Saturday, February 05, 2005

Book Review - Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter by Michelle Mercer

This is the first book length biography of the great composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. This book was made with Shorter's permission and he was interviewed at length as well as several colleagues and family members. The book follows Shorter's life and career in chronological order starting with his growing up fascinated with science fiction and film and translating those images into his budding musical talent. The book moves on to his years as sideman with Art Blakey and Miles Davis and chronicles his development as one of the most renowned jazz composers. Also during this period, he recorded his well regarded solo albums for Blue Note and began his study of Buddhism which was to become a major theme in the book.

After the breakup of the Davis band, Shorter became involved in a 14 year collaboration with Joe Zawinul in the fusion band Weather Report. Mercer traces the history of the group as well as some of the personal troubles that Shorter was dealing with during this period. Eventually Zawinul came to dominate the group and the creative spark left the band. Shorter resumed his solo career in the late 80's to mixed reviews as he tried to reconcile the fusion of Weather Report with the acoustic jazz of his past and the world music that fascinated him. Another tragedy tested him in the late 90's as his wife was killed in the TWA 800 flight lost off the coast of Long Island. Mercer details how his Buddhist faith helped him overcome the grief of the loss and the eventual triumphal emergence of his acoustic band with Danilo Perez, John Patatucci and Brian Blade.

This book is well written and although it can really only offer a glimpse of Shorter's lengthy career, it is an interesting one. Non musicians need not be scared away because what musical analysis there is written in layman's terms. Shorter is a fascinating character and one of the most important musicians and composers in jazz history and his book should be read by anyone interested in his work.

Send comments to: Tim