Colgate’s Jazzin’ it Up: Celebrating Wayne Shorter

Brendan Young

At 7:30 p.m. on November 16 and 17, community members and students gathered at the Palace Theater for Wayne’s World: Celebrating the Music of Wayne Shorter, this semester’s iteration of the biannual Core 152 jazz program. Associate Professor of Music Glenn Cashman led a quartet including Central New York jazz regulars Mike Solazzo on upright bass and Jimmy Johns on drums. The quartet also featured Richard Roeder on guitar. Roeder makes his living as a record producer in Baltimore, but his own post-bop chops were undeniable as he accompanied and traded solos with Cashman. If you weren’t wearing your glasses on Friday night, you might think that Roeder was Pat Metheny. From his similar Einstein hair-do and archtop guitar, to the effected sound of his instrument, presence like Roeder’s was a once-in-ten-years sort of happening in Hamilton, New York.

The repertoire of the performance (seven out of eight were Shorter compositions) plays an important role in fitting into Core 152’s Challenge of Modernity curriculum. Shorter played in Miles Davis ensembles from 1964 to 1970. Davis is an extraordinary figure in jazz history not just because of his trumpet playing, but because of his uncanny ability to find talent in others and put together great bands. Previously, the Core 152 concert has featured the music of John Coltrane including his albums A Love Supreme and Coltrane Plays the Blues. Coltrane played tenor saxophone with Davis from 1955 to 1961. After Coltrane left, Davis tried out Hank Mobley, then George Coleman, and finally Shorter. Between numbers on Friday night, Cashman attributed the “revitalization of the Miles Davis quintet” to Shorter’s joining the band in 1964, “taking the band in a new direction,” bringing not only his skills as a talented composer, but also his “compositional-style playing.” I took Professor Cashman’s remark to imply Shorter’s careful playing, his foresight, his restraint and his thoughtfulness as an improviser to play the saxophone not only as an extension of his musical thoughts but as an instrument to make the whole band sound better.

Selections for the concert Friday evening included some standout tunes from Shorter’s mid-60s recordings on Blue Note Records. “Virgo” from 1964’s Night Dreamer was the ballad of the night, with a beautiful cadenza from Cashman on the tenor. “Witch Hunt,” “Wild Flower” and the title track from 1965’s Speak No Evil represented the strong core of new standards that Shorter has given the jazz world. “Footprints” was also recorded for Blue Note on 1966’s Adam’s Apple, but like “E.S.P.” and “Nefertiti,” it became famous for its recording with the second great Davis quintet. To gauge Shorter’s influence on the Davis band without delving into the music, you might consider that these last two tunes were also the titles of two of Miles’ albums. Milton Nascimento’s “Ponta De Areia,” a melodic favorite of Cashman’s, was recorded on Shorter’s 1975 album Native Dancer.

Earlier on Friday, Roeder led a master class in the Dana Arts Center. Roeder spoke to Colgate students about his guitar-playing role, tailoring his harmonies to accompany soloists. He explained that among professional jazz guitarists, anyone could play the solo from “Giant Steps” (a challenging Coltrane tune).

“But if you can make the soloist you’re accompanying sound good, they’ll think you’re a genius,” Roeder said.

Without intending to, Roeder touched on an essential part of the Wayne Shorter program that would follow that evening. Watching him play on stage, you can tell that he has the ear and the sensibility of a producer or a composer in the spirit of Shorter. He frequently adjusted his amplifier to provide the perfect color to accompany Cashman on saxophone. He used some less orthodox techniques of rolling on and off his volume control to provide dramatic crescendos and decrescendos. He went above and beyond his role as the rhythm player to be a foil, to provide counterpoint, to play off of the other musicians.