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There was this guy Alex Hoffman who wrote on a Facebook wall, “Fuck Wayne Shorter”. That message went viral.

As you know, Wayne Shorter is a jazz legend. First, as a member of Art Blakey’s Messengers, and then as a member of Miles Davis’ legendary second quartet. His stint with Miles Davis was notable, because the second quartet was one of the best bands that Miles had put together, and when you consider the number of great bands that Miles had put together, that’s quite something. Furthermore, he was the principal composer in the second quartet, not Miles Davis himself. He was instrumental in the groundbreaking albums “In a Silent Way” and “Bitches Brew”, and later on broke away to form Weather Report, one of the greatest ever fusion bands.

He also had a good run as a bandleader, issuing a series of albums in the 1960s, while serving in the great second quartet. A few of these titles are stone cold classics, like “Speak No Evil”, “Juju” and “Adams Apple”.

That brought me to this youtube that I have found, where Hoffman is explaining his stand on the issue. Judging from his responses, I’m starting to understand why his original rant was only three words long. He’s pretty inarticulate about what he’s trying to say. And when the camera first panned on him, I had to laugh because he had the kind of face that you wanted to punch.

But he does raise interesting questions about music. Because some people have written in support of him, saying that the problem with jazz music education is that it’s too conservative: the greats are the greats, and you aren’t supposed to argue with the way that they play. You’re supposed to learn “classic” bebop, and then shut up and sit down.

That’s pretty reasonable. But if you know Wayne Shorter, he’s hardly a conservative. He was a trailblazing innovator. What I liked about his compositions is that they were pretty elliptical and subtle. They were very thought-provoking. “Footprints”, one of his most well known pieces, is rooted in blues structure, but it very cleverly utilizes the device of triplets played in fourths to produce a very striking melody. “Adam’s Apple” has a figure where half the melody is on only three notes, but ends with a flourish. As a songwriter he has a sense of melody only rivaled by the best tunesmiths from pop music, and I mean that as a compliment. Almost all of the “In a Silent Way” crew went on to form their own bands: Tony Williams with Emergency, Herbie Hancock with the Headhunters, Miles carrying on with his bandleader work, Chick Corea with Return to Forever, even Jack DeJohnette did some stuff. But the outfit with the best songwriters was Weather Report, which had Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul.

As a soloist, his technique was possibly a little limited. He tried to play like Coltrane, but never with quite the same speed or virtuosity. His tone was possibly a little harsh. He was much more of a thinker and an architect than a master musician.

But what he wasn’t was a conservative. He was relentlessly innovative, dabbling in Latin jazz (“Tom Thumb”), avant-garde (most of the “All Seeing Eye” album), and fusion (his entire Weather Report career). If somebody said that “I can’t stand Wayne Shorter” I have a hard time believing that he said it on the grounds that he was rebelling against excessive conservatism.

On the contrary, judging by Hoffman’s comments, it does seem as though he’s the one who’s the real conservative. He says that free jazz is not an artistically valid form of expression because there are no rules – that’s bullshit. Even free jazz has rules. All music has rules. It’s just a matter of whether it’s more rules or less rules. In effect, he’s dissing music for not having enough rules? I would never do that. I would do it based on aesthetics – to be fair, he does consider that.

Where Hoffman is on firmer ground is that he says that Wayne Shorter’s music lacks a certain lyricism or tenderness of touch. Wayne Shorter is never, and will never be the most nakedly emotional of all jazz musicians. He’s the cerebral one, the one who weaves complicated patterns – not only into his solos, but into his main themes. A lot of his tunes are not straightforward – you do not always know if or when they’re going to resolve. But that’s what I really like about Wayne Shorter! And as for his being incapable of tenderness, anybody who’s heard “Infant Eyes” will tell you that’s bullshit. Even songs like “Black Nile” and much of the “Speak No Evil” album have a very understated romantic tension within.

Now, “Fuck Wayne Shorter” is a sentiment that is not very clearly and precisely articulated, and is therefore open to various interpretations. This guy has stated why he doesn’t like Wayne Shorter and he’s free to express that opinion. Although – well he said that he doesn’t think that Wayne Shorter’s playing is civilized and genteel enough, so “fuck Wayne Shorter” is a very curious way to express this idea.

However if he’s saying anything stronger than that – just because he can’t – as he says – logically make sense of Wayne’s playing, there’s no validity to it whatsoever, there’s something wrong about that. Wayne’s not even the most avant garde of the jazz musicians. Usually when somebody tells me he likes something, I just assume that he’s genuine. After all, if he’s just pretending to like something that nobody else can get, just because he wants to show that he’s “cool” and with it? Well he’s just punishing himself by listening to all that shit. Otherwise, he’s enjoying something that you don’t get – that’s actually pretty cool with me. I’m not going to object. So why the angst? I’d say that if you want to be pretentious and you like something that’s very difficult to like, you’re just punishing yourself. There are some things – trash metal, country and western – that I just can’t subject myself to, but if people say they like it, I’m willing to believe them and I probably will not want to comment on the kind of music that I don’t “get”. But if it’s in a genre that I know something about – like pop music, then I’d be more critical.

Well anyway “fuck Wayne Shorter” is just very curious to me. This is a guy who’s touched on such a wide variety of music that I find it hard to see how anybody would not even find a single thing to like about his oeuvre. 

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