On September 24, 2012, I interviewed saxophonist, composer, bandleader Wayne Shorter for the Smithsonian/NEA Jazz Masters Oral History Series. The first part of the interview can be found here. Here is the conclusion.
Appelbaum: So how do you tame the ego to strip away illusion and go into the unknown?
Shorter: This is by interacting…um…interacting with one another, interacting with the least expected entity…interacting with the next-door neighbor that you have never spoken to, maybe because they’re from another country, or they look different or anything like that…but interacting with them with… This is the name of the album that is going to come out, that I’m working on now. Interacting with them, and interacting with factions, aspects of life without a net. That’s the name of my album, Without A Net.
A good friend of ours, she passed away, an actress. She was at the club we played in called…we played a club one time, in a long… Yoshi’s. She was there. Her name was Vonetta McGee. She made a movie with Clint Eastwood called The Eiger Sanction, years ago. When she left, before she left, I was looking at her and she said, “You guys are playing without a net.” And when she left…after four weeks later, she passed away. We went to her memorial and all that. Her husband is an actor, too.
We were with these scientists in North… I’ll get to that question. But we were in North Carolina, and some of these scientists heard that word and they said, “Without a Net; is that a song title?” That’s the title of the album!
So interacting… I said “beyond belief?” Some people say, “I don’t do such-and-such because I don’t have any faith in something; I don’t have any faith in this; I don’t believe in this.” So you say maybe if… That’s like, “I don’t know how to swim.” Well, they have to go into the deep end. “Without a net” is…it’s the Yellow Brick Road. How do you do that? It’s… It’s for a businessman to do business as if he has never gone to business school. [MILES’ VOICE] “Can you play like you don’t know how to play, like you never took some music lessons?” They would call it a gamble without any guarantees.
To convince someone to take the leap without a net, to interact together and “I’m going to see what happens,” it would take…it would take a corporate body, and the so-called creative body, to agree on one thing—that there is no net, in reality. They are unprotected, really. And even protection is an illusion. That’s temporary, too. Well, we’ve been protected for millions of years. When someone says, “I want to be wealthy for a zillion years for my children and everything,” duh-dah-duh, and I say, a zillion years is like a blink in the eye. It’s a blink in the eye.
Appelbaum: Not to people who are suffering.
Shorter: Yeah. In the moment beats the blink of the eye. It takes courage to go into that moment. But when you find out that a zillion years of having something your way…a blink in the eye is an ass-kicking that you don’t want to go through. Because the ass-kicking is going to seem like it’s forever, and some people call that “Hell”—and “Hell on earth.” But you don’t have to believe that, because it’s beyond your perception to accept what you…you know…
Things are happening now to kind of form… Life is forming an answer to that question, in a sense, right now, and if we are smart enough, and the people who are so-called “cool” and “hip” and even people who [DEEPENS VOICE], “I have my philosophy together,” people who think they can see this or see that, they’re all going to say, “We’re in this together, let’s…”
I don’t think… It may take hitting the bottom of the barrel for humility to emerge in human existence, on a mass scale of human emergence… What is it going to take? Sometimes it takes a single person. They have the songs that “a world can change/with a single man…” It has happened historically, a single person…embracing a single sentence or something like that… Yeah! But then there’s always been usage. It becomes a feudal system again; you’ve got vassals and serfs and lords, and keeping it that way educationally.
Appelbaum: But speaking of education, you’ll be teaching, and your students will, of course, ask you, “How do I do this? How do I tame the ego? How can I ignore human nature?”
Shorter: Ok. I think you can start with, like… At the Monk Institute, when we auditioned these kids who are there now, the ones who are going to be for the two-year program, at the end we were talking to them, “what are you looking for?” And if we saw… The answers came back, the responses, mostly on… Well, sometimes they can hide it. If they want to use that as a stair-step for their career, “I want to score for movies”… It’s like a me-me-me-me thing.
This time we’ve got… I was teaching, doing some part-time teaching at some place, some institute or whatever, and the other one… I want to make sure that the people who are coming along with us and after… We’re hearing some sincere… One guy came in to audition with the trombone, and Jimmy Heath…the guy walked in in his suit, and he said, “Hey, Wayne, he looks like an insurance man.” But when he played, it had some of that Kai Winding-J.J.-Frank Rosolino stuff and himself, and Al Gray…he had all that stuff in there. Young guy, too. He said… Everybody’s chair went back like that—“whoa!”
I think these examples kind of spell out something about what do you do about the ego. There was a xylophone player from Chile. He played “Sophisticated Lady.” They all played… I had to go to the washroom for a second, and I kind of missed it, and I came back, and Herbie said… He was there. Kenny Burrell, he was one… Herbie said, “Wayne, you…this guy…” He played something else, and I heard what they were talking about. Here comes Jimmy Heath, and he said, “Where did he get all that street stuff from in Chile?” Almost like New York…he has a history… From Chile! And there’s a drummer… The piano did something like Herbie did with his shit! [WHISTLES]
Initially we saw something about… To answer that question: We saw examples of behavior that taught…for that moment… I’m going to go on October 3rd to be…in the first classes there, just 3 hours with them… An example of how they follow through about this ego thing. There’s some substantial amount of humility that they can illuminate. I’m going to follow through on that, without baiting. I’m not going to bait them. But I want to see.
These people exist already. It seems like they’re kind of hard to find. But now, the way things are, I think…and to answer your question… There’s more than one kind of people coming out of closets. These people are coming out of closets, Some really thinking people, sensitive, coming out. It’s like, “Is the coast clear? Can we come out now?” And here we were, a nest of scientists, caring about the Amazon, with their lives on the line, knowing that one night…you know, people don’t want them there, like the Mafia, between and the government and all that stuff, they… Young. In their thirties, early thirties… I’m saying, “where are they coming from?”
Then these think tanks—that’s a big closet. They’re coming out of those closets. But it’s not just head. Not just head. Because we went to a reception here… To answer the question: We went to a reception after we did the fundraiser in North Carolina, Winston-Salem, whatever. Girls! Of course, saxophones… They had a band. They were playing…
And in Japan… When TWA crashed and my wife passed away on that one, I went right to Japan. Maybe four weeks here, and then went to Japan, and in the club, when they had the Blue Notes in Japan, there was a line of people wanting me to sign their instrument, about… Mostly they were young girls, with horns, alto saxophones and everything.
Danilo just came from South Korea with his wife, Patty, she does alto sax… He said she can PLAY, too! She took the course at NYU, Music Therapy, to get her Masters, and they’re home-schooling their children, the children are studying Chinese and everything—Spanish, Chinese, and English. He said that Patricia (her name is Patricia), whose mother is one of the leading neuro-surgeons in Chile… I’m not saying you have to have all this stuff in your dreams and everything, but… They have three children now, and she went to South Korea with her husband, with Danilo, and he said, “Patty is playing, man! She’s playing.”
John Patitucci’s wife is a cellist. Her ego was under… She put her ego to…to raise the children and everything. When John and I talked, he said, ‘My wife…” Sachi, her name is. She’s part-Japanese and everything. She said, “Sachi’s got to get back to the cello.” So John goes up to Berklee and drives up there and teaches and everything; he’s trying to make more room so his wife… People are watching this.
People have to OBSERVE humility. That’s how you’re going to…is see it… They ain’t gonna show it on television. Maybe some good movie that you luck up on. “Ooh, that looks, um, independent…”
For instance…here’s something… Daisaku Ikeda, that guy I was talking about, when he was 19, he heard about this philosophy. Someone asked, “That Buddhism you’re doing, is it a religion…?” So the actor who played in…he played a detective…it was a comedy… He was at our house here, at a meeting, and someone asked him that question. “The Buddhism that we’re practicing is a philosophy which I try to practice religiously.” I always tell people, “What’s greater than a religion of being alive.” Life is the ultimate… You can say it is a religion. But it’s the philosophy.
Daisaku Ikeda, he was 19, and he became the President. He’s 80-something now. Some of the people he was around, they said, “Gosh, I’d like to be like that; I’d like to have those attributes; he made it all those years…” So this practice is going on in 192 countries now. The person he saw was the second president. His name is Josei Toda. He wrote, as 19…he said, “The intellectual, philosophical tenets and all that, that was not what attracted me to this philosophy. What attracted me was Mr. Toda’s behavior.” The man before Toda, his name was Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. He was a schoolteacher, an arithmetic teacher in Hokkaido. He got from the first Buddhist writings, the last one, the Lotus Sutra, the 80,000-Sutra, the Lotus one…he was checking it out, and he said, “the government is wrong.” Tojo and all those guys—they’re wrong. They put him in jail. He died in jail. They put him and Toda in jail. A lot of people don’t know the history of that.
I’ve got a history of India… The Phoenicians went all the way around and landed there. And the first recorded person who was enlightened as a Buddha, the name is Shakyamuni… But I’m talking about… I’m not trying to sell something here. But it’s like the behavior. It’s watching the behavior. When Charlie Chan, in the movies, his son would say, “How did you solve that case, Pop?” And he would say, “simple deduction, my son. Simple deduction.” At one of the first meetings I went to, at a Buddhist meeting, they said, “the Western world thinks inductively, and the Orient is deductive.” I said, “What is that…” He said, “Well, I lived on 10 South Street when I was a child,” 10 South Street in Newark, New Jersey, “and I thought that 10 South Street, Newark, New Jersey, was the whole world. That’s inductive thinking. The part of something gets treated as the whole.”
I’m going to specialize in orthodontomy in school. You must specialize, specialize. That’s the whole. You keep the dots just connected way.
But deductive, they say, oh, this life is a whole, and the parts come into it. You did that algebra problem backwards? From inside-out?
So that was just a way of… So this… Not to think that politeness, being polite, is an indication of having humility. Sometimes, oh, that’s just a cover, because say…the Asians doing, “so sorry,’ being very polite and that, heh-heh. But there is a real something that even historically the Samurai… There’s a Samurai, his name was Musashi, he was one of the greatest Samurai, and he stopped fighting, although no one could beat him… But he said he was actually searching for enlightenment. Then he held on with humility… When he said, ‘gomennasai,’ ‘I’m very sorry,’ he meant it. I have the movie, I sent for it… great actor…he played in Grand Prix before he died… Toshiro Mifune. Yojimbo and all that stuff.
So the humility, I think, the answer is that it has to be observed. And asking for it, like… We need more good movies and books calling for it, the cause, and the effect will come out. But it’s an emergency now, so we have to exert ourselves…it says “exert yourselves in the way of the Buddha,” the Buddha nature…
It’s very interesting, the Buddha nature, since it sleeps dormant, but since you call it this name, it comes out.
Appelbaum: Can I ask you a question about that?
Appelbaum: If Buddha is here with us today, and who’s to say he’s not, what would you like to ask him, or talk with him about, or do with him?
Shorter: Well, you know, it’s not a person. That’s what we find out. They always say there’s God, Allah, and Buddha. Shakyamuni was saying he has a…we all have a Buddha nature which could be… He said this almost three thousand years ago. He said it’s going to be asleep in every individual now, but it can be brought out. When we ask the question of the Buddha within us, there is a mirror that we’re looking at, and this mirror is called the gohanzen. This mirror is a reflection of your life condition inside. The life condition… The reflection of an enlightened life condition that we all possess but hasn’t… This gohanzen is a scroll. It’s not something that you worship. To give an example of that, they say it’s like a mirror, like a woman… If a woman worshiped her image in a mirror or this paper, instead of putting lipstick on her, she would put it on the mirror. As time goes on, as we practice and we say the name of the Lotus Sutra, we say the name of it… Because the name of the Lotus Sutra is a whole…
In this book, all the words and pictures are contained in the title. That’s for people who couldn’t read or see…then once they heard the name, they would say the name, and they said some of these people… There were two brothers, the Ichikama brothers, back in… I’ve learned a lot about Asian history. If you called one, the other one would come. They were ignorant. But they heard the name of the Lotus Sutra, and they would say it. These two brothers became enlightened so fast, they became like helping people and doing… They were like before, “HAI, you want this…you want to help…” Faster than these intellectuals.
In the beginning of… I’ll just stop right here. But in the beginning of the one of the wordings of the Sutra, it says, “This portal of…doorway of this philosophy is very difficult for the intellectual, the intelligentsia to enter. But they will.” But they don’t want to study… I want to study in the libraries and the monasteries. I’m not going to tell you what I know. This is my union. This is my secret. That’s Hinayana; the other is Mahayana, of the people.
Appelbaum: For some of the musicians you’ve been talking about today, whether it’s Art Blakey or Miles Davis or maybe Joe Zawinul or Charlie Parker…do you think they all had Buddha nature in them?
Shorter: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Appelbaum: Does everyone?
Appelbaum: Or is it something special about their nature?
Shorter: No. You know what? The world… All the universities… Now, here is something that was decreed in the world, that the Lotus Sutra… They decreed, many universities, that the Lotus Sutra was the first historic document…they call it a document…that speaks of the equality of all people, men and women, gender, everything. Equality. Before that time, they had…back in India, the men had 500-and-something sins and some other things that they had to overcome, and women had 2,500, and a woman can never be enlightened until she comes reborn as a man and all that. So then Shakyamuni came along and said, “To hell with that! Unh-uh. That ain’t that way at all.”
But I liked that. I said, “Wait a minute. He didn’t write nothing down.” In the moment, when it happened to him… It happened to him when he was 19. He was a prince, and he looked over the wall… They wouldn’t let him out of the wall. And he looked and he saw people suffering, and he said, “Why is there birth, suffering, old age, and death? Why is that?” He sneaked out of the palace one time and never came back. He came back later, but he was 92 when he died, and he didn’t… His mother and wife, Yashodhara, they all thought, “let’s do it together.” So it’s all very mystical.
But the humanity, it points… Oh, man. I got some stuff with scientists. They talk about… I’ve got Stephen Hawking’s stuff, where he talks about the Universe created itself. Did you interview that one? Heh-heh. But he’s bringing all the other scientists into it. He’s bringing what they have arrived at, what they accomplished, and then he starts, “the universe created itself.” I have a tape of him talking, side A and side B, and when I put Side B on he starts saying, “Are there boundaries in space?” I turned it off and said I was going to hear that one later!
Appelbaum: What do you think the answer to that question is?
Shorter: There are no boundaries. There are no boundaries. But I made a record with a guitarist from Japan, and his friend used to bring Stephen Hawking to Japan, Tokyo, from Oxford or whatever, to do lectures with the wheelchair and all that stuff. This guitarist made a record and asked me to play on the record with him, and he said, “Oh, by the way, I got Dr. Hawking; he is going to open the record for us.” So I have one at home. It’s on Toshiba. Stephen Hawking opens the record. He says, “There are at least 200 million-billion-whatever stars in our galaxy,” and he goes on, and then the music starts… We went to Nathan East’s studio to record something, the overdubs, and… The guitarist is married to a great actress in Japan. She was there. When he was recording (he had, like, a partition, glass and all that), he jumped, and she said, “He hears it.” I said, “Hears what?” He told me that when he lived in Hawaii, he was…two hours…he can’t account for two hours… He was sleeping upstairs… He has an upstairs and downstairs duplex. He was sleeping, and he woke up in the morning, and all his bedclothes and sheets were at the bottom of some stairs. He can’t account for two hours. He has an indentation here, here, and behind his ears. He would hear something, DING-A-LING-A-LINGA… While he was recording, he heard. So I got a piece of music paper, and I said, “Let’s write it down.” I wrote it down, the notes. Then it was my turn to record and I played those notes. It’s still on the record, within there. He’s in Japan now with his wife.
He used to go on expeditions with Whitney Streiber, who did Communion and all those. He and Whitney Streiber went to the house that Tesla used to live in, New York, the apartment building, down… They found in the basement part of the electric coil that Tesla sat in the middle of, in the electrical storm. Then he asked me to go with him to Alaska, to the DEW Line (I was DEW Line when I was in the Army) to witness the Aurora Borealis with Whitney Streiber and some other scientists. But I couldn’t go. I was going on the road. Then he got married and moved to Japan.
I’m going to Japan in March, and I think he’ll… When we go to Japan, we always get a cake from her. She’s a well-known actress there. He’s settled down. They have two children. He says he’s always watching…he’s measuring his daughter’s waist to see if…checking her out as she grows. Her name is Monet(?—30:28). He says, “I’m checking out Monet(?).” And the other one, too. It’s, “I’m checking…” “Are you still checking them?” “Yeah.” “Ok.”
So it’s a very interesting… Listen! The guy has to come and… This is part of the things that motivate the story you tell. When I was 18, there was a union guy. He used to collect at the end of the week and all that. One Sunday, he knocked on our door… Yeah, it was a Sunday. Day off. There he is, standing there, the union guy. I say, “What’s with the union guy?” He had a valise, a big valise. He said, “I have a proposition.” He opened the valise. My mother let him in; we knew his name and everything. We had a round kitchen table, and he opened this valise and took out this blueprint, and put it on the table, and it was round. It had all these…I was 18…the markings and everything, like equations. Later on, they were like the word “equation”… I said, “What is this?” He said, “Sarah Vaughan was from Newark. James Moody…” James lived down the street from me. I didn’t know. I was 15. I had no idea to become a musician. I didn’t know he lived down the street. His sister was in grammar school with me. Sat right over there. She was Vivian Moody. He said, “I want all the people to get together and see if we can get a concert, and raise enough money to build this.” I said, “To build it?” My mother was talking to him, “Why do you want to build this?” He said, “So we can go home.”
He talked, and he talked… I’m trying to be… Because I like science fiction. I got fresh and I said, “How does the thing go?” He said, “by dividing the magnetic lines of force at right angles.” Later on, when I went to NYU… He finally left and everything.
I’ll tell you something else strange, too. I had Doctor Odradner(?—32:42) in physical science. He worked on the first cyclotron at Columbia. I’m sitting there, and Lou Gossett is sitting next to me in class. I raised, “Doctor…” He’s talking about something electromagnetic… I said, “Dr. Odradner(?), what does it mean to divide lines of force at right angles?” He said, “Who you been talking to? See me after class.” And after class, he said, “You know, if we could do that, we could put Mobil, Texaco, all of them out of business. But we don’t even know what electricity is yet.”
Before Walter Davis died… Do you know Walter Davis? He used to make his own clothes and everything. He made suits and everything. He cured himself of this-and-that. He gets on the phone with me and he said, “Wayne?” He said, “I’m ready.” I said, “what do you mean?” “I’m ready to build this spacecraft. We’ve got to build this spacecraft.” That’s where I’m at, too I said, “Ok, let’s build it. How are we going to do it?” He said, “We’re going to get some people together, we’re going to get some money, we’re going to do some fundraising, and we’re going to build this.” He said, “I’ve got the plans.” Then he passed away. That was odd. After all that time. He never went to class, he and his twin brother, in Orange, New Jersey—East Orange. They’d just go take the final exams. He would take Bud Powell’s place when Bud couldn’t make it.
This is… You don’t know. So there’s a lot of… When somebody is playing now, I’m almost demanding… I don’t want to ask them. I want to see what kind of story you’re telling me. “You got a story?” Even one made up, or something that influences your contribution to the mystery of us. The mystery of us is a great adventure. The quest…the pursuit of the constant… Don’t let the temporaries fool you!
When I signed some papers to take my mother’s ashes and my wife’s ashes…no, we did that in Florida…my brother’s ashes to a place out of the country, the man who signed the papers, he signed the papers… I’m standing at the desk. He’s Japanese. In California. Then he got up. He had the white shirt on. He said, “Want to do some exercise with me?” Like in Japan, how they do it. The whole office. I said, “Ok.” We did about five minutes of that. He said, “Thank you.” As I was leaving, I went to the elevator, somebody in the elevator said, “He just lost his wife five days ago. He knows what’s going on in your… He’s showing you something.” He was born in this philosophy. That’s why. Ok? He knows about the temporary and the constant. He’s going to see his wife. He says his wife is on vacation.
It’s serious, man! It’s ok!
So that… Some writers have been daring… Some reviews just lately… In Detroit, someone wrote, these guys, Danilo all of them, are reaching for the impossible. So I’m saying, “Why not?” If you can do that without looking like egomaniacs on the stage, go for it, because you’re going to do that undressed. You have to be ready to forget all your foundation. Don’t be showing off your musical foundation, “I studied this and I know this…” If there’s a train wreck, let the train wreck…show the audience struggle. Don’t be ashamed. Just show some struggle. You’re reaching and you can’t do it, you’re going to struggle. Then in the struggle show victory. Then you’re going to break through it! Then if they get it, they say, “Wow, that stuff you guys were going…” Then they say, “Mmmm…I was with you… URGGHHHH!!!” That’s what I want to do with this… A few people do that.
Herbie went on a tour with Lang Lang. He said in the dressing room, four classical pianists, kids, came back, Asian, and they said, “We’re improvising now.” They said, “We’re playing jazz… We do that and…” There was a little girl sitting in the front, a violinist. She was an American girl, and her mother, after…in Marciac…no, in the south of France… The little girl was standing there after we played, and the girl started talking, and the mother put her hand over her mouth, like, “speak when you’re spoken to.” The girl said, “that’s all right, Mommy.” And she looked right straight at us and she said, “I know what you’re doing.” She had a little violin under her arm. “I know what you’re doing!”
Dudamel, he’s the Director of the L.A. Phil, he’s going out with the Simon Bolivar Sistema, young people… Have you heard the Sistema do the Shostakovich dance?! It’s on your iPad. Oh, man! I’m telling you. Then it’s the Fifth… They’re 17-18-19 years old now. Danilo is going to play Carnegie Hall with some of them, maybe 16 of them, from the Dudamel…part of that orchestra.
I heard Herbie play Rhapsody in Blue at the Disney Hall with the L.A. Phil, and Dudamel conducted something before that from South America [SINGS RAPID-FIRE REFRAIN], and he conducted the Rhapsody in Blue, and when they finished… I’m up in the balcony…not the balcony, but I was situated… They walked off-stage like buddies, and they were talking. Later on, we went to the…they had a state-of-the-art… They raised a lot of money. It was a fundraiser, about $3 or $4 million. They had a Folies Bergere thing, a show, and a group on the stage doing “Thriller” and this-and-that. We had the table together, with Herbie, his wife, my wife, Frank Gehry, who designed the place, Dudamel, and John Williams, and his daughter. Someone asked, “What were you and Herbie talking about when you walked off the stage?” Dudamel said, “Let’s go boogie.” So John Williams got up… I thought he was going to leave. I said, “Ok, you’re going to leave now?” He said, “No, I’m going to boogie.” He went to start dancing with his daughter, and Dudamel was dancing with his wife. I said, “There’s a…”
I always say, “the wheel is turning.” When I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, it was a Weather Report date… We were…what do you call it…we had a promoter, a lady there… I walked by in the hallway…there was a rehearsal going on, somebody was doing Daphnis and Chloe, a small chamber… Behind the door, they were doing like the first couple of bars, 4 or 5 bars. Then something different was going on. So the lady, the promoter, said, “My daughter, plays the french horn in that group; let’s open the door a little bit and see what they’re doing.” She opened the door. She said, “Oh, what they’re doing is practicing improvising in between measures.”
They’re practicing improvising. So in Boston now… There’s things happening little by little where entire large groups and orchestras, they are entertaining improvisational…improvising in baby steps… Improvising. There’s some way you can have, whether it’s strings or… The people furthest away from each other, you can hear each other immediately. But they are going through an ear training. It’s a dialogue where the development of improvising, and then reading music, and then another segment where the art of improvising, not with finality, not arriving somewhere, but reaching, and in the process you throw out the window, “I don’t improvise; I can’t sing…” You sing; you don’t sing. Or you’re supposed to go to sleep at the ballet. You’re supposed to go to sleep at the opera. Throw all that out. Unh-uh. If the orchestra wakes up to new things, everybody else is going to wake up.
I’ve been working with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, too. No conductor. That’s in January at Carnegie Hall. I’ve been commissioned to write an extensive piece for the L.A. Phil. It’s extensive, this thing. It’s a piece called called “Gaya, The Planet Gaya,” with Esperanza Spalding, she’s going to do the libretto, and the quartet—it’s all together. That’s going to be done at Disney Hall the first week or second week in February. Then the Detroit…the Nashville… They’re partnering with the commission… I think they want to do it in Washington, too. Four or more orchestras, doing the same thing at appointed times…appointed, but, you know…
So we’re pulling all the stops out. Danilo’s writing. Let’s get everyone in there. We need LOTS of people. I would say at the meetings, “We need more novelists, filmmakers, whatever…independent…” We need more of the blood and VEINS and everything of… We need more of that. We need more of the dreamers. Make them dreams come true. I don’t care how old you are. I don’t care WHAT age? “It’s too late for me.” What did you guys do when you went out… For older people. What did you do when you went out to play when you were kids, and you went back home and your mother would ask you, “What were you doing?” They’d say “Nothing. Oh, nothing. Oh, we’re playing.” So all these psychologists, they look at the whole thing different. They say play is very important. Psychology 101.
But that…that thing… Trane was playing, when they first started going, he was going DUH-DE-DIT, DOO-DA-DAH-DEH, DOO-DA-DAH-DEH… And people thought he couldn’t play. [SINGS THAT REFRAIN] He was like describing how to actually play. He was pushing that other stuff out the way. Then the other thing started…
I think that Igor Stravinsky, when he started trying to do what he called “serial” after The Rite of Spring and all that, and a few others… Mozart was a jazz musician. The word “jazz” didn’t exist, but he was doing [SINGS REFRAIN], the symphony right there in G-minor, 40… [SINGS IT]
I used to play stuff alongside of records when I was 16 on my clarinet. Stan Getz said he did the same thing. We were hanging out together before he passed, me and Stan. When he had the cancer, I took the hot towel with ginger wrap, you know, on the bed with him, out in Malibu, when he had the house out there. He said, “Man, it’s nice to have a buddy with this stuff.” I said, “Yeah.” We had a good time. Then he called me from the Johnny Carson Show, he said, “I’m going to get married.” It was a twin. He married one of the… Then he passed away. But we spent that time together. We spent some time in Brazil together, too. Just from a night. He played at the Caesar Park Hotel, and I joined him on the last set, playing that thing that Gretchen sang, but it was more in the box, you know…
Appelbaum: “Chega de Saudade”?
Shorter: Mmm-hmm. Chega. Che…heh… So, having an interview with kids…not kids, or your peers or whatever… To me, it has to be like a dialogue. I know this is in another format. But it’s a dialogue, and to do it… To make this sound like a dialogue without having me sound like I’m… You can’t sound like a know-it-all. It’s like supposition. Everything that’s throw out of court, this is what this is. This is pure supposition. Hah. But it’s not. [LAUGHS]
Appelbaum: But this is just journey we’re talking about.
Appelbaum: This is not judgment.
Appelbaum: We’re not evaluating this.
Shorter: Yeah. It’s something to think on. Because when we read a book, a book that you’re kind of enjoying and it’s very interesting, you don’t stop and say, “I want to change this; I would write this this way.” You let it go… It depends on what you’re reading, too.
Appelbaum: Do you analyze, when you listen to music, or read, or walk the streets…
Appelbaum: …or just respond?
Shorter: I don’t know. Maybe a little analytical stuff goes. But it has to be… The analytical thing has to be part of a fabric…which they’re saying that Space is supposed to be now. Like a fabric of… The analytical thing has to be attached to something else, like the door, the hinge or something, then something else has a function within. I know what it is. It’s a thousand… They say “three thousand realms in a momentary existence.” Three thousand realms in a momentary existence. Which my life condition contains (if you’re going to put a number to it) ten…no, nine…no, ten. Sometimes in the condition of Hell, Hunger, Animality, Rapture… There’s a place called… Like, when you’re studying, you say, “Put the food under the door! I’m busy! I’m making a monster!” Then there’s another one that there’s an aspiration for, and that’s Altruism, Aspiration for Enlightenment, and Enlightenment. But when you’re in Hell… Hell is a condition… Hell is circumstances. The other… There’s ten. I think that’s it. The other nine exist in each one.
So the number, 3,000, in the momentary… It’s a moment where your hellish condition can be enlightened. Don’t try to convert your evil nature, or the Devil as they say… Make demons and devils your allies. How do you do that? You say, “Well, it seems like…” We call it hendoku-iyaku, “turning poison to medicine.” Don’t try to avoid the poison. Turn it to medicine. “That sounds like tai-chi to me!” Heh. But it’s really something when you try to say “it’s not like tai-chi.” [LAUGHS]
Appelbaum: When you listen to music or look at art or watch a film, what are you listening for, what are you watching, what are you looking at?
Shorter: You know what I’m listening for? Struggle and victory. Struggle and victory and overcoming. Or also, there’s investigation. Or a question mark. A question mark in music… I’m listening for something that’s saying, “No beginning, no end.” The words “beginning” and “end” to me are like crutches, tools. They’re artificial. They’re to be used. Not to those ends, though. Or those beginnings. They’re to use, but not to use us.
Appelbaum: Isn’t it human nature to create resolution?
Shorter: Yeah. To create resolution only when you really know the value that exists within that resolution. When you’re creating value… Creating value… The truth means nothing unless the truth can be made…you can make value of the truth. When you know you’re creating value, you will always be greeted with great resistance. Like ….(?—52:56)…. say, it’s value for you to go home after a long trip, and MMMM, “there’s a snowstorm, we’re going to have to land in Shannon, Ireland, for the night; we’ll pay for your overnight hotel.” “Oh, man, it’s Christmas—I want to go home!” Or the guy… I have the movie, The Black Box, the guy who invented motion pictures, with Robert Donat. Heh… I just have the Powell stuff. I can play Powell stuff now. He died at the end, at a big meeting with these businessmen, they took the patent and everything, and this old man came in there… He said, “You are talking business, but make sure you have this invention; take it to your hearts…” “Sit down, old man!” The guy, “Shh, sit down and hear what he has to say.” “Take this invention to your hearts with this business and everything.” They got kind of quiet. Then he walked a few steps, and fell down and died. This is the end.
Laurence Olivier was in this movie for five minutes. He wanted to be in this movie. And 60 other… Glynis Johns, a whole bunch of people. So they…to see who he is, they went in his pockets and they said, “Hmmm, I don’t know who he is. What did he have?” They said, “Two tickets to a theater.”
Then they made an American version of that, and the guy died at the end, the same guy, and they found 37 cents in his pockets. He had a hole in his pocket. They said 37 cents. At the end there was a catch. As the credits were going up at the end they said, “At this time 37 cents was the sum total of the human body when…” What do you call it? Cremated. The ashes and the elements and the minerals cost 37 cents.
That’s what I’m looking for in music. I’m looking for the 37 cents. I’m looking for… Somebody can say, “Hmm….was this guy born with a silver spoon in his mouth, the way he’s writing?” It’s the intention… You can’t be judging all the time. The intention… I’m looking for chance-taking. Not just breaking the rules. Breaking the rules is different from taking chances.
Appelbaum: What’s the difference?
Shorter: Like, you can hear somebody… You can hear “Happy Birthday” a certain way, “happy birthday,” and there’s taking chances, and then you can hear something, [SINGS ATONAL LINE] — that’s breaking the rules. You hear “Happy Birthday” done in a way… Taking chances. It also depends on who’s doing “Happy Birthday.” You say, “I never thought he would do that.” Or she. “It’s kinda nice… It’s different, isn’t it.” He had some altered chords; one little altered chord right there… Hey! It’s something that knocks all of us off our little pedestal, and it’s a long time between those knocks.
It’s almost like when you’re looking for a wife [SLAPS TABLE]. That’s what you’re looking for. I mean, to remember how it is to look for a wife, or the genuine… You always say that, “I’m looking for the…” Ridley Scott should start Prometheus at the end. That shouldn’t be the beginning. “Where is she going? That’s where I want to go!” But I think Prometheus was a bunt so he can knock the ball out of the park for the next one. He ain’t dumb. Neither is Charlize Theron, heh-heh.
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Thanks to Ken Kimery at the Smithsonian Oral History Program, and to Ted Panken for transcribing.