Tag Archives: Aung San Suu Kyi

SUPERHERO’S SOUND

INTERVIEW

Wayne Shorter
Eternal thinker: Wayne Shorter.

IF Wayne Shorter — the composer whose musical scores Miles Davis never altered — can seem at times to be on another planet, it’s certain Captain Marvel will be at his side.

Shorter is a deep thinker and a philosopher, but the saxophonist who wrote such classics as Nefertiti, Footprints and Prince of Darkness peppers his conversation with humour and light-hearted references to superheroes.

In the 76-year-old, who in his early days played with Art Blakey, Davis and the fusion group Weather Report before forming his current acoustic quartet 10 years ago, it is easy to recognise the mischievous high school boy who played hooky 56 times so he could hear Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk play at the Adams Theatre in his home town of Newark, New Jersey.

A strict Bavarian music teacher, Achilles d’Amico, encouraged the young Shorter’s love of Parker, and introduced him to Stravinsky and Mozart.

“When I heard Dizzy Gillespie’s big band and Stravinsky and Dmitri Shostakovich, these people became to me like Batman and Robin, and Charlie Parker was like Captain Marvel,” Shorter recalls by phone from Los Angeles.

“These were interchangeable with comic-book heroes and characters in novels who would overcome things, fighting for justice and all that.”
For Shorter, a Buddhist, the struggle is to convey the “great adventure” of life through music.

“People who don’t believe in eternity think they only have one life and they have a lot of incentive to rob banks and murder if they don’t get what they want. I have decided to write music that inspires thinking about something that goes on and grows and becomes more human,” he says.

Shorter has faced his share of tragedy. His brother Alan, a trumpet player, died suddenly in 1986 of a ruptured aorta. Shorter’s second wife, Ana Maria, was killed when TWA Flight 800 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 1996.

“Tragedies, failures — these things are temporary,” he says. “But there’s something else that’s constant and indestructible. I’m trying to write music about indestructible happiness.”

He has also written about suffering and struggle. He and Herbie Hancock each won a Grammy for a piece titled Aung San Suu Kyi, in honour of the Burmese campaigner for democracy.

“That music was originally written as an exercise in advanced harmony when I was at New York University in the fifties,” Shorter says. “I found it in my piano chair after all those years and my mind went to Burma. Since its release I have received word through diplomatic channels that Aung San Suu Kyi has the album.”

Shorter says in Australia his quartet, with Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums, may play some material from the acclaimed 2005 album Beyond the Sound Barrier, but “we’re gonna surprise ourselves”.

“Because we don’t rehearse — there’s no time — people will hear moments with this group when they will think, ‘Where can they go now? What’s going on?’ It may sound like a struggle, but the challenge is to make the struggle sound good — the kind where everyone will want to jump in there and struggle with us.

“Then, out of the struggle comes Captain Marvel,” Shorter says with a laugh.
Audiences will not hear his latest, unrecorded compositions in which the quartet plays extended works with full orchestras in St Louis, Holland and France.

“When the music starts with the quartet and orchestra, that’s virgin territory right there in front of us,” Shorter says. “It’s like an astronaut jumping on to another planet. But these guys all have a lot of courage and trust.”

Shorter is impatient with musicians who want only to show off their best sides.
“Some people say I can’t play with strings, that strings don’t swing. Before Miles Davis died he asked me to write something with him for orchestra. And he said, ‘When you write something for strings, put a window in there, in the strings, so I can get out’.”

Canadian film director James Cameron is one of Shorter’s superheroes, perhaps because his alien characters highlight the way we cling to our musical tastes, resisting what may seem too foreign, deep or complex.

“You can’t worry about what the audience wants. If you did that you’d be enhancing the mechanism by which most audiences in America have been conditioned over almost 100 years … almost since the advent of radio.

“There’s a point beyond which they don’t wander and visit in music and in much of the arts,” Shorter says.

“Selling a million records was never our motivation. It would be nice to make a lot of money, but we have refused to get into the antics of payola.

“Record companies used to say, ‘We can’t market that sort of stuff that you’re doing with Weather Report’. But Art Blakey used to say, ‘You can market Wrigley’s chewing gum, but you can’t market jazz’. I’d say they won’t … let’s put it like that.”

Wayne Shorter Quartet plays The Palais on Friday, March 5 at 7.30pm. Local musicians Dave Beck, Stephen Magnusson and Scott Tinkler will open.

ROGER MITCHELL

This article was published in the Herald Sun, Melbourne, on March 5, 2010

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Stonnington Jazz — Opening Night

Vince Jones and friends

Vince Jones

Vince Jones wears his heart on his sleeve, and on Thursday night, May 14, at the opening concert of Stonnington Jazz for 2009, his heart was at bursting point. Every song demonstrated his love of the music and gratitude for the myriad musicians with whom he had performed over the years. Before the encore — and no doubt he needed a Little Glass of Wine — Vince said he had been a nervous wreck all day, but it had been “a great evening”. It had.

Festival artistic director Adrian Jackson introduced the concert to “celebrate the contribution Vince Jones has made over the past 30 years” before handing the night over to Jones, his voice and occasional horn, and 15 musicians from his past in a series of revolving line-ups. The first of those had Matt McMahon on piano, Ben Waples on bass, Simon Barker on drums, Tim Rollinson on guitar and Dale Barlow on tenor sax.

Rollinson, Waples

They began with Waltz for Debbie, with Vince (Jones sounds too formal) noting that Bill Evans’s jazz waltz called to mind thoughts of a father watching as his daughter grew from “an interest in teddy bears to Teddy Boys”. Barlow and McMahon were featured. The ballad Tenderly included a flute solo by Barlow and Vince summed it up: “Beautiful song, beautiful playing.”

The standard Let’s Get Lost moved Vince to recall the day in New York when, suffering flu and after drinking too much, he was urged by Art Blakey of the Jazz Messengers to, “Man, make a record.” And that’s how his album One Day Spent came about, featuring, among others, Dale Barlow.

Vince Jones gig

Barlow left the stage, leaving the quartet remaining to perform one of the night’s most moving numbers, We Let Them Do It, written by McMahon and Jones and inspired by peace activists around the world. Vince mentioned a few names, such as Aung San Suu Kyi, John Lennon and Nelson Mandela — “so many, yet so few”. Referring to the money spent on war rather than on education, hospitals … and jazz, Vince said the song title was accurate a lot of the time: “In the end that’s pretty much what happens.” The quartet was very strong and so were the vocals. Vince was warming to his task.

De Vries and Wilde

The next set of Vince’s comrades to join him on stage were Jex Saarelaht on piano, Doug De Vries on guitar, Allan Browne on drums, Wilbur Wilde on tenor sax and Steve Hadley on double bass. This group — some from Vince’s Tankerville Arms days, I believe — really heated things up, working together tightly on Stop This World (And Let Me Off), Can’t Afford to Live, Can’t Afford to Die (with a great Saarelaht solo) and Send Us Down More Love, on which De Vries treated us to some great playing. Wilde was restrained and not at all wild.

After the break, the line-up returned Barlow on sax and had Paul Grabowsky on piano, with Tony Floyd on drums. Again the change of personnel brought a new sound and vibe. They played The Rainbow Cake, written by Grabowsky with Jones, Don’t Jettison Everything (inspired, said Vince, by captain of the world Rupert Murdoch), with a Grabowsky solo and Floyd making his presence felt, and Let Me Please Come In, which Vince explained was a ballad about a woman who had an affair, but was trying to get back with her fellow. As Grabowsky left the stage he did not need to make up with Vince — they embraced.

Vince ran his swine flu gag past us (I rang the hot line and all I got was crackling) while Sam Keevers came to the piano, Simon Barker to the drum kit and Ben Waples to the bass. They played Doug De Vries’s moving The Nature of Power, with Vince memorably singing “it’s the power of nature, not the nature of power”. De Vries, who had been a joy to hear, left before the ensemble played Love, Love, Love, featuring Keevers, then the standard Secret Love, before which Vince confessed to having been infatuated with Doris Day’s red lips and black hair after seeing her on the screen. He was about eight. Keevers did some strumming of the piano strings before the tempo quickened, the piano teamed with drums and bass to bring rhythm to the fore and Barker entertained with a solo. Keevers departed as Wilde and Rollinson returned and Vince waxed lyrical about “wonderful creators of music”. He was right.

It was almost over, but we had a chance to sing along on What The World Needs Now, with Vince characteristically working up to the song, reminding us love was “the most important thing on this planet” and that “we’re all the result of making love”. The Malvern Town Hall was packed, but we did not sound like Welsh coal miners, as Vince promised. It was fitting to finish with Little Glass of Wine.

A toast to Vince Jones, to his assorted and many musicians, and to Stonnington Jazz.

(Pictures of the performance to follow soon)