NSO Pops: Wayne Shorter 80th Birthday Celebration with the Wayne Shorter Quartet and Esperanza Spalding by Francine Schwartz

Wayne Shorter, his Quartet, and vocalist Esperanza Spalding appeared last night in another sold-out concert at The Kennedy Center. There was a new work that was commissioned from Wayne Shorter, as part of their mission to provide more variety, “everything from jazz to hip-hope,” according to the Pops Conductor Steven Reineke.

Wayne Shorter. Photo by Thomas Dorn.
Wayne Shorter. Photo by Thomas Dorn.

The Wayne Shorter Quartet includes pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blades. At the age of 80, Wayne Shorter is one of the most influential and adventurous musicians of the jazz scene and has become renown for his composing. It was quite a sight to see his quartet surrounded by the 50 plus members of the National Symphony Orchestra. The NSO musicians sometimes seemed to overwhelm the four quartet members. Conductor Vince Mendoza had quite a challenge to integrate the jazz musicians with the classically trained NSO musicians, but it worked. Shorter’s style is harmonically complex but somewhat minimalist with generous space for other musicians to show their stuff. There were long periods in which his instrument was silent, or even secondary.

Esperanza Spaulding.
Esperanza Spaulding.

Petite Esperanza Spaulding, with her signature liontine mass of hair, stood on the stage with total confidence displaying her vocalize abilities. She is featured in Gaia, which is an ambitious atmospheric work with environmental imagery, and oceanic swells of strings and horns. For the final piece, Midnight in Carlotta’s Hair, Spalding returned, now with acoustic bass played by Patitucci, (who took the high register road, and she the low), and sung a more simple, yet evocative, Shorter melody—a task much easier than the Gaia score. Midnight in Carlotta’s Hair was unpredictable, soulful, and hypnotic. Spaulding has a high range, which has been compared to Blossom Dearie, and is able to engage the audience in a meditative mood without being able to rely on words or verbal story line. There is an intimacy to her singing, even in the most complicated pieces.

The performance also included “Vendiendo,” with exciting African and Cuban references. The audience appreciated “Alegria,” which was arranged by Wayne Shorter, and his own original compositions, Flagships and the ambitious and amusingly named “Forbidden Plan-it.”

I want to mention the MyTix program which may explain the greater attendance of some handicapped audience members. Designed for patrons 18 to 30 as well as active duty members of the armed services, MyTix makes the performing arts more accessible and affordable. Qualified patrons can register here to receive frequent discount offers and special free ticket giveaways in addition to other discounts.

This event was a part of the NEA Jazz Masters Live series, a program of the National endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest that celebrates the living legends who have made exceptional contributions to the advance of jazz.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, including a 15-minute intermission.

Wayne Shorter.
Wayne Shorter. Photo courtesy of Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

NEA Jazz Masters Live

NSO Pops: Wayne Shorter 80th Birthday Celebration with the Wayne Shorter Quartet and special guest Esperanza Spalding played for one-night on Thursday, September 26, 2013 at The Kennedy Center. For future events, check their calendar of events.

Wayne Shorter’s website.



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