For Wayne Shorter (1933-2023)

Photo by Robert Ascroft via Blue Note Records

The potential cannot be given or rehearsed, it has to be found. And the thing is, to find the potential of anything, all these musicians have to be courageous and humble enough to not want to flaunt their musical credentials. Sometimes you put on display things that you have learned in packages and the packages are supposed to be consumed by applause and sales, and there has to be an expectant with this package, but if no one knows what’s coming, it’s going to take as much courage for the audience to seek the unexpected as we are, thinking we are finding it, finding, finding the way to use potential.

Wayne Shorter

Words can never capture or exhaust great artistic creation, and more often than not, they distract, or worse, distort.

And what can we possibly say to add to the beauty of Wayne Shorter’s music?

If we mourn and celebrate his passing, it is because his extraordinary body of work will live on, and in some sense, through it, he will as well, along with the many musicians that created and played with him. Shorter often said that there is no beginning or end to things; they rather emerge from the cosmos, from life, only to return to it in death, in a perpetual flow of metamorphoses. In some sense, his musical life was one such journey as he moved through different jazz styles and genres, learning and playing with some of the most renowned jazz musicians of his time, while mentoring those who came after.

Without straining or forcing the analogy too much, there is a freedom to the way jazz music is played, or that it can be played by artists such as Wayne Shorter, that speaks perhaps to what anarchism could or should be – not as an ideology, but as a way of life.

Shorter’s words, that we quote above, could almost be taken as a summary of how anarchists should create: not by or through pre-planned models and ways of social life, but in the openness to a creativity of collective life that has no fixed beginning or end, but which in the moment, with each moment, aspires to the truest expression of freedom and equality, never quite knowing for sure where we are going. “Try to create how you wish the world to be for eternity; taking off the layers and becoming what we really are, eternally.” (The Guardian – 02/02/2023)

What Shorter once said of jazz, we could say of anarchism: “Jazz shouldn’t have any mandates. Jazz is not supposed to be something that’s required to sound like jazz. For me, the word ‘jazz’ means, ‘I dare you.’ The effort to break out of something is worth more than getting an A in syncopation.” … “This music, it’s dealing with the unexpected,” he adds. “No one really knows how to deal with the unexpected. How do you rehearse the unknown?” (“Wayne Shorter On Jazz”, npr music – 02/02/2013)

Wayne Shorter’s music can be more or less easily found, and it would be absurd for us to try to select anything supposedly “representative”. We limit ourselves then to sharing an excellent documentary (Wayne Shorter: The Language of the Unknown – 2013) dedicated to him and the Wayne Shorter Quartet, as well as a recording of the Paris concert that the documentary centred around (November 3rd, 2012, at La Salle Pleyel). We have also selected moments from an interview that he did with Greg Thomas of the Jazz Leadership Project.

But it is never all that can be said, or as Wayne Shorter himself says in the documentary below, “The mystery is way better than explaining it.”

Wayne Shorter on the Ultimate Adventure

An interview with Greg Thomas, Jazz Leadership Project

… I think creating something is a challenge. Jazz is something that’s done in the moment. How do you rehearse being in the moment? Being in the moment is one of the processes that frees us from being fearful of the unknown. A lot of people are afraid of the unknown, which is why we have “conservatives” and “liberals.”

The conservative attaches itself to business, commercial gains, ’cause you have to have a status quo, a formula to live within. “Do not disturb” is on the door. No changes.

I like that line in the first Jurassic Park movie, where the Jeff Goldblum character says: “Life finds a way.”

From dating to business, a lot of people are speaking from planning and strategy, but now’s the time to speak to each other as we play music—by being in the moment. If you’re in the moment, that’s when you’re going to undress yourself.

GT: Become vulnerable, open.

WS: You’ll take off the b.s. layers that we’ve been conditioned to. And get free from being hijacked from the cradle.

All parents do the best that they can. I’m not saying that parents are hijackers because they’ve been hijacked [too.] But without being hijacked, how do you know you’ve been hijacked? Do you know what I mean, salt and pepper?

GT: Yes. Relativity.

WS: It’s kind of like The China Syndrome, where people are in hellish situations, fall in love with it and become comfortable in hell, comfortable with hating somebody, because of these kinds of jive emotions.

GT: Being conditioned and getting used to it habitually.

WS: Emotions are hijacked too. That’s the way I feel.

GT: You related being in the moment to jazz. On another level, being in the moment is the now, not the past or the future. Now is the only reality. 

WS: In the philosophy I’ve been involved with, the moment, now, is the only place that you can change and alter the past and determine the future. In other words, don’t let the past influence you. Alter, to me, means don’t keep living by it. Start being the director, actor, producer of the movie of your own life. This is a challenge. I believe that life is the ultimate adventure. The single moment is the DNA of eternity. Nothing will be destroyed.

GT: … How would you describe your mission?

WS: My mission is to keep myself consistently unsedated, to dispel the venom in myself, as much as I can, for as long as I live and eternally. It’s an eternal quest for me because, as I said, there ain’t no such thing as the end. If there is, that’s very suspect. It’s a trap. Then I become what I’ve been fighting.

GT: To put it in my own words: it’s an expression of being alive, conscious, and striving to be awake as opposed to sedated, dis-eased, by what we were born with as we came into human form.

WS: What we’ve been invaded with from the cradle. Allow your real person to emerge.

Because when you look at it, and you ask someone what’s your real name? They say their given name. I say no. They might say “homo sapien.” No.

Your real name is something that’s done that hasn’t been done. That’s hard to do but must be done, which validates the ultimate adventure.

GT: You’ve said life is the ultimate adventure. Can you say more?

WS: The ultimate adventure is when each entity can penetrate one another and recognize their actual mission has been covered up, when wisdom can take over instead of just knowledge. It’s not enough to just say I’m honest and truthful. Truth doesn’t mean that much unless you make some value out of the truth. 

To be fearless, brave, courageous, to learn what wisdom is, and learn what the person’s real, eternal identity is. And that eternal identity is evolving all the time.

We have a phrase, “When we start to do human revolution within ourselves, that’s when great, great change takes place.” [That’s] the opposite of forced enslavement and conditioning.

GT: You become free from the inside out.

WS: Right. You get the whole cognitive mechanism of learning, and to be able to recognize, by yourself, the decisions and directions you go in, moment to moment, in the moment.

GT: That’s what I learned years ago about wisdom. That wisdom is making the right decisions and being all that you can be, in every single moment, as you course through your life.

WS: And not to be forced, or hard-nosed about it. Sometimes you gotta just relaaxx, man, and stop worrying about stuff based on how you perceive.

GT: Let it flow. But to get beyond the conditioning, and the viruses, takes a process, a part of which is meditation, to come into the realization of the true you, right?

WS: Yes, all that. It’s just simple things sometimes that a grandmother might say. Like “Stop making a mountain out of a molehill.” They were not totally hijacked, our grandparents. We need the wisdom to really listen to the stuff that they really meant.

For obituaries for Wayne Shorter, see The Guardian and Downbeat Magazine.

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