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Our Top Ten (& More): Our favorite Wayne Shorter tracks

Wayne Shorter.
Robert Ashcroft
Courtesy of the artist
Wayne Shorter.

For the 90th anniversary of Wayne Shorter’s birth in 1933, we asked our staff and hosts to recommend their favorite track from the influential saxophonist and composer. Interestingly, the selections match the incredible breadth of his career—from his early years with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers to his work with the Miles Davis Quintet and Weather Report to his solo albums of the 80s. There was nary a mention of his recent groundbreaking quartet with Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade, but that may very well be because of that group’s focus on live performances rather than studio recordings. Regardless, few artists in jazz history contributed as much over such a long period. Give a listen. – Lee Mergner

(Editor’s note: All tracks are from albums by Wayne Shorter, unless otherwise designated.)

“This Is for Albert” Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers from Caravan (1963)
“This Is for Albert” is one the more underplayed Shorter tunes and it shows the mastery of Shorter's composition skills. From the melody to the solos, to the shout section, “This Is for Albert” might be a perfect tune—at least to my ears. It also doesn’t hurt to have Freddie Hubbard, Art Blakey and Cedar Walton as a supporting cast. – Dakarai Barclay, Intern, WBGO Archives Project

This Is For Albert

“Night Dreamer” from Night Dreamer (1964)
Wayne Shorter is the music. Wayne Shorter is the way. He opened a portal to another world of listening, thinking and being. Even in his philosophical, prophetic, and enigmatic conversations, he had a way of pushing us to reach deeper. Growing up, Wayne was like a deity in my house. My father played his music religiously and made me sit and listen with him. However, it wasn’t until an afternoon at Geri Allen's house about 16 years ago, that I had an encounter with his song "Night Dreamer." As Geri and I sat in silence listening, I recall wondering, "How could I have lived this long without knowing this song?" I love waltzes and this is without a doubt the hippest, with a groove that is laid-back and, on the edge, simultaneously. Wayne Shorter is and always will be Newark's own superhero. Leaping tall buildings in a single bound, Wayne Shorter's “Footprints” and “Juju” are everywhere to be found. – Monifa Brown, Host, Saturday Evening Jazz

Night Dreamer (Remastered 2004 / Rudy Van Gelder Edition)

“Infant Eyes” from Speak No Evil (1966)
Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes,” is one of life’s confirmations that music is a conduit to the Divine. His haunting tone, sustained delivery and delicate, yet commanding phrasing, come forth like a prayerful recitation. The subtle dialogue between Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter is otherworldly. Shorter once said, “Music opens portals and doorways into unknown sectors...” He courageously lets us in and guides us to another realm and in doing so, affirms one of the greatest beauties in this life—his heart in song. – Monifa Brown, Host, Saturday Evening Jazz

Infant Eyes (Remastered1998/Rudy Van Gelder Edition)

“Sanctuary” Miles Davis from Bitches Brew (1970)
Originally, I went for some low hanging fruit, but realized that someone had beat me to it and chose the same version of “Footprints” that I was going to cite. I thought that I would be clever and go with the Miles Smiles version, showcasing what is simply one of the greatest and most lasting compositions ever written/recorded. But since this was taken, I will pivot and mention that, like many others, fusion was my gateway drug into the Jazz Universe. Along with Return to Forever, Weather Report was my favorite (and most lasting) listening choice of this genre. Wondering and wandering further, I discovered Electric Miles and of course, Bitches Brew. This version of Wayne's song "Sanctuary" on Bitches Brew is a highlight for me, and foreshadows a bit Wayne's later brilliant contributions to Weather Report. – Jonathan Chimene, Chief Financial Officer

Miles Davis - Sanctuary

“Children of the Night” Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers from Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers  (1962)
My first wife Tracy (a sister from Brooklyn studying acting) and I lived in Brooklyn Heights in the late ‘60s. We would start our weekday mornings by lighting up and putting on Art Blakey’s Mosaic LP, but we always started with Wayne’s composition “Children of the Night.” Then we’d go to 8th Street in the Village and have crepes for breakfast. “Children of the Night” was better than coffee for us. This is a powerful recording on all the songs, but for us that was the song of choice. – Rob Crocker, Host, Late Night Jazz

Children Of The Night (2005 Remaster)

"Lost" from The Soothsayer (1965/1979)
I fell in love with Wayne Shorter's artistry as a teenager through his album Speak No Evil and Weather Report's Heavy Weather and Mr. Gone. However, when I began as a jazz radio broadcaster 40+ years ago, I discovered his album The Soothsayer, and the very first song on that album - "Lost." It's a beautiful jazz waltz (one of his favorite time signatures) with the beautifully harmonized horns of Wayne on tenor sax, James Spaulding on alto and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. The bonus here is not only the rhythm section of Wayne's Miles Davis bandmates, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, but also his work with pianist McCoy Tyner. Both he and Wayne take an almost symphonic approach to their respective instruments. If I've ever felt myself lost, physically or mentally or emotionally, this lovely tune has always helped me find myself again. – Brian Delp, Host, Drive Time

Lost (Rudy Van Gelder Edition/Digital Remaster/2007)

“Footprints” Miles Davis Quintet from Miles Smiles (1967)
This unforgettable tune had been recorded earlier by Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, when Wayne was in that group as player and principal songwriter. But it’s this version that has resonated with jazz fans and musicians for the ensuing six decades. For good reason. Miles’ last great quintet is very much at the top of its game. The melody beautiful and even haunting. Herbie Hancock subtly responding to the solos by Miles and Wayne and then playing his own solo in which he seems to take off. The rhythm section of Ron Carter and Tony Williams propelling the music forward in their very distinctive and influential push-pull style. This version of what became a jazz standard is both of its time and timeless. No easy feat. – Lee Mergner, Editorial Content Producer


“The Three Marias” from Atlantis (1985)
This is just one selection off one album of his as a leader, from a catalog of recordings that rivals the work of any major musician in the history of modern music, sans genre. I could also have chosen any number of the timeless classics he contributed to the rich recorded legacies of Weather Report, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis. There’s something about “The Three Marias” from his 1985 album Atlantis, that stops me in my tracks wherever I am or whatever I might be doing. It always leaves me feeling considerably better than when its joyful sounds entered my space at that moment. It is emblematic of Wayne’s flowing compositional style, not only rich with melodic & harmonic ideas, but filled with an emotional depth and spirit that is simultaneously direct and mysterious. This particular piece has a certain lilt to it, an innocent beauty that is captivating and infectious. As always, Shorter’s playing is nothing short of miraculous. – John Newcott, Director of Annual Giving

The Three Marias

“Waterfall” Weather Report from Weather Report (1971)
Listen to this track and you'll feel a bubbling of excitement within—like something beautiful is in store. In 1971, something truly magnificent was on the horizon as Wayne Shorter and keyboardist Joe Zawinul connected for their very first record as the group Weather Report. Wayne said it best in an interview for a Jazz Night in America episode on Zawinul I had the fortune of producing, with a summation of their creative journey that still gives me chills: "We had a good time—we had an adventure. We liked going for 'it' whatever 'it' was. We [set out] to try to do some music without capital letters, no paragraphs, no commas, no periods. Let's just do music that has all that stuff that exists in the world. Like waterfalls, mountain valleys, gullies!" - Trevor Smith, Producer, Jazz Night in America

Weather Report - Waterfall

"Sleeping Dancer Sleep On" Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers from Like Someone in Love (1967)
I know this track is not as known as Wayne's other compositions, but I will never forget hearing it for the first time. It feels like every note is being played so sensually, carefully, being handled the way you would someone you love more than life itself. It could be labeled a lullaby, a ballad, a love song, maybe all of the above. But it's certainly one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard and a testament to the wonderful song writer Wayne was. – Nicole Sweeney, Host, Lights Out

Sleeping Dancer Sleep On

“Lester Left Town” Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers from The Big Beat  (1960)
When Wayne Shorter followed Benny Golson into Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, he brought along a new tenor saxophone sound to the quintet, and a prolific pen. In March of 1960, the quintet of Shorter, trumpeter Lee Morgan, pianist Bobby Timmons, bassist Jymie Merritt and rhythm master Blakey, went into Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey to record The Big Beat. Wayne’s forward-thinking, look-back tribute to Lester Young was the perfect palette for the fivesome to play through. That front line of Shorter and Morgan was a seamless exchange of ideas, a synergy to emerge again with Shorter and Miles Davis. Bobby Timmons always soulful display, Merritt’s rock bottom and Blakey’s rhythm made this a lifelong favorite. Shorter stories are always the high-water mark of great jazz construction. If he were a carpenter, his house would challenge any hurricane. – Gary Walker, Host, Daybreak

Lester Left Town (Remastered 2005)