Jazz Great Wayne Shorter, Who Collaborated With Miles Davis To Steely Dan, Dies At 89

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Jazz Musician and composer Wayne Shorter, who died March 2, is photographed on Oct. 8, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Wayne Shorter, the influential jazz innovator whose lyrical, complex jazz compositions and pioneering saxophone playing sounded through more than half a century of American music, has died. He was 89.

Shorter died Thursday in Los Angeles, a representative for the musician said. No cause of death was given. A Facebook post announced: “Today at 4am, Wayne Shorter peacefully continued on his immense journey into the unknown. He was surrounded by loving family. In his words, ‘It’s time to go get a new body and come back to continue the mission.,”

Shorter, a tenor saxophonist, made his debut in 1959 and would go on to be a foundational member of two of the most seminal jazz groups: Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the Miles Davis Quintet.

Over the next eight decades, Shorter’s wide-spanning collaborations would include co-founding the ’70s fusion band Weather Report, some 10 album appearances with Joni Mitchell and further explorations with Carlos Santana and Steely Dan – his minute-long solo is a highlight of the title track of 1977’s Aja.

Shorter continued to make live appearances until at least 2019. The final gig reported to Pollstar was Sept. 25, 2019 at London jazz club Mirth, Marvel and Maud – which closed its doors in January. Prior to that, he appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival California 10 days earlier.

In his later years, he was still a fixture at some of the world’s most notable jazz festivals, including those at Detroit, Tokyo, Montreaux, Playboy Jazz, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and many more. 

Many of Shorter’s textured and elliptical compositions — including “Speak No Evil,” “Black Nile,” “Footprints,” and “Nefertiti” — became modern jazz standards and expanded the harmonic horizons of jazz across some of its most fast-evolving eras.

Herbie Hancock once said of Shorter in Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet: “The master writer to me, in that group, was Wayne Shorter. He still is a master. Wayne was one of the few people who brought music to Miles that didn’t get changed.”

As a band leader, Shorter released more than 25 albums. He won 11 Grammy awards and in 2015 was given a lifetime achievement Grammy. He was also a Kennedy Center Honors recipient in 2018, alongside fellow honorees Philip Glass, Cher and Reba McEntire.