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Footprints: The Life and Music of Wayne Shorter

4.6 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1585423538
ISBN-10: 158542353X
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Legendary jazz saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter gets an appreciative appraisal in this excellent biography by music journalist Mercer, who follows this "determinedly eccentric" genius from his early days with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in the late 1950s, through his stunning work with the Miles Davis Quintet in the 1960s, to his popular jazz-rock fusion band Weather Report in the 1970s and his ongoing recording and performing. She carefully details his early influences, including his mother's tireless indulgence of his creative whims and his fascination with the 1948 film The Red Shoes, whose central conflict—living for oneself versus living for one's art—would define his career. Mercer expertly investigates Shorter's relationships with the two pianists who most influenced his music, fellow Davis Quintet member Herbie Hancock and Weather Report co-leader Joe Zawinul, as well as the impact of his Buddhist faith on his music. Mercer also shines in her consideration of some Shorter's less critically acclaimed efforts, including his genre-defying work with Joni Mitchell and Brazilian pop singer and composer Milton Nascimento. Interviews with Shorter, Carlos Santana, Amiri Baraka and dozens of others lend depth and tone to this clear-eyed account. B&w photos not seen by PW.
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Review

Footprints is a fascinating, often intimate account of his creative journey. -- San Francisco Chronicle

Intelligent and revealing. -- Financial Times

May be the closest we will come to an autobiography of one of the greatest composers and improvisers in jazz. -- The New York Times

Mercer untangles Shorter's web of metaphysics, historic films and music making, and reties them all together for an engrossing narrative. -- Downbeat

Mercer untangles Shorter's web of metaphysics, historic films and music making, and reties them all together for an engrossing narrative. -- Billboard

Mercer's book is pleasurable and empathetic, essential for anyone who wants to get closer to this inscrutable genius. -- The New Republic

[A]n elegant, questing biography into the mindset of the great jazz sax man.... -- Kirkus Reviews

[I]t's impossible to imagine a book that would give any better understanding of this enigmatic man. -- Los Angeles Times

[a] well-told, thoroughly researched, and ultimately inspiring story of a jazz giant. -- Jazziz

a compelling and fascinating story, told with grace and candor. -- Sunday Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Tarcher (December 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158542353X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585423538
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,044,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I'm a jazz sax player, and just finished reading this book. It's a real page-turner, and I couldn't put it down. Though light on musical analysis (there is no musical notation in the text of the book), it delves deeply into the sources of Shorter's genius and creativity.

The coverage of Shorter's early years, and his obsession with movies (especially The Red Shoes), and with the children's novel The Water Babies, was quite revealing. I hadn't fully realized the extent of his early gifts in the visual arts, and the impact this has had on his playing and compositions.

Shorter's rapid rise to fame in the 50's and 60's receives excellent coverage, especially his association with Art Blakey and Miles Davis. There are priceless anecdotes that I had not heard before, but I'll leave those for the reader to discover.

I was also fascinated by the discussion of the Weather Report years. It was interesting to learn the working dynamics of that group, and the motivations behind Shorter's long association with it.

The latter third of the book (and of Shorter's life) is dominated by the seriousness of his devotion to Buddhist practice, and this influence this has had on his life and work. It seems that through this practice, he has achieved an inner sense of peace, which is evident in his music in the past decade or so.

Like a previous reviewer, I would have appreciated more detailed coverage of the classic Blue Note sessions like Speak No Evil & Adam's Apple, which recieve only passing mention. However, the rest of the narrative is so well constructed that this is a minor flaw, and the overall effort still merits 5 stars. It's the most engaging jazz bio that I've read in a long time.
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Format: Hardcover
Michelle Mercer has done the seemingly impossible: she has fully inhabited the far-out imagination of one of our greatest, and at times, seemingly most unreachable musicians, and brought back the subject from the outer space he's been confined to. Yes, it's a book about jazz; but only, truly, as an explication of life. Yes, it's a biography, but it's neither a Pollyana bio-pic nor is it a psychobabble psychobiography. Additionally, despite the affirming names of Shorter and Herbie Hancock on the cover, this effort is hardly an as-told-to "approved" bio. It's actually quite wonderfully like its subject: funny, strange, compelling--and as serious as your life.
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By Kat on February 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is book is amazing. I am neither a jazz expert nor a Wayne Shorter authority, but this book "puts me there." It's good writing if I want to continue with a story with which I am not familar and this book does just that. I am educating myself in the world of jazz and this is the best book I've come across yet.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm a big Wayne Shorter fan. In high school, Weather Report's fusion was one of the building blocks of broadening music past rock and R&B. In college, I went deep into Wayne's Blue Note period, and over the last several years Wayne's editions of the Jazz Messengers have moved me with their 60s ethereal tunes plus hard driving swing. Speak No Evil is one of my favorite albums, and I've always wanted a picture of Wayne that was deeper than the "Mr. Weird" character he's been tagged with. With the rise of his acoustic group, Wayne's finally earned enough acclaim to get this biographical treatment that should appeal to a wide range of his fans and musician admirers.

Technically inclined musicians may hunger for something a little deeper than this. The book does not go into musical analysis or explicit aspects of the creative process. What it does do is depict Wayne consistent to how he sees himself. The book is filled with Wayne's nonmusical influences. How he arrives at his Buddhist faith. How tragedy has been a consistent struggle for him. How he tries to create movies in sound. Wayne's a complex cat and I doubt it's easy to try to peg him down in under 300 pages. But this book adds a lot to my picture of Wayne the human being.

I agree with the earlier reviewer who says this book doesn't reveal but so much of his solo Blue Note sides. The book doesn't try to recreate the studio experience of those classic sessions in the way that Ashley Kahn's "Love Supreme" or "Kind of Blue" books do. Perhaps it's because this author chooses to emphasize Wayne the touring musician over Wayne the compositional genius. In that vein, the glimpses of Weather Report as a touring band are very insightful.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is not a biography in the vein of Jack Chambers' Miles bio. For me, it provides a greater service: the author's close access to her subject allowed her to get to the heart of Shorter's creative process, spirituality, and personality. This is no small accomplishment, as Shorter is known for being an enigmatic character. Future biographers will write academic overviews of his career, but Mercer capitalizes on her first hand access to do something more valuable. She lends understanding to the themes and motifs that define the fascinating artist's life. When you listen to Shorter's music, it's clear his sound comes from a very unique place. Footprints gives us a clear idea of where Shorter's coming from.
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