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If there was ever a buddy movie set in the jazz world, the stars would be Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.
Before Shorter died at age 89 in March of this year, the music titans were friends and collaborators for more than half a century. They played together through different eras of music, starting in the early 1960s with Miles Davis, and through the funk era of the 1970s and 80s.
Hancock and Shorter explored various genres in the 1990s and beyond and won a Grammy together in 1997.
Between the two of them, they won more than two dozen Grammys.
Shorter’s 90th birthday would have been on Aug. 25, and Hancock honored his life, faith, music and legacy with a star-studded concert at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday.
4 questions with Herbie Hancock about Wayne Shorter
What were your early impressions of each other when you started playing together in the Miles Davis Quintet?
“My impression of Wayne at the time was that he was a brilliant jazz musician. I didn’t know at that time the scope of Waynes’s vision.
“He was an amazing composer. Miles Davis loved playing Wayne’s tunes. And Miles had a tendency to reshape any of our compositions to make them better. The only compositions Miles didn’t change were Wayne’s.
“I remember the first time Wayne played with us. He had no rehearsals. Just before we walked on stage, Miles said to Wayne ‘You know my tunes.’ And Wayne nodded his head. And Miles just made a gesture. Like ‘Let’s go.’ And they got on the stage, and they both just tore it up. It was just amazing.
“Wayne was always curious. He always wanted to challenge conventional ideas. He always wanted to reach beyond expectations.”
Both you and Wayne practiced Buddhism for more than 50 years. How do you describe the spirit that burns inside you both?
“The Buddhism we practice encourages us to realize every human being is irreplaceable. Each one of us is here because we have a mission. We are the only ones who can do it. It means that everybody is necessary. Even the people you don’t agree with. All of us are necessary. And we believe every human being actually is born with that Buddha condition. That highest condition of life. And our chanting of Nam Myoho Renge Ryo is the catalyst that activates the Buddha condition.
“It's a never-ending mission for human beings to become wiser, not just smarter. It's about wisdom. It's about compassion. It’s about the humanitarian spirit. It’s about courage. It's also about sharing.
“It encourages us to be better human beings tomorrow than we are today. Wayne lived that life. And I think that’s what we all want.”
Tell us about Shorter’s friendship and collaboration with Joni Mitchell.
“One of my greatest joys was to be in a room to hear a conversation between Joni Mitchell and Wayne Shorter. They were so much on the same wavelength. For me to follow where they were going with the conversation floating around, it was a joy to experience.
“It was almost as though he knew what she was going to say, and she knew what he was going to say. And they would make these leaps from one aspect of conversation to another like they were bouncing off of rocks in a pond or in a lake. It was so hard for me to keep up.
“All that translated in the way that Wayne played for Joni. He was always able to anticipate without words what Joni needed to hear.”
Can you talk about the ‘One Plus One’ record that the two of you wrote?
“Those compositions were amazing. And the vast majority were written by Wayne. There were some that we collaborated on. I loved all of those compositions. It’s like a hallmark in my heart.
“Wayne is on tour now. He is out on tour. He hasn’t really left us. Because he left all these treasures that are his music and his compositions for everyone to enjoy.
“We are connected at the hip and at the heart.”
This segment aired on August 23, 2023.