Getting “out of the box” with Wayne Shorter

Have you ever noticed that although Wayne Shorter is often called “the greatest living jazz composer,” only a small portion of his tunes are commonly played?

Sure, the tunes from his classic Blue Note album Speak No Evil are jam session staples, but other tunes, like “Dolores,” “Orbits,” and “Water Babies” receive little or no attention in this regard. And Shorter himself seems to either perform the tunes of his that no one else plays, or else alters his famous ones beyond recognition.

Why is this?

For one thing, Shorter views his compositions as works in progress. In interviews, he’s spoken about how there is no moment when he considers a tune to be “finished.” They’re always subject to change, from day-to-day, year-to-year, and decade-to-decade.

Seen in this light, it makes sense that the tunes of his that everyone plays, like “Speak No Evil,” “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum,” “E.S.P” are the ones that have been published and made readily available in a “definitive” version. Want to play “E.S.P?” Great! Let’s open the Real Book and look at the chords and melody! Same with “Witch Hunt.” But “Dolores?” Whoaa!!! Wait a minute! The Real Book’s chords don’t look correct and Shorter’s two recorded versions (with Miles and VSOP) are completely different.

Even “Footprints,” Shorter’s most widely-played tune, perplexes many players. “What exactly are the chords in measures 17-20???” There are so many versions of these measures, several by Shorter himself, that at the very least it needs to be discussed before playing. (Or listened to with careful ears during the performance.)

Shorter himself isn’t interested in clearing this up, either. In his two volumes of officially-published music, Shorter supplied the publishers with leadsheets that in some cases were missing chord changes. He’s being vague on purpose, because he wants us to go along with him on his voyage of discovery.

While making my video series Journey Through The Real Book, I found myself nearing the 95th tune in the book, Shorter’s “Dolores,” with some trepidation. There are very few cover versions of the tune, and with good reason. We all want to put tunes in a “box” so we know what to play, and there’s no “box” to “Dolores.” (Although some have tried to fit it in a box!)

So how do we play a tune like this?

I’m happy to report that facing this challenge head-on enabled me to come to a way of playing not only “Dolores” but Shorter’s music in general in a way that I wouldn’t have thought possible for me just a few years ago. I explain it all on the video, which I think is unique on the internet in how it presents an approach to Wayne Shorter’s music that I feel is aligned with his own approach.

Although this video took 20 minutes to make, it really took me 3 decades to prepare for. If you’re interested in Wayne Shorter’s music, set aside 20 minutes or so and check it out. It’s a personal milestone for me and I hope it inspires you in every good way.

Here it is:
Dolores: Journey Through The Real Book #95

Wayne Shorter’s life and music reminds us that we are indeed on a great journey, and that we can let the music flow in ways that we’ve never previously imagined possible!

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