Wayne Shorter Interview
He is a living legend swathed in mystique and an omnipresent cheshire cat grin. He speaks in odd, elliptical analogies and similies. And he has a decided penchant toward science fiction while peppering his conversation with references to classic movies from Hollywood’s Golden Era. It’s why his Newark, New Jersey schoolmates coined the phrase “as weird as Wayne to describe the young Wayne Shorter.
As Michelle Mercer writes in her excellent new biography, “Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter (Tarcher/Penguin Books): “The Shorters (Wayne and his trumpet playing older brother Alan) reveled in their social estrangement: Wayne painted “Mr. Weird on his horn case, Alan put “Doc Strange on his. They embraced their band’s marginal status after hearing bebop demonized by radio DJs, who excluded it from their playlists. They resolved to make the same ‘chaotic’ and ‘disturbed’ music that Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Bud Powell were making across the river. “We’d play at the YMCA and we’d make like a dollar fifty, Wayne said. “There’d be ten people there. And even they’d go home saying you can’t dance to this bebop. But we were dedicated and modern. And we’d take chances.
Mercer further reports that the Shorter brothers would arrive on stage carrying their horns in shopping bags, having deliberately left their “bourgeois horn cases at home. And they proudly played by ear. “To flaunt that talent, writes Mercer, “the Shorters unfolded copies of the New York Daily News and placed them on their music stands in lieu of sheet music — their sound was so fresh, it was taken from the day’s headlines.‿ And as Shorter tells Mercer, “Earlier that day we moistened our suits and crumpled them up so they’d be wrinkled, for that devil-may-care effect. We thought bop players had to look that way. We even wore galoshes — and you know it wasn’t rainin’ outside. Apparently, Alan enhanced the zany effect of his attire by donning a dandy’s white-and-gray kid gloves, putting them on one finger at a time with exaggerated slowness. Finally, the musicians perched themselves on backward-facing folding chairs and began to play.
From his beginnings as “Weird Wayne in Newark, Shorter would graduate to the ranks of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, eventually becoming the musical director of that illustrious straight ahead outfit (which during Wayne’s tenure from 1959-1964 included such great players as trumpeters Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard, trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianists Bobby Timmons and Cedar Walton, bassists Jymie Merritt and Reggie Workman). He later became an important catalyst and key composer for the great Miles Davis quintet of the ‘60s, contributing such memorable compositions as “E.S.P., “Footprints,“Masqualero, “Nefertitti, “Pinocchio, “Sanctuary and “Fall to the Miles oeuvre.
In 1970, Shorter co-founded the group Weather Report with keyboardist and Miles Davis alum, Joe Zawinul. It remained the premier fusion group through the ’70s and into the early ’80s before disbanding in 1985 after 16 acclaimed recordings, including 1980’s Grammy Award-winning double-live LP set, 8:30. Shorter formed his own group in 1986 and produced a succession of electric jazz albums for the Columbia label: 1986’s Atlantis, 1987’s Phantom Navigator, 1988’s Joy Ryder. He re-emerged on the Verve label with 1995’s High Life, an orchestral project created on synthesizers in tandem with keyboardist Rachel Z. After the tragic loss of his wife in 1996 (she was aboard the ill-fated Paris-bound flight TWA 800), Shorter returned to the scene with 1997’s 1+1, an intimate duet recording with pianist and former Miles Davis quintet bandmate Herbie Hancock. The two spent 1998 touring as a duet and by the summer of 2001 Wayne began touring as the leader of a talented young lineup featuring pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade, each a celebrated recording artist and bandleader in his own right. The group’s uncanny chemistry was well documented on 2002’s acclaimed Footprints Live!
As a followup to 2003’s ambitious, double Grammy Award-winning studio recording Alegria, Shorter returns with another exhilarating live document that captures the risk-taking chemistry of his celebrated quartet on tour. Recorded at concerts in Europe, Asia, and North America from November 2002 to April 2004, Beyond the Sound Barrier continues the remarkable group-think and deconstructivist aesthetic that Shorter established with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade on 2002’s acclaimed Footprints Live!, Shorter’s first all-acoustic foray since his early ’60s Blue Note years and his first-ever live recording.
BILL MILKOWSKI: It seems like the message of this record — in the titles alone — is about going beyond, thinking beyond.
WAYNE SHORTER: Yeah, beyond a sound profession, having a sound profession, beyond sound advice, taking sound advice, going beyond faith in sound. It’s like, “You’re not gonna marry this musician, you need a doctor…someone with a sound profession. Now you go get your education and hook up with a doctor or lawyer… something sound. Well, I’m going to go beyond this. I recently got one of Stephen Hawking’s tapes where he’s talking to the science fiction writer Gregory Bedford, and he’s saying, “I want to talk about boundaries in space, and you get chills. People might think of the end of space almost like the end of life. But then, you come to the conclusion that there’s no such thing as beginning or end. So those words, they’re kind of artificial in a sense. And a lot of people give their lives for something that’s artificial or an illusion. And illusions can hit you in the face harder than what you think reality is. The reality of it is that it is an illusion, and it’s ass-kicking to know that. Sometimes to die and then continue later on with greater wisdom, to say, “Oh, man! Now I know about how I learned that lesson.
BM: Even in your dedications on the inner sleeve of the cd, they’re all people who went beyond their own limitations.
WS: Yes, I have a dedication on this record to Stephen Hawking because he went beyond the barrier of his own body, denying himself the length of time that anyone in his condition should have. And he broke past that. It’s also dedicated to Dr. Linus Pauling, who discovered the double helix and DNA, and to the guy who invented the traffic light — Gary Morgan. He invented the traffic system throughout the planet. And there’s a dedication to Henrietta Brodkrany, a black lady who did experiments in her kitchen sink years ago with the idea of submarines and torpedoes, though they denied her a patent. That was around the time that J.P. Morgan was coming along, buying up all of Nikolas Tesla’s patents because he didn’t have any money, and then shooting it over to Thomas Edison, credit-wise. And then there was Dr. Vivian Thomas at John Hopkins, who was a pioneer in treatment of blue baby syndrome. And there was a lady who flew during World War I, Bessy Coleman. She was denied her pilot’s license because she was a black woman, so she went and flew for France. And then I also dedicate the record to my man Chris Reeves…ol’ Caped One…for his stem cell advocacy.
BM: I’m very interested in the tune “Adventures on the Golden Mean?
WS: Well, I know that a lot of people equate the Golden Mean with something called the middle way, in the middle…something like that. But I was investigating even further that the Golden Mean is neither captive to the right, left, east, west, north, south or the middle. It is attached to no extreme. That’s a place to try to get to in freedom of thought and choice and all that stuff.
BM: The Golden Mean refers to a pattern that is found in nature — in nautilus shells, stars in the universe, in our bodies. It’s this very potent point of creation found in nature and in the human body itself which artists like DaVinci and Debussy have referred to.
WS: Yeah! That’s it! And that’s a place…and I think it has nothing to do with an almighty power or nothing like that…but it’s a place that we have inside us that’s just asleep a little sleep. I guess we can say that evolution is taking care of that. But there’s a whole lot of us. I used to wonder why there were so many people on the planet. And I figured, “Oh, that means that there’s that many more chances to evolve.
BM: That’s a profound concept to address in a record.
WS: Yeah, and I’m thinking of it like a spaceship called The Golden Mean. It’s like a lot of kids on there flying around, having a good time — “Adventures Aboard the Golden Mean. And they’re going somewhere along the Golden Mean. And I thought, “Wow! Somebody got away! We’re all gonna get away at some point. We’re all going there. Life is so mysterious, to me. I can’t stop at any one thing to say, “Oh, this is what it is and I think it’s always becoming, always becoming and that’s the adventure. And people when they don’t have any money they say, “What can we do to have some fun without any money? That imagination is part of that adventure, until you get to the place where you attract the money that you need and you’re grown up enough and adult enough to know how to take care of the money so that it takes care of you and takes care of other people, so…
BM: Well, that image you just described, about being in a spaceship, going on an adventure on the Golden Mean; I got a visual image from listening to “Joy Ryder of the band riding in a roller coaster and laughing hysterically along the way.
WS: Yeah, you know, Michelle who wrote the book [the aforementioned “Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter], she looked it up and apparently there’s an asteroid called Joy Ryder…some kind of asteroid that moves mishievously, elusively through space. It’s a large one too. She found this astronomy book called “Joy Ryder, which goes on and on about this asteroid.
BM: Talk about this band and how it’s evolved…what kind of feelings you have about the group starting out and how you’ve all gone through this great adventure together and where you’ve come out.
WS: Oh yeah…there’s one thing I’ve noticed from the beginning when we first got together, and that is that nobody dwells on things in the past or things that are happening in their personal lives, like other musicians sometimes do. These guys, they all have that kind of forward-looking thing about them. And we have a good chemistry off the stage too. We’re always writing down names of movies that we’re going to get. And I’ve seen a lot and hard about a lot of movies…I’m a little older and everything…so they’re writing down names of movies, black and white ones, like Random Harvest with Ronald Coleman and Greer Garson. And we also talk about books and stuff like that. So they’re collecting things, and I’m getting stuff that they talk about, that they like. It’s an interaction and sharing which I think…it’s nice for countries to follow through on that. I know that countries do that sometime but they don’t follow through.
BM: Any comments about the two tunes that you had recorded in the ‘80s, “Over Shadow Hill Way and “Joy Ryder.
WS: Well, since I don’t believe in the words ‘beginning’ or ‘end,’ then nothing is finished. In reality there are things that are put aside but not finished. Take Gustav Mahler. I know he used to go back and look at stuff he was writing when he was a kid and then develop it in his adult years. Beethoven too, and Mozart. Some music has the degree for evolving. I’m thinking now about developing “Nefertiti with an orchestra. And I’m thinking that some day there’s going to be orchestras where they will improvise. They’ll be able to improvise and of course read music, but they’ll have the facility to hear each other and react immediately to what they’re hearing. And they’ll have the ear training to decipher many, many things at once. In fact, I heard in Ann Arbor there was a chamber group doing just that. They played the first two or three bars of “Daphnes & Chole and then they went somewhere else with it. They weren’t looking at the music, they were just improvising away. So I’d like to be able to explore that with an orchestra in developing some of my older pieces like “Nefertiti. And I know some critics will say, “Improvisation is not really studied music, it’s like cheating. And they say, “Improvisation is not composing. But I say composing is writing something down, then you change your mind, you get the white out, you change this, change that, change that. Who’s really cheating? This guy, the composer, can cheat all day long. How about write down the first thing that you have in mind and never change it? So it’s all relative…uh, thank you Albert Einstein. Thanks Al (laughs). By the way, I saw him one time walking across the lawn at Princeton University when I was 18 years old.
BM: Who? Einstein?
WS: Yeah. He had this ski cap on and his white hair coming down. We were unloading our instruments for a dance that we were going to play there and this guy who was helping us unload suddenly said, “Oh, I’m gonna be late for my class! There’s my teacher. I gotta beat him to the classroom before he gets there and I said, “Who’s your teacher? And he said, “Albert Einstein and then took off in a flash. And I kept watching him as he disappeared in an archway, and I said, “That’s Al. Big Al! (laughs) And that memory stayed with me.
BM: Oh yeah, I guess that would.
WS: But you know, I want my music to connect with people. People say it’s getting a little too high falutin’ for marketing, a little too cerebral and all that. I’m thinking that I want this music to just hit people, so if they get a chance to hear more of it, they’ll get it. This music is saying that someone who’s not famous is just as important as kings and presidents. Yeah, this is music for the common folk and it keeps us human. Back when I was 15…hearing Charlie Parker and Dizzy and all them in the high school…we played a little bit of that music and people would say, “It’s far out, it’s too deep, too technical. I recently played “Koko and “Confirmation to a person who never heard Charlie Parker before and she said, “Sounds like he’s talkin’ to us. And I’m thinking, “Wow, here’s a real 21st century person. We need more people like her. I know what the marketing of music has been, historically…basically trying to get the formula for what works. But I’ve been trying to avoid all that…the labels and categories…and just play music.
BM: I was interested to hear that you included a version of that Felix Mendelsohn, “On Wings of a Song, on the new album.
WS: Yeah, I still lived in California then, around 1995. I was driving, coming home, and I started hearing this melody in my head…and I was thinking about movies I saw. There would be like a western movie with the fort, the union soldiers, and they have a ball, and there’s be a waltz and it’d be like John Wayne dancing with Maureen O’Hara or somebody like that…and this song would be playing. And they’d have dialogue going over it. And I’m listening to it, and I stopped the car and found a piece of paper and wrote down the first few notes so I wouldn’t forget that I thought about it. And the same thing happened with “Smilin’ Through. I saw that movie with Jeanette MacDonald and in it there’s this an old Irish song called “Smilin’ Through. That movie is something. It’s with Brian O’Hearn…he did some movies with Bette Davis way back and he’d play like school professors in Scotland and Ireland and all that…real distinguished looking guy, just like Roland Coleman but in another way. And what got me about the movie was it starts with a wedding…a wedding was in progress and the minister’s asking the bride, “Do you take this man? And the camera goes up into the balcony and there’s the rejected suitor up there with a gun. And she instinctively turns around and jumps in front of her groom…husband to be. And the guy shoots and the bride dies immediately. And the movie opens like that. And the groom, who is Brian O’Hearn, goes through the whole movie getting older and older, never married. He teaches or something like that. And he sits in the garden and sees her ghost visiting him every weekend, and they talk. And she’s waiting for him, still in a bridal gown. You can see through her and all that. But their little girl….the bride had a sister who had a child and the sister was killed in the war so the groom became the guardian of the little girl. And as she grows up, she looks just like the bride he was gonna marry. And then she falls in love with the son of the guy who shot her aunt. But she’s at the piano and she plays this song, “Smilin’ Through. Like, whenever a tragedy comes, can you smile through it? And that song stuck with me.
BM: Well, that also seems like that pretains to your own life too, considering what you’ve had to smile through in recent years.
WS: People ask me, how can I laugh since the tragedy of TWA and my wife. Uh, you know, I laugh and do things because I know it’s not over. She’s dead but we’re gonna see each other again.
WS: What about “As Far As The Eye Can See. Is that a new piece?
WS: Yeah, it’s actually a development from “Go from the Footprints Live album. It’s a development of that tune. It’s like a tag that becomes a piece of music.
BM: So there was a reference to it on Footprints Live?
WS: No, there’s no reference to it. You only hear it one time…there’s only like two measures and it stops, but this one takes on a whole other harmonic thing and it’s more of an experience of the eye…how much or how far are you willing to see? People who say they don’t feel this or that kind of music — they don’t feel classical or they don’t feel country, or all they feel is country…all they want is the safety zone or comfort zone, what they can relate to and everything. Well, I say, if your feelings are only red, blue and yellow, how far can you extend yourself in a world that needs extending today? I mean, I’m not even worrying about Arabic. You better start studying Chinese on top of it. (laughs).
BM: “Tinkerbell sounds like it’s something generated spontaneously on the bandstand.
WS: Yeah, that’s something that came out in one piece with the bow and the piano and the fact that Brian (Blade) contributed by not putting all percussion in there every moment. As Miles would say…he would consider somebody valuable when they knew when not to play. If you could do that, Miles would say, “You’re good, man, and then walk right by you and keep walkin’. And you’d say to him, “What? What’d you say? Miles liked that when you’d say, “What’d you say? Because he’d kept walkin’ and he’d say to the bartender, “Get him a champagne. What you drinkin’ Wayne? My drinking days are over but I had more fun with Miles than anybody…those years with Miles. The short time that I was with Coltrane, when he invited me to his house, we had another kind of fun because he would get into talking about philosophy. I had one little talk with Lester Young one time up at the Town Tavern on Young Street in Toronto. I had a little time left in the Army so they let me go on a vacation and I went up there and Lester was playing. During the intermission, the place was packed…this was in my drinking days. I had my gangster suit on — paisley tie, pinstripe suit — and I’m trying to get to the bar. You know, waiting your turn, six people deep. And suddenly this finger tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around and looked and it was Lester Young. And he said to me, “You look like you’re from New York. His voice was real slow. And he said, “Whatchu drinkin’? and I told him, “Cognac. And he said, “Let’s go down in the wine cellar and get some REAL cognac. So we went downstairs where the barrels were and he got these big water glasses and filled the up with cognac. And as he was talking, I was getting ripped. But you know, just standing there talkin’ with Lester Young…I don’t remember what he was saying or what I was saying…we didn’t talk about music or what I played. But I was just checking him out the whole time he was talking. Then we went up the stairs and he went to do his next set, and all I could think was, “That was Lester Young! I started listening to him closely after that. I had heard him earlier, when I was 15. He was late coming to the theatre for a Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in Newark. He had the pork pie hat and everything and we were trying to figure out how to get into the theater from the fire escape around the back. So we finally got into the mezzanine and saw that whole show — with the Stan Kenton and Dizzy Gillespie bands…both bands together doing “Peanut Vendor, and Charlie Parker with strings doing “Laura and stuff like that. And Russell Jacquet…Ilinois Jacquet, he was blowing up a storm at that concert too. The whole thing was so amazing to me. I was just 15 and in that moment I decided, “Hey, man, let me get a clarinet. So seeing that concert is what got me started on clarinet. I ended up getting one when I was 16, and that’s when I started music.
BM: Tell us about Sonny Rollins. You must’ve met him early on when you were coming up in Newark as a young player.
WS: I met him when I was on a weekend furlough from the Army. It was right after Clifford Brown died and Kenny Dorham was playing with Sonny. And it was at a place called Sugar Hill, up the street from where I lived in Newark on Broad Street. And Max Roach was playing the drums. Max saw me come in with my Army suit on and he was still playing something like “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing or something like that. We…the guys in Newark…used to call it “Love is A Many A Splendoed Thing. We had a band called The Jazz Informers in Newark. So Max was playing and he looked at me, and he waved his drumstick at me, saying, “Come on up, come on up. So I pointed to my uniform and then pointed to the door, indicating that I was going home to change into civilian clothes. I just lived around the corner. So I went back home, changed into civilian clothes and brought my horn. And then they called me up on the bandstand. See, I had met Max at Cafe Bohemia just before I went into the Army. I had gone down to hear music, I said, for the last time in my life. I had my draft notice in my back pocket when I walked into the club. That’s when I met Max. He said, “You’re the kid from Newark, huh? You’re the Flash, the Newark Flash. (laughs) And he asked me to play with him then. And oh man, it was just before a lot of those guys moved to Europe. Art Taylor was on the drums, Oscar Pettiford on cello. They were changing drummers throughout the night — Art Blakey, Max Roach, Art Taylor. Jimmy Smith came in the door with his organ. He drove to the club with his organ in a hearse. And outside we heard that Miles was looking for somebody named Cannonball. And I’m saying to myself, “All this stuff is going on and I gotta go to the Army in about five days!‿ So Max remembered me when I was in the Army and took that furlough and he calls me up to the bandstand. They started off with “Cherokee…REAL FAST. I had this Martin sax, which had a high pitched sound; almost sounded like an alto. And there was a guy there named Pete Lonesome who had a Nagra tape recorder. He recorded that whole set. I played only that one number with them…and man …he recorded it and to this day some people are still looking for Pete Lonesome with this Nagra tape, you know? So when I finished playing Sonny said to me, “Did you ever think about getting a mouthpiece made? A custom-made mouthpiece? And he said, “Call Otto Link down in Florida. He’ll fix you up. That was cool. Sonny was really cool.
BM: Do you remember the first thing that you heard by Sonny on record?
WS: I can’t remember. But I was about 15 going on 16 when I first heard him. I heard Sonny and then Ike Quebec and then Charlie Rouse…but I wasn’t analyzing anything then. All I can remember was hearing them and then knowing that Sonny had something that was really happening. He had a lot of rhythm and all this stuff, and he would leap out at things and take it and express something. So you would see the actual force, you’d feel that statement that Sonny made; in a certain way like Charlie Parker did too.
BM: So you didn’t really analyze his playing?
WS: No, I never really analyzed it. I never hardly even talked about it but it was just a feeling. Like right now I have a cd of Coltrane talking and playing. And I also have a cd of Charlie Parker giving music lessons to a young student. And what Charlie Parker says to the young student — Charlie plays and then the young student plays, and he’s playing scales and everything. And the student says, “You mean, Mr. Parker, I have to memorize all these scales, all these things? And Bird — he had that deep voice — says, “Yes, but if you can play within your mind! With Sonny, I never really met him until that time at Sugar Hill shortly after Clifford Brown died, but I was listening to him all through the years. He was always there; he had that excitement and that full sound. In other words, what I liked about Sonny was he had that full sound all the way up and down the horn. The high range and the low range of his horn was full — as full as you can be, you know? And only a few people had that — Trane and a lot of the old guys had that. Nowadays guys are whistling on the tenor, playing the high register notes and overtones on the tenor. And that’s getting up in the soprano range. But Sonny’s content was alway like a full meal — the meat and potatoes and salad and everything there.
BM: Any techniques or musical devices that he uses to create this distinctive sound?
WS: No, I think he just worked at it from a young age. Someone asked Trane what was it like when he played with Monk at the Five Spot and he would go out of the form of what Monk’s music was…Misterioso or “Straight No Chaser or whatever it was. And Trane said Monk would leave the bandstand and go sit in the audience and enjoy himself listening to Trane going out with Wilbur Ware playing bass. And then the question was asked, “Is it legitimate to go off on your own tangent or something like that? They asked Trane, “What is it like when you do that, when you go away? How do you feel about that? And he said, “You know when it’s the truth. And that’s why Monk was sitting out there having himself a good time. He said, “Now I get a chance to hear some music. I used to say this all the time: “Nobody entertains the entertainer. As Red Buttons used to say at the Friars Club Roast…he’d say, “Moses. He parted the Red Sea. Never had a dinner! And he goes on with all these great people…Never had a dinner! Now Red Buttons got some rhythm.
BM: Timing is everything…laying back just a bit before he delivers the punch line.
BM: Do you have any favorite Sonny Rollins records?
WS: No, I don’t…just the whole total of Sonny Rollins. I don’t have many records in my house. I have Sonny’s music in my pores, in my body, in my entity. It’s like when people fight about the word ‘jazz’ and what jazz is supposed to sound like and everything. I know what jazz is supposed to sound like. To me, the word ‘jazz’ means going ahead….the whole development of democracy. Jazz is democracy in progress. It’s a work in progress. And what jazz is supposed to sound like…people are getting tied up with and involved with formality rather than substance…formality and familiarity.
BM: Well, you mentioned earlier that you liked the tunes when Sonny conveyed a sense of humor. So I’m thinking that maybe you liked that album Way out West.
WS: Oh yeah, that one! People say there’s not enough humor in jazz today. There’s a whole history of guys who had some comedy in their music, like Sonny Rollins with Three Little Words and stuff like that.
BM: “I’m An Old Cow Hand.
WS: Yeah. And I like that song “South of the Border Down Mexico Way‿ that Charlie Parker did. Something should be done with it to bring it back, I think. And also another one by that alto sax player who wrote “Snakes. He’s still teaching now in New England…what’s his name? He wrote that song, “Oooh, there’s a hole up there.‿ He played with Sonny too.
BM: Jackie McLean.
WS: Yeah! Jackie Mac! He had some stuff that people had to deal with as far as him being so serious in the bebop days. And then he comes up with “Snakes and “Oooh, there’s a hole up there. Now that was unexpected. I knew Jackie when he was confronting his demons at that time, and he still kept up his sense of humor. He didn’t have that serious and almost reverent thing of, This is my art. My art is my life. Or “I’ll tune out from the rest of the world in any manner, shape or form in order to be separate from those who are not with it. You heard that expression? “Are you with it, man? As in the movie D.O.A. where Edmund O’Brien is in a jazz club and this guy is a little high and comes up to him and says, “Are you with it, man? Hilarious! The young guys in my band, we talk about this stuff and they see that that kind of humor is missing now in jazz. They don’t get a lot of that humor from where they’re coming from. When I was coming up, I could walk into a place and there’d be Jo Jones sitting at the corner with a newspaper and some drum brushes, beating out a rhythm at the end of the bar. And I’d walk in and he says, “Here’s a new Messenger. Bartender! Give this Messenger a drink on me, and he’d say all this without breaking the beat, playing brushes on a newspaper. Everytime I saw Jo Jones he always had something to say like that. And you could tell that he really dug Art Blakey and what Art was doing with the parade of young people who came through his band. So there was a built-in appreciation right there. And he’d tell somebody off when they thought they were hot stuff, whatever they played. He’d say, “You still in diapers!‿ And these singers, he’d say, “Here comes another birdie, another tweetie. Billy Eckstine had that kind of humor too. And he would duke it out with you, man. People thought he was a pretty boy and they’d challenge him, .but they were in for a surprise because Billy was handy with his fists. He’d get in a stance and all of a sudden…boom! But he was a gentleman too. I met a lot of great people in those days. I shook hands with Louis Armstrong at Birdland. I met Joe Louis at Birdland. And I knew Sugar Ray Robinson and Rocky Graziano…they’d come into Birdland together a lot. And Archie Moore, the light heavyweight champion, was a good friend. So it’s not just the music, it was the whole scene then. It was these boxers…these are the guys, man…the boxers who listened to bebop. And people like Kareem Abdul Jabbar. He had a whole bunch of records that he’d play for us once in a while when we’d visit his house, that one that burnt down in Belair.
BM: He said he knew you from when he was a teenager.
WS: Yeah! That’s right. He came to my birthday party at Birdland when he was 13 and he stayed with his father. His name was Lew Alcindor then. Later when he was with the Lakers we had about three birthday parties at our house in California for him. They brought a floor to dance on and everything…speakers and all that. And here come the whole Lakers team to party over at our house.
BM: Jaco (Pastorius) used to walk around with this basketball and told everyone that Kareem had given it to him years before. I never believed him, thinking it was just another one of Jaco’s stories. But at Elvin’s wake, Kareem confirmed that he did indeed give Jaco that ball years before when he met Jaco in Weather Report.
WS: Oh yeah!
BM: Any comments on Jaco?
WS: Yeah, Jaco played the banjo on the bass…and you take it from there.
BM: That’s an interesting way of putting it.
WS: There’s a guy playing in Joe Zawinul’s band now [Linley Marthe] who is coming right out of that tradition of playing banjo on the bass.
BM: You must have some humorous stories about Jaco?
WS: You know what? It wasn’t nothing really humorous. I think in hindsight, he in a sense wasn’t trying to be funny. He was kind of listening hard to some things but they just didn’t get through…he didn’t get a chance to follow through. Sometimes we’d be talking about something…a lot of people in the room and everybody’s talking at once and everybody getting into everything…and then Jaco would say, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! This is important! when somebody was saying something really profound. “Let’s hear that again.‿ And I liked that about him. And it wasn’t about being cute, hip or a hippie or making believe he’s Tarzan down in Florida swinging on a vine somewhere, you know. ‘Cause we were pallbearers at his funeral…Joe Zawinul and myself. Remember his father knocked on the coffin and said, “It’s not over yet.
BM: His father just passed away last November. Jaco’s son Felix is playing bass now and he’s a real monster! He’s really tall, maybe six-foot-six-inches, and he looks a whole lot like Jaco too.
WS: That shows it’s not over. Yeah, I’m thinking of a whole phalanx of people from the string section who have passed — classical, jazz and everything. Yehudi Mehuin and Paul Chambers and Doug Watkins, Jasha Heifitz, Slam Stewart, Ray Brown, Red Callendar, Teddy Kotrick, Scott LaFaro. But you know what? I don’t train in on remembering somebody with their instrument. That’s a part of disconnecting the dots. People made a history of disconnecting the dots by insisting things like, “You’re gonna specialize in this, you’re gonna study that, you’re gonna be this or that. But no, we gotta connect all the dots from the cradle from now on. And that’s learned by our parents. Some of us did a good job. I’m not putting this generation or the last generation down. There were some good people but a lot of them were shut up. That’s why I like that movie “Network, that movie. “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore. (laughs) So everytime I start talking about a person, I have to go right back to what it means in the whole scope of society. Look in the mirror. Start there.
WS: I’d like to say one thing about Miles Davis. One time he said to me, “Hey Wayne, do you get tired of playing music that sounds like music? And so I’m just trying to say, this is not really about music because it’s not mine. The notes are not mine. I can’t hold this stuff in my arms and give it some baby food and stuff. Music is reflecting how people talk and live. And as far as I’m concerned, I’m going to end the line with it. I’m 71 now, I ain’t got nuthin’ to lose. So I’m gonna laugh my way right straight to the door [death]…I call it the door. I’m gonna go right through that door laughin’ and see you on the other side! (laughs) Me and Clark Terry, you know? That’s all I’m doing with the music now. I’m saying to hell with the rules. A lot of musicians shouldn’t have to worry about protecting what I call their musical foundation. They want to be on their Ps and Qs on stage…their best foot forward, their best runs, their best whatever. But it’s OK to be vulnerable, to open oneself and take chances, and not be afraid of the unknown. And that goes for the audience-wise too. Because we’re gonna have to deal with the unexpected from now on. So that’s what I want to do with the music now — take more chances and let it happen naturally. And to me, all music, all sound…the sounds of music whatever it is — country western or jazz and all that — if I displace myself, it’s all neutral. And people should start doing that, extending beyond the sound, or what they think the sound represents: “This is music to get married by. Well, gimme some divorce music. (Laughs). Or they might say something like, “Oh, it’s too cerebral. Well, they got you from the cradle on that one.