Jazz Great Shorter the Subject of New Book

by Dan Ouellette
January 15, 2005

NEW YORK (Billboard) - In her book "Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter" (Tarcher/Penguin), Michelle Mercer captures the musical and spiritual essence of one of jazz's living legends.

Mercer's book, which Tarcher/Penguin published Dec. 29, is the first biography of Shorter. After noteworthy sideman gigs with Art Blakey and Davis (the trumpeter's monumental '60s quintet), Shorter co-founded fusion band Weather Report with Joe Zawinul and then devoted himself to a solo career that continues to be vital today.

Mercer says the saxophonist inspires a "deep kind of fun," which led his one-time bandleader and mentor Miles Davis to "pass the baton to him" shortly before he died.

"Wayne has always been elusive, enigmatic and sometimes difficult to approach," says the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Mercer, who gained Shorter's trust after filing stories on him for the New York Times and NPR. "I had to go into the stratosphere with him before getting him to come back to Earth. I'm originally from Kansas, so it was as if I clicked my heels three times and ended up in Oz with Wayne."


This trusting relationship allowed Mercer to interview Shorter's closest friends. "They are very protective of Wayne," she says, noting that it took several attempts to interview Joni Mitchell. "Finally Joni called me at 11 p.m. and said she was ready to talk. We talked for four hours, and it was amazing. Everything she said was so poetic and had so much philosophical insight that I quoted her throughout the book."

Other interviewees include Sonny Rollins, Ron Carter, Carlos Santana and Herbie Hancock, who also contributes the foreword. In it he writes of his best friend of 40 years: "I listen to what Wayne says now like I used to listen to the great Miles Davis. None of their words is wasted; none of their notes is wasted, either."

While Mercer was writing "Footprints" (named after one of Shorter's best-known compositions), producer Richard Seidel was independently working on a careerlong compilation of Shorter's works. Spanning four decades, from his early days with Blakey's Jazz Messengers to his "1 + 1" duo project with Hancock and a live performance of his current quartet, the two-CD "Footprints: The Life and Music of Wayne Shorter" was released Nov. 16 by Columbia/Legacy.

The collection, gleaned from five record labels, includes performances with Davis and Weather Report, as well as tracks with Steely Dan ("Aja") and Mitchell ("The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines"). The album, according to Shorter, "represents the DNA of my full life and work. Those who listen closely will hear a sample of the whole story here."

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