Wayne Shorter, a pioneering musician and composer, and a member of the UCLA faculty for more than a decade, died on March 2 at the age of 89.
Born August 25, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey, Shorter became one of jazz’s most enigmatic composers in the post-bop era. He was the in-house composer for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers until 1964, when he joined the Miles Davis Quintet. It was there that he connected with pianist Herbie Hancock, beginning a musical journey that would venture far and wide. Among his future collaborators were Carlos Santana, Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan.
The critic Gary Giddins once wrote of Shorter’s playing that he was “getting signals from another world.” There seemed to be no end to his range and experimentation, and he earned some of the industry’s most prestigious recognition: 12 Grammy Awards, the 2017 Polar Music Prize, and, in 2018, the Kennedy Center Honors.
He was also a dedicated and beloved teacher.
“He was a huge influence on me,” said Daniel Rotem, who graduated in 2016 from the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, where Shorter taught. “Wayne was a lighthouse for what it could mean to be human — to feel, listen, create and live.”
Shorter became a UCLA visiting professor in 2012 — the same year Hancock joined the faculty — and an assistant adjunct professor in 2015. Throughout, he remained an active composer and recording artist. His 2022 recording of “Endangered Species” won the Grammy for best improvised jazz solo. But Shorter’s ambitious creative work never came at the expense of his role as a mentor to new generations of talented artists.
“Wayne taught every class that has come through the Herbie Hancock Institute — since before the partnership with UCLA,” said Daniel Seeff, the institute’s West Coast director. “For the students, spending time with him was beyond a dream come true. He was a hero to them musically and personally.”
Students echoed that sentiment, recalling a mentor who was more than just a teacher of musical technique and form.
“Wayne Shorter told us students that we were on a mission that goes far beyond here,” recalled Jonathan Pinson, a member of the Hancock Institute’s 2014 class who now is a faculty member at CalArts. “This is one of the reasons Wayne was so special. He could make you feel like you were part of something bigger. He carried out his life as if he was a superhero.”
Shorter’s legacy ripples throughout the musical world. No scholar of 20th-century music composition or performance can ignore him.
“We mourn the passing of a great musician and composer,” said Eileen Strempel, dean of The Herb Alpert School of Music. “As a community, we feel the loss of an irreplaceable colleague, a musical visionary and devoted teacher.”