The New York Times doesn't mince words when it writes, "Wayne Shorter is generally acknowledged to be jazz's greatest living composer."
Going back to his days jamming with John Coltrane fresh out of the Army, Shorter has seemed to move, Zelig-like, through some of the most important combos in jazz — from Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, to his days with Miles Davis, to the groundbreaking fusion band Weather Report.
As Shorter approaches his 80th birthday, he's just reunited with the label that championed him as a bandleader back in the 1960s, Blue Note Records. On the new album Without a Net, he leads a quartet with whom he's spent more than a decade through live recordings and some striking new compositions.
Speaking with NPR's Laura Sullivan, Shorter says he absorbed a common principle from Davis, Coltrane, Blakey and his other great peers and mentors: They left their musicians alone.
"The six years I was with Miles, we never talked about music. We never had a rehearsal," Shorter says. "Jazz shouldn't have any mandates. Jazz is not supposed to be something that's required to sound like jazz. For me, the word 'jazz' means, 'I dare you.' The effort to break out of something is worth more than getting an A in syncopation.
"This music, it's dealing with the unexpected," he adds. "No one really knows how to deal with the unexpected. How do you rehearse the unknown?"
Hear more of the conversation, including Shorter's Miles Davis impression, by clicking the audio link on this page.