His compositions showcase saxophonist Wayne Shorter as a musical genius. Audiences get into the mind of the genius in “Wayne Shorter: Zero Gravity,” a documentary about his life and talent, that premiered on Aug. 25, what would have been his 90th birthday.
Shorter died earlier this year on March 2, but the film streaming on Prime opens audiences’ eyes to where he was headed. The film, written and directed by Dorsay Alavi, has been a work in progress for over 20 years.
Drenched in bebop jazz, Shorter had a reputation early in his career as a fast-playing sax player, receiving the nickname “Flash.” He learned from and performed with the best jazz musicians. He joined Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, then was recruited by Miles Davis to be a member of his second-greatest quintet.
Shorter co-founded one of the top jazz fusion groups, Weather Report, with pianist and composer Joe Zawinul. The musician also blended his style throughout his career with Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk, Joni Mitchell, Milton Nascimento and others.
What made Shorter stand above others was his skills in composing. Bandleaders knew they could turn to him for a different arrangement or a new tune when something different was desired.
In “Zero Gravity,” audiences learn that Davis would say to Shorter, “And bring the book.” That meant bringing his notebook of compositions. Davis respected his saxophone bandmate so much that he kept on his piano, a composition in Shorter’s handwriting.
This is not like any other bio documentary I have reviewed. For approximately three hours, the film is divided into three parts or “portals” as they are named. Portals are an appropriate description, as viewers pass through time– soaking in the thinking of Shorter.
Audiences learn about Shorter’s imaginative life as a youngster. He was fascinated by radio mysteries, and comic books, and was fixated on the world beyond. He found what might have been scary to others as funny, and he let his imagination fly. His parents and educators nurtured his imagination.
He and his brother Alan were inseparable. They were so close that they had their own way of communicating. Alan also became a musician.
In “Zero Gravity,” trumpeter, composer and bandleader Terence Blanchard shared Art Blakey’s description of Shorter.
“His imagination is like a child’s,” Blanchard said of Blakey’s observations. “His imagination is limitless.”
Being limitless fueled Shorter’s expansion of his personal brand. “Zero Gravity” shows Shorter as an explorer through every facet of his life. We hear Shorter’s explanation of the title of his film.
“‘Zero Gravity,’ is to say and do things in the present moment,” said Shorter. “The present moment is the only way you can change the past and dictate the future.”
The description also speaks to Shorter’s ability to build on every experience he encountered. He seamlessly moved from one style of music to another. Formed in 2000, Shorter started his own quartet to take some risks.
I got a glimpse of Shorter’s imaginative genius when I interviewed him about his opera “Iphigenia,” co-created with bassist, composer and vocalist Esperanza Spalding. Shorter said working with Spalding on “Iphigenia” was an honor.
“This opera is part of everything I have done,” Shorter said. “Everything I’ve been involved in is the meaning of this mission.”“Wayne Shorter: Zero Gravity,” is co-executive produced by Brad Pitt and Carlos Santana. View the trailer on YouTube.