By Devon Wendell
On Saturday, June 13th; Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and young players from The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble will be performing at the 37th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival taking place Saturday and Sunday at The Hollywood Bowl.
I recently had the amazing opportunity to interview Wayne Shorter on his upcoming performance at the Bowl. Shorter is a master improviser, not only in music but in conversation as well. Instead of the typical Q&A with questions 1-15, I let Shorter take the helm and share his priceless wisdom with me freely.
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Devon Wendell: Hello Wayne.
Wayne Shorter: Hello.
DW: I first wanted to let you know what an honor it is to be interviewing you. You’re one of my biggest idols both musically and intellectually.
WS: Well, Thank you very much.
DW: You’re going to be performing at the 37th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival with Herbie Hancock and The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble. Can you tell me about the kind of music you’ll be performing at the festival?
WS: I think what’s interesting beyond the music is people seeing the performers on stage, Just seeing them. There’s so much stuff going on in the pop world, people moving and dancing and all of that. A lot of the younger generation that will be there will be seeing people who they have never encountered in a night club. A lot of people thought we were dead.
WS: They wonder “how did you last this long?” or “How come you didn’t get swept under the rug amid the nightlife of all those years of touring?”Or “How come you’re not in the hospital?”
WS [continuing]: But you’ll see some people just looking. Not with their mouths open but saying “Hey, I never saw you guys. I heard about you guys from my father.” That’s a big one you hear a lot.
DW: Oh yeah, my dad’s record collection.
WS: Exactly. Playing with the young Monk Institute guys. Now that’s going to be something. And that’s what that whole thing is about. The next wave of poetry that’s coming out of The United States and around the world. But some people don’t even believe it’s still going on. I’m glad that the young people at The Bowl in the audience will see people dealing with and getting into music that has more than three chords.
DW: Exactly, something to challenge their notions of where music can go.
WS: I like what Einstein said about the simple and the complex. He said “We need simple. Of course there’s complex in every day things and the simplicity really sells and we have simple but no simpler.”
DW: Yes, that certainly pertains to all art forms today.
WS: That’s what I hope some of the young people in the audience will get out of the music. Those who may be looking for the fast way, the instant gratification way of doing what they want to. It could be anything. They may want to be the quick doctor [laughter] or the quick psychiatrist or audience or in politics. They might see what’s coming from the stage and realize that it’s great to study as an individual and not to get satisfied with something that feels easy or keeps you in that comfort zone.
DW: Exactly. Your music has always had that quality of enlightening the audience beyond preconceived notions of what they think they should like or feel comfortable with. Pushing the boundaries.
WS: The whole world is pushing. Nations are pushing each other. So many start at the word pushing.
DW: Yeah and they get stuck there.
WS: As far as interviews are concerned, for me to talk about what tunes I’m going to play or what kind of mouthpiece that I use, well that kind of interview to me is like a basketball player doing an interview. You know Stephen Curry on The Golden State Warriors?
DW: Yes, great player.
WS: Well he had his little girl with him while they were interviewing him on TV and she was cute and they thought that was distracting. Well I thought that talking about basketball was distracting.
DW: Yes, that human element gave it a greater purpose.
WS: The interviewer is just following the contract and if he doesn’t do the interview he gets fired. [laughter.] But it’s his daughter that he adores. But they want to know what kind of scalpel the doctor uses and so on. Even another basketball player said that the media guys spend more time with the basketball players than with their families when they’re on season. And Curry said that someone asked him “Don’t you think it’s kind of annoying for your daughter to be with you in interviews?” And Curry said “Well do you think I should get another daughter?”
WS: [continuing] When people watch us at The Hollywood Bowl, they’re watching behavior. The behavior of someone who chooses the road less traveled. That road can take you more places than the one most traveled. I mean, that more traveled road is crowded with wannabees, and instant gratificationers, and those who believe that if they study something, they’ll lose their flow or their groove. Like “I’m going to lose my groove if I study teaching.”
DW: Yeah, my generation was pretty much programmed to believe that.
WS: I was told that to get to my destination, catch that train before it leaves the railroad station. To grab that opportunity like American Idol. Oh yeah, I can be an instant singer. Go ahead! [Laughter]
WS: [continuing] The thing with The Monk Institute kids is that they can’t take that two year course at UCLA unless they’ve already gotten a four year bachelor’s degree. I think there’s going to be a xylophone player from Chile. When we auditioned this guy, (Herbie, myself, and Jimmy Heath) he came and played Duke’s “Sophisticated Lady” on xylophone and Jimmy was like “Damn! You mean he didn’t get nothing from Milt Jackson, or Terry Gibbs or someone like that? He’s got his own thing. Where did he learn all of that stuff?” [laughter]
WS: [continuing] The trombone player walked in for his audition, dressed in a formal suit. One of the auditioners said “Wow, he looks like an insurance man?” [laughter] When he started playing we said “Uh Oh!” He came through Al Grey who played trombone in Duke Ellington’s band, plus Kai Winding, Jay Jay Johnson, and he came through all of that stuff himself.
DW: Wow. That’s pretty amazing. He was really swinging hard huh?
WS: Yes. We worked with another group that’s going to graduate in another year. There’s a girl playing piano and there’s a vocalist who writes really good stuff. And he doesn’t try to sound like a horn or other instruments when he sings. He doesn’t try to scat all over the place. The instrumentalists try to sound like him! He’s really a well ranged guy.
WS [continuing] What you’re going to see is that the young musicians on that stage all respect each other. They’re demonstrating what true democracy can be. The whole thing about improvisation and jazz and competition, like when someone plays across somebody else, they see it as an opportunity. Like in a relay race when someone passes the baton on to the other guy so he keeps going and doesn’t slow down because of ego. In other times, that might cause a fight. A guy would say “You interrupted my solo!” or “I’m not playing with you anymore because you stole my thunder.” [laughter) In a way they’re transcending this whole thing about show business. I hope they show some of that stuff to the so-called go-getters in the audience. A lot of people are trained or bullied in unseen ways into becoming go-getters. It’s done almost subliminally. So it’ll be good to see all of those differences.
A lot of people can’t get along because of their differences. The differences are what we have in common. Before it’s all over, I hope the noble spirits of humanity reveal the truth of the performance and reaching beyond the point of divinity and beyond the craft. So that’s the kind of interviews I’ve been doing. Just having fun with human beings. Are you enjoying it?
DW: It’s wonderful. I am. I threw my note pad out the window.
WS: It is what it is. It’s like democracy. Well how do you spell democracy? C R E A T I V E. Creative living. We can surpass and transcend all of the labels and living under names of things. People use the words and the words become a weapon. If you get stuck with a word, the meanings of the word can be open season. [laughter]
There’s this book in which the first sentence says “Human beings are the only entity who like to name things.” [laughter]
DW: It does restrict everything, like all of these different names for music, and types of art. People like to get trapped by categorization.
WS: What I would like for people to experience when watching a performance is seeing things happen on stage that they would like to happen in everyday life. You know those people who are no longer here, like Charlie Parker? Some of what they did is in the art of never giving up the spirit. And that no one person is just one thing. There are many dimensions to a person.
DW: So is every aspect of existence made up of a series of improvisations?
WS: To me, in improvisation it’s very hard to lie. You can fantasize, but fantasy is not necessarily a lie. We hope that the business world hears again creative stuff that comes from an improvisational idea in the moment and the difficulty in lying. You have to do more business from the heart. Even when dealing with the unknown. How do you negotiate the unknown by lying? The thing is I’m 81. Some people that I’ve known for a long time, when they get old and look at a friend or someone in the family or someone they’ve know a long time they can say “You know, I never did like you?”
WS: They say what’s on their mind.
DW: Yes, no more explanations needed. I respect that indeed sir.
WS: To say what’s on your mind, you need a lot of wisdom and validity to back it up.
I’m watching young people today. I saw on television this young woman who is a transgender and her name is jazz. A lot of wisdom coming from her. I’m really learning a lot from younger people in what they have to say.
I was at Lincoln Center last week with Wynton Marsalis and there was this little boy, 15 years old who came out of the orchestra with a saxophone strapped across his back. He didn’t say I like the way you were playing or I like the music, he said “I like your writing and I like the philosophy.”
WS: Oh, and there’s one more thing people can expect from my performance at The Bowl and that’s a reversal of Whiplash!! There was some good acting in it, but I mean historically speaking. [Laughter]
DW: Sounds great. Thank you for your time Wayne. This has truly been an enlightening experience. I’ll see you at The Bowl.
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Q&A: Daniel Rotem Performs With Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter And The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble.
After my interview with Wayne Shorter, I had a brief chat with tenor saxophonist Daniel Rotem about his upcoming performance at the Playboy Jazz Festival with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble. Rotem is one of the gifted students at The Monk Institute, with a bright future ahead of him.
Devon Wendell: Tell me how it feels to be playing at the Festival in the Hollywood Bowl with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and the other Monk Institute players.
Dan Rotem: I grew up listening to and studying the music of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, so it still seems surreal to be sharing the stage with both of them this weekend. I remember buying Mr. Shorter’s album Speak No Evil, one of the first jazz albums I bought, and shortly afterwards The Soothsayer. Every time I listened to them, the music took me on a journey. I used to watch the movie ‘Round Midnight a lot (Mr. Hancock won an Oscar for the best score), and I remember listening to his playing on some of Miles Davis’ records thinking that this must be some of the most beautiful music ever created. Later on in high school I got to know more of Mr. Hancock’s albums like Empyrean Isles and Speak Like a Child. I feel like in some ways the music by both of these legendary artists is part of who I am, like certain memories that I have growing up are connected to Wayne’s sound, or Herbie’s sensitivity. It is an absolute honor and I am very excited to be making music with them, as I am to be sharing the moment with the Monk Institute Ensemble, that by now feels like family.
Devon Wendell: You’re already quite an accomplished tenor saxophonist. You’ve studied at Rimon School Of Jazz And Contemporary Music in Tel Aviv. You were the youngest to win first place at Rimon’s Outstanding Jazz Player competition. You graduated from The Berklee College Of Music with a Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz Performance after receiving a full scholarship there. You’ve also studied with such jazz icons as David Liebman, Peter Erskine, Lionel Loueke, and Jeremy Pelt, to name a few. Tell me some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned from playing with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock.
DR: One of the early lessons I learned from my family is to be a human being, respectful, kind, and attentive, care for the well being of others as a way of life. Working with Mr. Hancock and Mr. Shorter reinforces these values, especially since I had the chance to see the people behind those legendary musical figures. Both of them are so kind and caring, involved and invested in the time they spend with us, sharing their experience and perspective with us in the most honest, humble way. I remember the first time we worked with Mr. Shorter, and one of the songs we played for him was one that I wrote. When we finished playing, from the way he commented (he said my song sounded to him like the desert, like the kibbutz) you could tell that he was truly listening attentively. Wayne Shorter, one of the greatest jazz composers of all times is taking the time to mentor us and share his thoughts with us, I am so grateful for that.
We recently had the privilege of going on a US State Department Tour to Morocco, performing with Mr. Hancock and vocalist extraordinaire Dee Dee Bridgewater. There was a moment in one of our performances that I will remember for the rest of my life. For me, when the music is truly happening, borders or boundaries of differentiation dissolve: there is no more me, you, the audience, there is only the music, that connects us all. Performing with Mr. Hancock in Morocco was the best manifestation of everything I love and wish to do in music. As soon as the music started we were no longer “Herbie Hancock” and “The Monk Ensemble”. It was as if we’d known each other for years and met each other for the first time, at the same time. The way Mr. Hancock plays, each note a moment in time and a lifetime, and to create music in the moment with him… it was truly an amazing experience.. Truly an inspiration.
I was fortunate enough to be living in Boston the year Mr. Hancock was a guest speaker at Harvard. I went to every single one of his lectures; each was more interesting and inspiring than the previous one. I remember what struck me the most was not only what an amazing, accomplished musician he is, but what an honest, kind human being he is.
DW: Tell me about your role in the Thelonious Monk Institute For Jazz Performance and how it’s helped you to grow as a musician.
DR: What I love about the Monk Institute Ensemble is that by now it feels like family. The first time we met was at the auditions for the program and most of us had never met before (Ido the Trombone player and I went to the same high school in Israel and lived together in Boston for two years while we were both studying at Berklee). As soon as we played the first note together as a band for the jury (consisting of Hancock, Shorter, Jimmy Heath, Kenny Burrell, and James Newton) it felt like something else; the energy, the communication, there was a seed that felt amazing from the very first moment. As if it was meant to be. Every member of the band is not only an improviser and instrumentalist, but we all compose our own music as well. Being able to write regularly, and have such amazing musicians in the band to play the music, has been very beneficial to my development.
The fact that we each come from a different background, with different musical education and preferences really contributes to the learning process as well. Its like mixing 7 different ingredients, each with its own flavor, feeling, and characteristics, they are each unique on their own, but mix them together, and the options are endless. Since we started working together as a band, we also had the privilege to take part in educational outreach programs. It is truly rewarding and satisfying to be able to give back to the community, and support other students who are starting out, like I was supported when I started. In life, we are each a student and a teacher, and I have been learning so much from working with the kids that we got to work with.
DW:: Where do you hope to see your career as a jazz musician in the future?
DR: As a human being and a jazz musician I would hope to be able to inspire and contribute to those around me in this world. There is so much we still have to learn as a species, and I would like to take my part in the learning process. I hope to be able to touch people through music, and advance mutual respect and understanding. Musically speaking, I hope to be able to keep learning, keep developing. Having had the privilege to speak and play with Mr. Hancock and Mr. Shorter, if I could ever come even close to doing what these two men do, and in the way they do it, I would be a very fulfilled and happy person.
DW: Thank you so much for your time Daniel. You are a insightful person and I look forward to seeing you perform at the festival with Wayne, Herbie, and The rest of The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble.
DR: Thank you. I too look forward to it.
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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.