A crash course in composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter should start with his tune "Witch Hunt." The tightly structured weave of tenor sax and trumpet swings along with a carefree gait until, out of nowhere, there's a ricochet of drums and the melody suddenly sweeps upward into a tortured scream. This is Wayne Shorter at his best: complex, shrewd and surprising.
Born in 1933, Shorter began his career as a sideman to legendary leaders in the bop movement, including Art Blakey and Horace Silver. And even though the young tenor player struggled to emerge from the shadow of former practice buddy John Coltrane, eventually his gifts as a composer led to sessions as a bandleader. By the mid-'60s, he was stunningly prolific, turning out a clutch of records that explored the fringes of post-bop, both as an increasingly confident bandleader and a member of Miles Davis' legendary second quintet.
Although the records of this period are his most celebrated, they only represent half the story. He then took up soprano sax, founded visionary fusion group Weather Report, and was a frequent collaborator with pop singers and songwriters. Shorter's greatest legacy lies in his compositions, but his longevity as a performer and visionary spans four decades. Here's an introduction to his best work.