Wayne Shorter's Vee-Jay Record Years (1959-1961)

Wayne Shorter’s recording cycle between the fall of 1959 and the fall of 1961 consists of three years with Vee Jay Records, three consecutive Autumn-born albums, three albums produced by Sid McCoy, and three entirely different rhythm sections. Fourteen original compositions and two trumpet players later, we have greater insight of Shorter’s early recordings and of the man who would go on to become one of the world’s greatest jazz artists. I believe Wayne Shorter’s early works possess similar qualities. Shorter has an early and often expressed Coltrane influence, one of the most infectious tenor saxophone voices imaginable, and an enlightening improvisational and compositional skill.

Characterizing Shorter’s sound as Coltraneesque on his debut album, Introducing Wayne Shorter, is pretty easy. Then we get a sneak peak at our beloved Wayne Shorter’s sound on Second Genesis, before a pronounced waning capitulation to the minion status his Coltraneesque sound suggests for Wayning Moments.  To offer that a visceral sadness, a heart sinking gut wrenching enervating pain consumed my being when hearing Shorter’s opening improvisational phrases on Black Orpheus might be an overstatement, but not by too much?! Does this diminish Shorter’s playing or standing in any way? No. It does, however, provide substantive insight into Shorter’s earliest influence. The man sounded like Coltrane in many respects—but how is this an insult?! Shorter is simply amazing.

Richly dense yet spread and harmonically complex, throaty yet sweet, strident yet euphonious—you get the picture of Shorter’s tenor saxophone voice, right? (Yes, I know; my description is as clear as mud.) Shorter plays on big tip opening, a rather hard reed, and he has to move a ton of air to achieve his compositional and improvisational voice on his medium of expression. Is Shorter’s set-up for everyone? No. Does his set-up provide him with the voice he desires? Yes.

Wayne Shorter can play changes. If this comes as a surprise, well . . .  He navigates through this Vee-Jay albums intermixing melodic diatonic sheets of sound with intermixed chromatic inspirations. Why should a musician buy these albums, listen intently, and transcribe Shorter’s every expressed idea? – How about an every flowing hard bop vocabulary, inflection, or simply to emulate him genius.

Shorter’s three years with Vee-Jay records do offer some highlights, namely his Second Genesis before his Wayning Moments in 1961. Shorter’s Vee-Jay years provide the introduction we need to a most formidable force in jazz, one than would then continue for at least 50-years. Shorter’s Vee-Jay years should not be forgotten; they should be forever embraced.

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