Wayne Shorter on "Eighty-One"

Photo by Mattia Luigi Nappi
Wayne Shorter's solo over "Eighty-One" from E.S.P. (1965) surprised me the first time I heard it: raw, direct, and completely unaffected expression, which probably applies to most instances of Wayne's playing over the 50 or so years. As I've written previously, it took me a long time to accept Wayne's style of playing for what it is, which to my ears rejects certain conventional contemporary notions of great saxophone playing in favor of stylistic choices that might initially come across as a lack of technical control, but actually reveal a deep sense of wisdom and attention to detail. 

A writing analogy comes to mind, i.e., perhaps counterintuitively, it's harder to write a sentence that breaks grammatical and stylistic norms but functions effectively in its purpose than a sentence that fulfills the basic, received rules of grammar and style and succeeds. When I think of my favorite prose writers (Joan Didion, DFW), I realize how often they do things that you're generally told not to do when learning to write clean prose, such as using two conjunctions in a row (DFW's classic "but and" or even "but and so") or 'telling instead of showing' (check out how many times Joan Didion starts off a piece with some universal statement, which would otherwise make you groan if you were reading some student work, but which somehow works to convey the sense of nostalgia and whatever else she's going for). Here's the solo:

Wayne Shorter "Eighty-One" Solo Transcription - 1

Wayne Shorter "Eighty-One" Solo Transcription - 2

Today is Transcription Tuesday, of course, which is partially why I posted this particular solo; I also thought I'd briefly bring up the "Fuck Wayne Shorter" thing that happened last weekend. If you haven't yet heard about this, here's a brief summary: Alex Hoffman, a relatively young (20-something?) tenor player based in NYC posted "Fuck Wayne Shorter" on his Facebook wall, which led to a nearly 500-comment long thread that spiraled out of control from a discussion of personal aesthetic tastes into topics as diverse as the merit of Socratic dialogue, etc.. Anyway, I googled "Fuck Wayne Shorter" just now and found that this three-word utterance can be found elsewhere on the Internet: Matthew Shipp said the exact same thing in a JazzTimes article a little while back, in response to Ethan Iverson's comment that was in turn a response to something negative Shipp mentioned about Shorter's recent music ("Ethan Iverson lamented Shipp's 'truly uninformed assessments'"). And I quote:

“I don’t hold the jazz tradition in the respect that Ethan does. On one level I do—I mean, it’s the tradition. On another level, fuck all of them. And I mean that—fuck Herbie Hancock, fuck Wayne Shorter. On a certain level, fuck Louis Armstrong. I’ve had really nice conversations with Ethan, but, you know, if he wants to genuflect to these people, fine. I don’t. They were out here doing what they needed to do. They obviously have a place in history and it’s obviously deserved. But I’ve got to do what I do, I’ve got to say what I need to say to market myself the way I need to market myself, and if it means I say something that’s perceived as nasty about an icon, then I’ll do it, and I don’t really give a fuck. [Laughs.] I don’t care about them, and what does Wayne Shorter care?”
I personally don't have too much of a stand on the whole thing except that freedom of speech is pretty much guaranteed unless it violates the "clear and present danger" rule and that not everyone needs to hold the jazz tradition in high regard to play at a high level (although it's generally more socially acceptable). I noticed some musicians on Facebook mentioning a concern that this type of in-fighting in the community is less than ideal, considering how important community is for a field that receives relatively little public support, but it seems to me that this whole FWS affair is more about people's beefs with how Hoffman replied to their comments, e.g., citing Nietzsche, Kant, Freud, Lacan, and Buddha, among others, to support his personal aesthetic and moral approach to living (which isn't necessarily a bad thing)[1], and perhaps coming across as arrogant or even confrontational.

Misreadings or oversimplification w/r/t  said thinkers, though, is definitely not such a great thing, and you can imagine the fun that some slightly arrogant Harvard undergrads had looking at this thread and trying to understand where some of these philosophical assertions were coming from. On a more humorous note, a friend from totally outside the jazz world happened to take a look at the thread and mentioned that one of Hoffman's comments might make the top 10 list for best break-up lines, which I'll reprint below:
Unidentified person #1: Why are you breaking up with me? Is it me? Is it you? 
Unidentified person #2: "Again, it's not me, it's Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Wagner, Bach, Lacan, Freud, etc."
I'd say that it's not worth your time to read the entire thread, but I'd think of it more as a cautionary tale about jazz trolling, which clearly does exist.

* * * * *

In other news, my friend Paul Bloom, currently the pianist at the Brubeck institute, wanted to get the word out about a benefit concert that will take place on February 17th in Oakland, CA  for the great saxophonist Dayna Stephens, whom I greatly admire (I transcribed a bit of his playing last year) and is unfortunately wrestling with the exorbitant costs of health care for a rare kidney condition that urgently requires a kidney transplant. Please, if you've got time, take a look and support Dayna, who I reiterate is just an incredible musician and a very nice guy, having met him briefly once and also based on what others have told me. I don't normally do PSAs or ads, but I think this is really important.

[1] The thing about citing famous thinkers in a casual argument, I think, is that it can trigger some defensiveness in who you’re arguing with—especially if the other person or persons hasn’t read or isn’t super-familiar with that thinker (I realized this last year when arguing casually with roommates about all sorts of random stuff as college roommates do, like why the humanities shouldn’t be dissolved in favor of mandatory STEM-discipline training). Sort of along the lines of “I don’t want to argue with _______ (e.g., Richard Dawkins, St. Augustine), I want to argue with you!” I don’t know if I’m the only one who does this, but sometimes when I know that I want to use an idea from a specific person I’ve read, I just paraphrase what they said, which might be slightly underhanded but generally does two things (a) makes you look smart, and (b) forces your opponent to argue with _______ (e.g., Richard Dawkins, St. Augustine) without triggering that alarm, which is pretty formidable if you’re citing someone much smarter than you. It goes without saying that citing smart people shouldn’t take the place of critical thinking.


  1. Funny how complex language is: I could imagine saying "FWS" as a dismissive declaration ("gotta break from the past, man"), or as the ultimate complement, like those guys who supposedly destroyed their saxophones on first hearing Charlie Parker: "Well, FCP!" On the other hand, since Matthew Shipp already said it, Hoffman risks simply looking like a line-stealer. But I wonder how much Hoffman was doing that FWS thing just to stir up some fun.

  2. Genius is glorious but it is hard to grapple with as an aspirant on the same path.


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