Wayne Shorter will perform his original work 'Gaia' with his quartet, vocalist Esperanza Spalding and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. (Claude Paris / AP)
The Wayne Shorter Quartet’s set at the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival was one both the band and the audience describe as one of the best Shorter concerts ever.
On Nov. 2, the veteran saxophonist and composer returns to Detroit with his quartet to perform an original work, “Gaia,” commissioned in part by the Jazz Festival. They will be joined by Esperanza Spalding on vocals and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, at Orchestra Hall.
What was so magic about that 2012 jazz festival gig?
“I don’t know what went on, a lot of desire for something, the desire to hit a mark, to break through a lot of stuff and not repeat a lot of things that lead up to the same results,” Shorter, 80, says. He is talking by phone from his California home.
“Esperanaza has a line in one of her parts of the libretto that she’s written for this piece we’re going to do, ‘Gaia,’ the line is ‘Wake up and dream!’ It’s about dealing with the unexpected, dealing with the unknown,” Shorter says. “For the first time in history, masses of people are going to have to learn and to be able to make decisions as individuals instead of as followers.”
Shorter played with Maynard Ferguson after graduating from New York University in 1956, then joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1959. He played with Miles Davis’ group from 1964-’70, leaving to co-found the jazz fusion group Weather Report in 1971. He was a major composer in each of the groups he played with, writing “Footprints,” among other classics, during his tenure with Davis, and has some interesting ideas about what sparks the creative process.
Growing up in Newark, N.J., by his own description, Shorter was a curious, somewhat nerdy kid; into movies, comic books, physics and any sort of imaginative games. He still taps into that sense of child-like play, especially when he composes.
“The stuff we gave up as kids, is some of the best stuff that had some of the best information about how to not worry about things that’s not going to happen,” Shorter says. “We manufacture things to worry about. A lot of it who’s gonna get this, who’s on top, who’s skinny enough, who’s looking at me.”
Strangely enough, he often has a news channel on TV when he’s getting ready to compose. “It gives me information,” he says. “I want to write something that goes against what they’re talking about or what they’re selling.
“They’re trying to make us see something they call reality, follow something that they see is real, that there’s no such thing as ‘they live happily ever after’ for the poor and the middle class. But I’m saying that the fairy tale is possible, it’s the reality. And the reality that they’re selling is the fairy tale.”
There’s also the sense, particularly in the year that he turned 80, of getting on with it while you can.
“Back when we were playing bebop in the recording studio, Art (Blakey) would say ‘Let’s do the best we can right now, because they’re going to try to kill it. Make believe every take is one take, because 20 years from now it (bebop) might be dead.’ ”
As a cultural omnivore, Shorter has opinions on pop music — “They still don’t sing ‘Since I Fell For You’ right,” he complains. Not even Lenny Welch, on his 1963 hit version. “The bridge part is wrong,” Shorter said. “It’s not like on the (original) Buddy Johnson version.”
The musician was very aware of what was going on in Detroit as he composed, and he feels “Gaia” has something to say musically that addresses those challenges.
“The force of art that could be, that exists in people’s being, that is what we’re going to be playing when we get there,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to hook up with, the art and the desire of people to break through whatever resistance there is will get Detroit to where it’s supposed to be — on the path that a lot of other cities are still not on.
“I sense a thirst not just for music but for Detroit to get on — not a yellow brick road — but a multicolored brick road. It’s time for the sleeping tiger to wake up.”
Performed by the Wayne Shorter Quartet, featuring Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade
Esperanza Spalding, vocalist, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Vince Mendozza
8 p.m. Saturday
3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit