Murray, KY – It was at the 2002 Chicago Jazz Festival where I was face to face with greatness. The bill for that night included Von Freeman, Carla Cook and Jimmy Heath. But the artist that most of us lined up to see was the great sax man Wayne Shorter.
Of all those musicians, I had been familiar with Wayne Shorter going back to grade school as he played with the great Joe Zawinul's "The Weather Report." It seemed like "Birdland" was the theme song to nearly every single African American public affairs television program, with the sole exception of "Tony Brown's Journal." So Wayne Shorter's brilliant style of performance was nothing new to me... or so I thought.
As night fell, an the concert seemed a bit delayed, a group of fans were discussing Shorter and his contribution to jazz. I said to one guy, "I hope he does some fusion work like he did in the 70s." Overhearing this conversation, a lady piped in, "Don't count on it... I think you will be in for a surprise." And she was right.
After being introduced, the Wayne Shorter Quartet took to the stage. It was an all star line p that left many of us on our feet, yelling, and applauding out of pure awe. The group included accomplished pianist Danilo Perez, drummer Brian Blade and the talented bass man John Pattitucci (whose work with Chick Corea's Elektrik and Acoustik Bands put him on the path to stardom).
To say that this concert was ground breaking would be an understatement. It was free flowing, boisterous and brilliant. Songs like, "As Far as the Eye Can See" seemed a bit disjointed and disorganized, but if the listener listened deep enough, they could see how madness met the method in order to formulate a thing of artistic excellence. But then again, Wayne Shorter had made such a contribution in the past, so this thing of aesthetic beauty should not have come as a surprise.
When the concert was over, we yelled for an encore. Fans started requesting numbers from the audience... "Footprints," "Speak No Evil," "Night Dreamer" and the like. Now... I don't have any clue of the title of his encore number, but needless to say it was as innovative as the numbers selected for the performance.
After going back stage and getting autographs with the quartet... including the venerable Shorter, my night was made. I had been face to face with greatness, and in the dark of a Chicago Saturday night, Wayne Shorter's genius lit the skyline with all of its inventive brilliance.