I’m very excited to share the first episode of my new interview series. The story of how my conversation with Wayne Shorter came to be is an interesting one – to me everything that has to do with Wayne Shorter is interesting!
When it comes to Wayne one could say that I’m a nerd: I have all of his records; I collect all his interviews and then check out everything that he mentioned in them: books, movies, records etc.; I have hundreds of bootlegs of all of his bands; I’ve transcribed over 50 of his compositions and so on and so forth… To me he is a constant source of inspiration and joy.
More than 7 years ago I heard rumors about a movie being made about Wayne so naturally I got very excited. I tried to find out as much as I could about the details of this production and I found out a film maker called Dorsay Alavi was directing it, following the Wayne Shorter quartet on tour and interviewing lots of his peers. They started a Pledge Music campaign where one could “pledge” (donate money) and get different perks in return. Naturally, I pledged and donated a certain amount and receiving the opportunity to have a 20 minute skype interview with Wayne himself! I reached out to Dorsay Alavi asking her if she’d consider to show Wayne a recording of mine prior to the skype conversation so that he could maybe comment on what he had just heard. To my great surprise and joy she accepted and showed Wayne a recording of me playing a solo rendition of Joni Mitchell’s song “Marcie”.
Of course, I was beyond nervous to talk to my hero, which is why you won’t find me talking a lot in this conversation. What do you reply to a master of this statue? What is there left to say?
After this conversation I met Wayne in person a couple of times, after his shows in Cologne in 2013 and Stuttgart in 2017 and I was amazed that he immediately remembered me, commenting on things we talked about in our first conversation. He would say: “Pablo!! Fast Fingers!! Storyteller!!”
I’m so thankful to both Wayne and Dorsay for making this possible and granting me the rights to share this with all of you. This has been an amazing experience for me. Hope you enjoy!
Pablo Held: Hello!
Dorsay Alavi: Hi Pablo, how are you ?
Pablo: I’m very excited!
Wayne Shorter: Can you see me ?
Pablo: I can see you – IT’S YOU, MAESTRO!
Wayne: I see me seeing you!
Wayne: …seeing you, seeing me, seeing you, seeing me!
Pablo: Now you see me – now you don’t! (disappears in the picture)
Wayne: (laughs) What month were you born ?
Wayne: Okay. No I’m not going into the – what do you call it ?
Pablo: Oh, what are you, capricorn ?
Wayne: No, virgo.
Pablo: I see.
Wayne: You’re a capricorn, right?
Pablo: Yeah, that’s right.
Wayne: Yes, Joe Zawinul and I used to say, talking about capricorn: lots of Xylophone players, boxers, pianists and, you know, people who work with wood and building things, you know?
Pablo: Okay, I work also with wood. Wood and strings!
Wayne: There are a lot of actors who are capricorns.
Pablo: Like who?
Wayne: They used to work with their hands, but they became actors. I think Harrison Ford was one.
Pablo: I love Harrison Ford!
Wayne: You know, he used to build houses.
Pablo: Oh yeah, that’s before Star Wars.
Wayne: Right. That was his job, building houses and things like that and then he learnt to fly. He still flies now. He flies, you know, there’s something manual to that. But, my father was a capricorn, he worked with his hands.
Pablo: What was his profession?
Wayne: He was a welder, you know. He built ships, ship panels on the outsides of ships and stuff. He also worked for the Singer Sewing Company in New Jersey. But how are you doing?
Pablo: I’m fine, I was looking so much forward to this! This is like a dream come true, because you’re like my idol!
Actually I was sitting next to your wife at your concert in Maastricht, Netherlands in 2010. There was a empty seat next to me, which was reserved for someone, it was in the front row. And then I saw a lady coming closer and I realized it was your wife, so immediately started talking to her before the show. And I gave her my CD for you, because I was trying to reach you. What do you give your idol? I wanted to give something back to you, I don’t know if it reached you… But now I have you in front of me here and it’s just great to see you!
Wayne: Yeah I think it’s here, I saw the name Pablo. I have a lot of things here today, since my birthday…
Pablo: I was going to say: Happy belated 80th Anniversary!
Wayne: I have to move a lot of things out of the way and I think I’ll find your CD. But I heard you just now! I like what you’re doing, man!
Wayne: You’re going to those other places! Traveling to other places. And when I was hearing you, I said: “I know he appreciates Beethoven!” Not that I hear Beethoven, but I hear the strength. There’s a strength and it’s centered as it moves, you know? And you have that velocity. Inside-velocity and storytelling! This is all after all the music lessons, you know. Charlie Parker used to say: “Try to forget the music lessons and start telling stories!” So, you were travelling in the galaxies without – what do you call it ? – without having a lot of minor seconds all over the place. In the harmony – you know? (laughs)
Pablo: Wow, thank you so much!
I was thinking a lot about what to send you. On that same concert I also did a rendition of your song “Meridianne – A Wood Sylph”, but I thought maybe it would be strange for you to listen to your own song, because I’m so much influenced by how you do it, of course. So I thought maybe this song by your friend Joni Mitchell would be appropriate.
Wayne: Oh Yeah. I think Joni would like that. Because I know she doesn’t have the harmony on the guitar that you do. But I think in her head your harmony… She has the colors in her heard that someone else can contribute. That’s another way of looking at playing music and when your thinking of other people, without being selfish and saying “I’m playing for myself”, you can be contributing to everyone who has been before and coming after.
Like the pop musicians, they say they want to play music to please the public and that’s tricky, because you might think: “oh they’re thinking of people other than themselves” you know. But it can be very…. you know it’s the opposite! The opposite kind can be hidden. (laughs) Because some people do things to please other people and then when they’re in private they’re like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde! (laughs) But then if you play music and it sounds like you’re not playing for the people and it sounds like you’re playing for yourself that can be the reverse. That you’re playing what you think people need. If you’re playing or writing a book or something like that of what you think the world needs – that could be part of your mission.
Pablo: You mean my mission?
Wayne: Yeah, it could be part of your mission! I kind of feel you appreciate Bill Evans. I think that Bill Evans had that feeling when he played just before he passed away. But we have to be strong and not let anything takes us over, dominate us and control us to the point that we destroy ourselves, destroy ourselves in the name of some mission. It’s about insecurity and traps, traps that we can fall into. You’re about 24 years old, right?
Pablo: I’m 26 now.
Wayne: I was 25 when I got out of the army and then I met Horace Silver, John Coltrane. I mean I saw them before. I saw Horace Silver a lot before. But I met John Coltrane and then later I met Miles, Art Blakey. I met Louis Armstrong.
Pablo: You met Louis Armstrong ?
Wayne: In the club Birdland.
Pablo: When was this?
Wayne: When I was working with the Jazz Messengers, Art Blakey and me walked into the nightclub and then Art said: “I want to introduce you to Louis Armstrong!” And he was sitting at a table. He stood up, turned around and we shook hands…
I was watching the older musicians… watching Louis Armstrong, watching Coleman Hawkins. Watching those guys whenever I could see them. And I thinking a little bit about how healthy they were. I wondered about how long am I gonna have to be on the road, playing for a mission. Playing new music… there’s a lot of resistance on the radio and in marketing, advertising and so on. So I said to myself: “This is going a be a loooooong journey!”
What I’m getting at, Pablo, is how to sustain and keep healthy and sustain the life, the path that you chose and not let anything destroy you.
Pablo: Yes, I see what you mean. Actually I’m trying to live very healthy, I don’t do drugs or drink alcohol etc. My wife and me we’re about to have our first child in January.
Wayne: Yeah! Congratulations!
Pablo: Thank you. Wayne, I’d like to ask you something about composing.
Wayne: Go ahead!
Pablo: I read that you compose every day, so I’m wondering how you get into the mood to compose?
Wayne: (laughs) That’s a very basic question!
Pablo: Yes, I know…
Wayne: Sometimes I don’t. I just sit there and I have to think about flying and adventures and great stories, people trying to… like the Justice League, Superman, Batman… even the historic people… St. George and the dragon. But I don’t like the negative stuff. Sometimes I have the television on, watching CNN…
Pablo: But there’s a lot of negative stuff on television, right?
Wayne: Right, as I’m looking at CNN, I start thinking of the positive stuff to write, while the negative stuff is going on!
Pablo: … like to fight back?
Wayne: I listen to life, watch what’s going on around and write the opposite.
Pablo: Wow…! I think I wouldn’t get one idea if I turn on the TV here in Germany. But that’s a great idea!
Wayne: Or… this is a statement that just came to me. We teach at UCLA me, Herbie and Jimmy Heath, two days out of each month, when we can. They made an arrangement that we can do this. And one question I got from the students is: “What do you think of when you write? How do you get in the mood? What is it?” And there’s one answer that kind of stays with me: “Try to write and play, and write again, what you wish for!”
Pablo: Yeah, that’s nice!
Wayne: And then answer that question: “What do I wish for ?” and then try to put it in music.
As in: “How do you wish the world to be?” I wish the world was like fairyland! (laughs)
Pablo: (laughs) Actually, that’s linked another question I had. It’s not even a question, more a remark. You’re music to me sounds like the feeling I get when I watch “The Wizard Of Oz” or “Alice in Wonderland” etc. It’s the same feeling. It’s this uplifting spirit that comes with it, that makes you want to jump out of your window and fly!
Wayne: And I hear that in your harmonic story, in your version of “Marcie”. And I hear more than the melodies of Joni Mitchell, I hear YOU going your way, I would say, you’re starting to go do the path that’s least taken in life. Yeah! That’s an adventurous path and it takes courage, because the so-called “reality-people” always want to jump in front of you and say “booohh!”. They always say: “No! There’s no such thing as living happily ever after!” And I say: “Yes there is!!” So I have to be like a little boy.
If you’re playing what you wish for, that’s a pretty open challenge and it’s keeps me on my toes, keeps me awake and it’s always the door that’s open to write something whether you’re in the mood or not in the mood. That door is open – I say: “Who has the key to the door ?” Some people wanna shut that door and lock it forever! Business people! (laughs)
Anyways, you have a nice family and you’re gonna have children pretty soon. I want to wish you a lot of happiness and we’ll be seeing you when we’re gonna come to Europe. I think we going to come to Cologne.
Pablo: I’ll attend two concerts of you in November. I’ll be there in Essen and Cologne and the booker of the Philharmonic Hall in Cologne promised me to bring me backstage after the gig to say hello to you.
Wayne: OK, our tour-manager will watch for you, too. His name is Robert. That Church in Cologne…
Pablo: The Dom ?
Wayne: Yeah, it used to look like melting wax, you know? But they’ve been working on it, right?
Pablo: Yes and there’s a new window, a different window done by the Artist Gerhard Richter. Full of colorful cubes, there’s no religious figures on it, it’s a just great image.
— Skype connection interruption
Pablo: In a recent interview you said that Weather Report was something like a detour, or step away from the mission for you. So I was wondering what you meant by that?
Wayne: Well, after so many years it was time for me to step out and do things that I wanted to do before it’s too late. You know, things that I had in my mind when I was ten years old. I want to continue some things that you have to do without having a collaboration, or cooperative group.
Pablo: Like your mission?
Wayne: Yeah. When I joined the Jazz Messengers, it was 5 years. Then Miles – almost six, five and a half years. Then Weather Report was like 13 or 14, I said: “This is too long.” I started reading a lot of stories, books. I always read books anyway since I was about 13 years old. But I was reading great novels written by people. And I said “Wait a minute, it’s time for me to do some music novels” you know? Something that you have to do by yourself, so that you don’t get buried. Like they say: “Oh, he’s one of the Beach Boys….”
Pablo: I know what you mean.
Wayne: Or the name of a group taking over the individuality.
Pablo: I see. But I have to say this detour has also given me a lot of joy!
Wayne: Yeah. I said to Joe Zawinul: “You Know, Joe I think it’s time for both of us to do our own thing” And we shook hands on it and said “Yeah!”
Even up to that time before Joe passed away I was with him in Hungary, he was in the wheelchair. We always talked by facts and talked about life and watched the boxing matches together. So we said “We’re still partners!”
— Skype connection interruption
Dorsay: We were waiting for your last question, Pablo.
Pablo: Oh ok, I’ll have to decide…
Wayne: Don’t force it. I don’t like force myself!
Pablo: This is another question about composing: Because I was checking out your compositions “Universe” and “Legend” and I found DNA of “Dolores”, “Sweet Pea”, “Two Faced” and “Sanctuary” and other compositions by you in there. So I was wondering how you free mind when you re-compose or de-compose older compositions of yours to start again with a fresh view?
Wayne: Well, actually in reality when we’re five years old we’re maybe two feet tall, then we get older and grow and we’re the same person. And with me, my philosophy is: to me there’s no such thing as the end of anything – or beginning! When they say: “Madonna is re-inventing herself” – Uh uh, no I say: “She’s continuing.” That marketing language, you know? Lady Gaga! Or “you’re doing an old piece of music in new clothes!” And I say: “You’re wrong, the piece is growing!” I have to recognize its growth. If it sounds the same, it’s my fault! (laughs) So I’m recognizing we must grow! OK? So I’m going to see you in Europe, OK?
Pablo: Yeah, I’ll see you in Cologne and Essen! I’ll be there!
Dorsay: Thank you so much Pablo!
Pablo: Thank You, it was so nice! Thank you!
Wayne: OK Bye-bye!
(this conversation took place on September 5th 2013)
click here for more info on “Zero Gravity”, Dorsay Alavi’s upcoming movie about Wayne Shorter.