myself. Wait a minute. I had five years with Art Blakey, and in those interviews I didn’t talk about it. But there was something about Art…

Ok. I practice Buddhism. I’ll just leave it right there. But Herbie and I are…there’s a dialogue that we have had with a president of this Buddhist SGI, Soka Gakkai International. It’s going to be in English. First it’s going to come out in Japan. But we did a triologue. And the president, his name is Daisaku Ikeda, he said in 1961-62-63, he was telling…it was in Japanese, but translated…

Every time I left Japan… I went to Japan two or three times with Art, and we’d go home—sometimes Art would stay there. I didn’t know what he was doing. Daisaku Ikeda knew. He said, “Art Blakey would stay and work with the kids, some kids, with the drums and all that.” Then later on, he said… That was back then. These kids now are adults and everything. And they never forgot him. They remember him… Yeah, they remember the Messengers. They’re gray-haired people now and whatever. But there’s like a laser on Art Blakey. He spent hours, 2 or 3 hours with them. And they said what they learned, just his behavior and his attention to what they were doing, some aspects of it were an attribute to them becoming strong, upstanding citizens in Japan today. They say, “And we thank you for that, Mr. Blakey.” Among other… They had other people in…

So I started going back in my mind, and every chance that I get, I go back and remember some things, and when I’m talking about this, and life and music and all that… I saw what I almost missed and then didn’t elaborate on it. “I remember the time when Art was doing this,” and he did this, and he said this, and he said that… It had to do with your growth and your development. I said, I know now that I was not fooled by thinking, though, even if someone can be sometimes self-destructive, and you miss the real stuff that’s coming out of a person… Because you think somebody is self-destructive. Charlie Parker was self-destructive and he was his own worst enemy…

Art Blakey had a governess. Her name was Joelle. I wrote one of the songs called “Joelle.” She’s from France. When I was in the Army, I got out and then joined the Messengers, she was still the ongoing governess for the children, the young children. She told me, around 1955, she had just started…in 1954-55, very young, she was sitting in Central Park, it was snowing, and there was a man sitting next to her in Central Park (along Central Park West, the sidewalk side, not in the park), and he was coughing up blood in the snow. And he had a package under his arm… (Have you heard this?) He had a package under his arm, a brown paper, big… She was saying, “I’m a governess for a great musician.” So he said… I’m trying to remember how this went. He gave her the package, and he said, “Give this package to someone who you think deserves it.” She was telling me that, and she went…and came out with the package, and she said, “I’m going to give it to you.” She gave it to me. I had just joined the Messengers. It was ‘59. She kept that package from ‘54 or ‘55 or whatever. I opened it. It was brown paper. It was a big German violin book, a method book for violin, and there was music paper in there of “Sentimental Over You” with the modern bebop changes written underneath, and a breakable record of Marcel Mule’s… [SINGS THE EXERCISE] She said to me, “I think he told me his name was Charlie Parker” [MIMICS FRENCH ACCENT, Char-lee Par-kehr…] It’s “Charl-lee Par-kehr…” Oh, no. She said, “It must have been Charlie Parker.” She’d worked with Art Blakey, just got in…a flood of history… She couldn’t have absorbed a whole flood of history about jazz and Charlie Parker and all that stuff. She just arrived and got a job working as Art Blakey’s governess, so he’s not going to sit down, “This is all history, buh-buh…” But she got enough…

So I had these packages, and every time I moved, I would lose this and lose that, but it’s still there, ingrained in my memory. It must have been Charlie Parker’s handwriting. He had these changes over “Sentimental…” I just played the chords.  It was “Sentimental Over You.” [SINGS REFRAIN] Then I saw these other changes, they were going like Thelonious Monk kind of changes. I said, “Oh, this is bebop!” Then I looked in the violin book, and I saw lines, and I said…

The time I spent with John Coltrane when I left the Army, he had invited me to his house… He had a harp book on his piano. That’s what he was… [SINGS REFRAIN] We were taking turns, just doing things, and he said, “Listen…” But Trane’s mind, his ego… I have another tape of him talking about “Om.” I was at his house. He said, “Don’t go yet.” So I spent the night one time there. He was talking about life a little bit, what did I think about it. “How are you thinking about it?” I wish I could…I wish this could happen… One time he said, “I wish, when people came to…” It was still the club thing then. He said, “I wish when people come to a club and they open the doors, everything is going on, the music is right there, it’s happening right there…”

That was the start of a lot of his recording. [SINGS OPENING OF “Chasin’ the Trane”] There it is! It’s self-produced. You produce your own records. I was hearing that he wanted to do this, and wanted to do that, he wanted to do a production company, he was doing that. He wanted to do some big band, a large… Same thing like I heard about Charlie Parker wanted to go study with composers in Europe and all that stuff. That’s not ego. That’s not…

We’re talking to… I’m going to be teaching once…Herbie and I…once or twice…whenever we can…a day or a month, or something like that…at UCLA, with the Monk… I go there October 3rd. Ron Carter already did something… Outside, before the semester started. You heard about the Monk Institute will be housed at UCLA now. They will do a two-year program, and they are going to be getting a real Masters Degree. They have to have a four-year college degree before they even audition for this Monk Master, called a two-year hands-on program thing. Herb Alpert has been supporting this. The whole school, they offer access to all of the departments, for all of the departments to be involved, if asked, for whatever reason, and the connection that the creative process has to do with anything… All of the departments will be glad to support, in their way… They’re saying no doors closed, none of this isolation thing. You know what I mean?

Because over at USC, they were housing the Arnold Schoenberg Building, and I see Arnold Schoenberg’s name there, and… I’m not going to go into politics and all that stuff. Some nice people graduated from there. Jerry Goldsmith, I think, and some other. But that’s beyond, I would say, the front-office mentality or…

Appelbaum:   Can I ask you: What do you think makes a good teacher?

Shorter:   A good teacher?

Appelbaum:   Whether in music or anything else.

Shorter:    I think what makes a good teacher is they’re a good listener. See, I’m wishing I could listen now. But since this is an interview with me, I’m talking. But a good listener. As an example. My brother went to Howard University. They say my brother was OUT. Alan Shorter is OUT THERE!! He did one of those term papers, you know, and whatever he wrote, the professor sent the paper back to him and it said…the professor wrote between a paragraph, “What do you mean by this?” Whatever it was. “What do you mean by this?” My brother returned it and wrote, “What do you mean, ‘What do you mean by this?’” [LAUGHS]

My wife’s daughter, she’s in Brazil now… She’s producing plays and musical vehicles for New York, and (?—43:46) and all that stuff… When she was here, she did a thing about John Brown, Harper’s Ferry. She went to the French-English something school in California, and she’s Brazilian, so she speaks four languages now. So she had a paper that she wrote, and it’s about John Brown and his raid on Harper’s Ferry and all this stuff like that. She went into…her comments into was he right or wrong, “was it right?” and everything like that… It came back, not a lecture, but “this is not what we’re talking about here; we’re not talking about duh-dah-duh…” So it seemed like it was like, “Don’t investigate the resistance, but investigate…not to go beyond…” They wanted to stay with “this was illegal; what he did was ILLEGAL.” So your mind is not going to… “Illegal” is still an illusion.

I talk to the kids about fantasy and reality, too. I was saying, “When you play music…” I asked them, “How many people read fantasy and…not just sci-fi fantasy…” But I do hear mostly… I read… I like biographies, non-fiction, and duh-da-duh… So I say, “When you play free, so-called ‘free’ or try to attack freedom in music, it takes a lot of responsibility to be free. That means you have to study a lot.”

This short thing about texting, and somebody saying… Your mother might say, “Put that texting contraption down, and call your girlfriend, call your friend.” You heard it on The View. The kid said, “What are we going to talk about?” [LAUGHS]

One of the great writers, a few of them, when they started their preface, before their stories, there’s Alfred…the Lord Dunciny(?—46:40), and Heinlein… His last book, I have it, I’m going to read it—To Sail Beyond The Sunset. Everything he wrote… He was saying that everything he wrote was actually looking for his wife. Even though he was married, it was like meeting her again and again and again.

The wag-the-dog thing. You get to the wag-the-dog thing. I talk to the audience about, they say there’s no such thing as living happily ever after. So this reality, to be REAL… Can you consider that the reality is the fairy-tale and the fairy-tale is the reality? Can you unfold yourself to that?

Or I say, “If you look at a word… If you speak English, you look at a word, just like…” I use the word “ambulance.” But not how it looks in a backward mirror. “Ambulance.” Or the word “history.” And I say it over and over…and over…and over…and over… And then at one point, you don’t know what that word means. I said, “That’s an exercise in…” Something. I didn’t know what it was. But it’s an exercise in seeing how something becomes not really real. It’s an illusion…it’s a tool that you need, but there’s a lot of illusions that uses you…the tool uses you.

So dumbing-down is part of that process. Lack of education. Dumbing-down. When you think you’re going to create, and you need… I talk about, “You want to create…” But it doesn’t take courage to show what you know. It takes courage to go beyond what you know. Because how can you rehearse the unknown? This is where the world is at today. There’s no confidence. Scared what’s going to happen tomorrow. I said, “We have to create a new singularity in the arts and everything, a singularity where we learn to deal with the unexpected, we negotiate we dialogue with the unexpected; we don’t dialogue with something that’s supposed to work, with formula, and use that formula to attack…to tame the unknown.” I say, “we take the best from the past, and discard what’s only a casing, clothing for the…and we use it as a flashlight to shine into the darkness of the unknown.” If you need some… That’s just one something thousandth millionth of the light that can be associated with the word “enlightenment.”

People think they get the rhythm of this without going through the mental… I say… You talk in pictures, and they enjoy themselves.

I’m speaking about talking with people now, because it takes me away from… There’s no need in saying, “how do I write scores at home,” how do I do this, “What are you doing,” “What are the hurdles you have to go through?” “Do you get creative blanks?” and all that. It’s really a struggle to challenge the whole meaning of… We call it doing human revolution. Each person…doing the… Peeling off all of the illusionary stuff that we’ve been hijacked from the cradle. Heh-heh. But we haven’t been completely hijacked. Because if we were… We even take these golden words of wisdom from our grandparents. They weren’t completely hijacked. Some of the turtles made it to the sea. Some of us…

This is beyond nationalities and everything like that. This has been happening in jungles and everything. “Your baby will do this,” dah-da-duh…you’re being pushed to do this, pushed into doing that… And some of us escape! We have to for each other. “Why did you escape?” “I escaped for man- and woman-kind.” But you have to know why. It takes courage to go into… But you’re going to have to study. The people who make a lot of money and hits in pop music and rock-and-roll, who make a lot of hits and make a lot of money inheriting stuff…

My contribution to this new car was the label. I thought of a name for it. Heh-heh. Still, the first thing you thought of for a name for the car would probably have to go take some time and courage to really study. Not to build a car, but read up on mechanics and everything, and the history of why did they mess with the Tucker…

I talk about resistance, and creating value, and said, “Did you notice…” You can tell you’re on to something creatively when you get extreme resistance trying to stop you from doing something. If you’re doing something called “free” and there’s no resistance, that’s too good to be true. They’re looking at you as a buffoon, you’re a fool, you’re a clown, you’re no threat to what you call the “corporate system.” I say that the corporate system is needed…

In this Buddhism, we don’t deal with blame. We don’t say, “DOWN with Columbia Records and Sony! DOWN with the auto companies. Down with…” They’re resistant to maybe doing the barter system again and all that. For the creative process in all human beings… A taxicab driver has a creative process that’s dormant. It will wake up. Doorman. Everything.

For the funding… We know that the corporate system wants a profit. But as individuals in the corporate system… We say, like, a plane…that’s resistance… A plane needs resistance to take off. So I said, “Think of the principle that the resistance aids the lift of a plane to take off. The corporate interaction with so-called business and creativity… Creativity needs this business, as in the principle of lifting. The corporate people think they want money and power, they want to live, do… They want things the way…we don’t want government involvement, mmm… They can think that. They can THINK that and believe that and live that. But the real function is for them to be…what do you call…a friend… In other words, there’s a word from the Sanskrit. A friend to the development of the whole inconspicuous nature of man- and woman-kind, of humanity, that their function…it’s functioning unbeknownst…

It gets really weird when you get an army to enforce what you want.  But still, the function is still there. This is going beyond Right and Wrong and everything like that. There’s a use for it. You need an army to stop some stuff from killing your children; you know, even to protect your cave. But I’m talking about contracts and all that trickery, and the corporate world gets the upper hand with their lawyers on contracts, so they will get everything off the top, and something from the bottom, from the sides, a little from the middle… “We’ll give you 10 percent here.” Heh-heh.

But what kind of jars the corporate world is when I think a creative body of people do something seemingly without their help. “How did they get that far without our money?” Which I think they jumped onto hip-hop and everything almost before… It was going to be too late if they didn’t jump when they jumped. “Hey, we’re missing a whole lot of stuff.” But they’re still thinking the same mindset, “we’re missing the profits.” But by jumping in, they… No one knows all. I’m getting into cause and effect now. The cause and effect is so deep that it’s infinite, and so is appreciation. People say, “I really appreciate you…” That’s on top. That’s superficial. But a lot of people, we don’t know… I’m finding out that when we say “it’s infinite…” But it has a function, negative and positive… It’s part of a mystical…

Oh, the singularity I’m talking about, too, is, we need a first at this time where every individual in the world becomes soloists or leaders. They lead. This is a process that’s going to take some birthing, but we’re going to have to become leaders, so that we find out that too many cooks in the kitchen is a lie. Because the kitchen is the whole…it’s life. The first time that individuals think for themselves because of study, investigation…but the investigation will be fun. And a good date, a great date, happens when two people are in the moment without knowing it, but if you’re trying to think about what you’re going to say while the girl’s talking, that’s a bad date.

So the challenge of being in the moment is what we call… That word “jazz” is not a good enough word for being in the moment, but it suffices… But in the moment is so important to me because I see that the moment is a replica of eternity. You can’t have eternity without moments. So the moment is eternity, and eternity is that pathway…it’s a pathway strewn with adventure. Life is supposed to be a great big adventure with surprises all the way.

Now, tragedy and stuff like that, we have to STUDY(?—1:00:33) ourselves… Tragedy, when you really look at it, is temporary. Temporary. Play temporary. A lot of people play temporary. Because temporary always resolves. It has a beginning… To me, in Buddhism, there’s no such thing as a beginning or end. So, more than temporary is constant. Look for the constant. Create the constant. You are constant. So constant is adventure, open, and… You know how the lemonade tastes just the greatest at the bottom of the glass? That can last. But we cut it off with the hijacking process that has happened with us from the cradle, you know, believe this, and believe that… This is beyond belief.

Appelbaum:   We need to change tapes.

Shorter:   Heh-heh. Time out! Crime out.

– – – – – –

Jump to Part 2 (conclusion) here.

Thanks to Ken Kimery at the Smithsonian Oral History Program, and to Ted Panken for transcribing.

3 comments on “Interview with Wayne Shorter, Pt. 1

  1. Thanks so much for this interview. I’ve enjoyed listening to your WPFW show over the years, but had no idea you were a historian as well. I enjoyed hearing Mr. Shorter’s interesting and insightful comments on creativity. In high school I was introduced to Wayne Shorter’s playing on the great, first Weather Report album. Thanks again – I’ll enjoy reading pt. 2! – John Ebersberger

  2. […] Wayne Shorter was interviewed recently by Larry Appelbaum—senior music reference librarian and jazz specialist in the music division at the Library of Congress. You can read Larry's interview with the tenor saxophonist here. […]

  3. […] the Smithsonian/NEA Jazz Masters Oral History Series. The first part of the interview can be found here. Here is the […]

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