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Jazz Legend Wayne Shorter Dies at 89

Creation—Wayne Shorter with the score of his opera Iphigenia in December 2019. Photo by Jeff Tang/Real Magic/

by World Tribune staff

LOS ANGELES—Wayne Shorter, the legendary American jazz saxophonist and composer, and a devoted SGI-USA member for five decades, died on March 2, 2023, at 89.

Mr. Shorter earned worldwide recognition for his mastery of the saxophone, including 12 Grammy Awards, culminating in a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 for his “prolific contributions to our culture and history.” In 2018, he received the Kennedy Center Honors Award for his lifetime contribution to the arts.

Wayne Shorter was born Aug. 25, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey. The jazz saxophonist and composer joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1959. Five years later, he took John Coltrane’s spot in the Miles Davis Quintet, which included jazz pianist and fellow Buddhist Herbie Hancock. Music critics consider the “second great quintet” (distinguishing it from the earlier quintet that included Mr. Coltrane) one of the most influential groups in the history of jazz. In 1970, Mr. Shorter co-founded the group Weather Report, which became a pioneer in the style of jazz-rock fusion.

In 1973, he embraced the practice of Nichiren Buddhism and became a devoted member of the Soka Gakkai International, a Buddhist lay organization in 192 countries and territories that promotes the ideals of global citizenship and respect for the dignity of life.

In the dialogue Reaching Beyond, the Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda asked jazz legends Mr. Hancock and Mr. Shorter whether, after so many years, they still get stage fright.

Mr. Shorter remarked that, while he is playing an instrument and performing for people, he always remembers that he is a human being first and a musician second. “Before I encountered Buddhism, I didn’t feel this way,” he continued. “Before, it was my ‘performance as a musician.’ Now it’s my ‘performance as a human being.’ I feel that a performer should ask, ‘What is the true message of jazz, and how can I best express what I truly believe?’ I think that the true message of jazz is not about the music per se; it is about the human spirit” (p. 62).

Mr. Shorter continued his prolific work well into his 80s. At age 88, together with four-time Grammy award winner Esperanza Spalding, he completed his first opera, Iphigenia, which he called a continuation, not a culmination, of his life’s work.

In a World Tribune interview about his opera, when asked of his definition of success, Mr. Shorter replied: “It is to run up against so many obstacles that you break through and ask for more obstacles. Like I say: Bring it on. Bring on the resistance. Because I know better. I know Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the key to making the resistance my ally” (Jan. 1, 2022, World Tribune, pp. 10–11).

Mr. Shorter is survived by his wife, Carolina, his daughters, Miyako and Mariana, and his grandson, Max. 

Prepared by the World Tribune staff

“Buddhism and Creativity,” from the SGI-USA podcast “Buddhist Solutions for Life’s Problems.”

“Making Resistance My Ally,” an interview with Wayne Shorter.

“Reaching Beyond,” an excerpt from the published dialogue between Mr. Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Daisaku Ikeda.

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