(In addition to the GRAMMY Awards, The Recording Academy presents Special Merit Awards recognizing contributions of significance to the recording field, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, Trustees Award and Technical GRAMMY Award.)
Wayne Shorter is widely considered to be the greatest living jazz composer, and one of the greatest jazz saxophonists of all time. But the mind and art of Wayne Shorter orbit far and wide beyond the gravitational center of any one category or title. From painting, to composition, to philosophy, to writing and storytelling, to the singular approach of improvisation developed within his current quartet, Wayne is always reaching beyond the known parameters of expression.
Throughout the course of nearly six decades in music, Wayne has masterfully realized his philosophy of taking the best of the past, and using it as a "flashlight into the unknown." From collaborations with Horace Silver, Art Blakey and Miles Davis, to co-founding Weather Report, he has provided infectious originality to some of the most loved jazz institutions of the 20th century. Wayne has been featured on more than 130 albums, received the honor of NEA Jazz Master, won 10 GRAMMYs, and released more than 25 albums as a leader. From JuJu, The All Seeing Eye, Atlantis, Phantom Navigator, 1+1 in duo with the great Herbie Hancock, and most recently, Without A Net, each Wayne Shorter album is a marvel. They are milestones on his journey through the unchartered territories of sound expression. His operatic work has been performed by the likes of the great Renée Fleming. The greatest orchestras in the world commission and perform his symphonic compositions. With these recent orchestral works, Wayne continues to break new ground into a realm where improvisation and orchestral writing meld.
In everything Wayne does, his voice rings out with boundless creative fervor. When you listen to one of Wayne's compositions, hear him speak or play, or simply read one of his song titles, you get a distinct sense of seeing the ideas in your mind's eye. The poet Paul Éluard called this donner à voir: the capacity to not just offer insight, but provoke it.
Wayne has the unique and rare ability to invoke in his listeners a fresh engagement with their own creative genius. This joyous shockwave first reached me through the title track of Miles Davis' Nefertiti. Jazz was a relatively new presence in my life, and I couldn't yet appreciate the mastery of Wayne's playing, but the total effect of the song moved me deeply. A few years later, and with a somewhat expanded ear, I heard Wayne's playing and compositions on his album called Native Dancer. This time, Wayne's playing jumped out at me like a character in a play: recapitulating the story and characters, emphasizing and interacting with the dramatic arcs within each song. I would rewind each phrase and "Mmm!" and "Yeah!" out loud in wholehearted agreement with whatever he was saying on that saxophone. It's as if there is a consciousness in Wayne's music that looks into you as you listen.
In addition to all of his musical accomplishments, anyone who has worked with Wayne or knows him personally will tell you they revere him not only as a great musician, but as a profoundly wise and caring man. Over the years Wayne's music and character have become a centerpiece in my life. He remains a constant source of inspiration and guidance — a glowing reminder that to be an artist, and more importantly to be fully human, means being limitless.
As future generations develop and clarify their own fresh vision of the arts, Wayne's vast body of work will serve as a brilliant signal flare. Shining, you might say, like a flashlight into the next unknown.
Wayne once posed this question to an audience: "How do you give a gift to life, which is the greatest gift of all?" Through his life, he's shown us at least one version of the answer.
(A three-time GRAMMY winner, Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist for 2010. Her most recent studio album is 2012's Best Jazz Vocal Album-winning Radio Music Society, which includes a cover of Wayne Shorter's "Endangered Species.")