Wayne Shorter Quartet performing as part of the Downtown Jazz Festival at Nathan Phillips Square, Tuesday (June 24), 8:30 pm. $30. 416-870-8000. it never fails to amaze me how much of an artist's musical aesthetic can be reflected in the way he or she approaches the interview process. With jazz musicians in particular, what you hear coming off the stage often bears a striking resemblance to what you get in conversation.
Max Roach proved to be every bit the precise tactician when recounting his work with Clifford Brown - using short, measured phrases without a wasted word - much as he is behind a drum kit. Likewise, I found Sun Ra playfully witty in an otherworldly way, which is what you'd expect from his delightful musical excursions, while guitarist Sonny Sharrock was generally ebullient yet prone to sudden confrontational outbursts, just as he was with a Les Paul Custom in his hands.
And Wayne Shorter, a consistently creative composer/saxophonist given to colourful extended solo narratives onstage, doesn't disappoint on the other end of the phone line.
No matter how specific or vague the topic of discussion, Shorter keys on a certain idea and riffs on it, racing through a head-spinning array of unusual metaphors and seemingly unrelated subjects as quickly as they occur to him.
An offhand use of the word "jazz" in reference to his latest epic, Alegria (Verve) - which he'll be showcasing at the Downtown Jazz Festival with his fabulous Quartet, featuring Brian Blade, John Patitucci and Danilo Perez - is enough to set him off, with a pause only to check the action in the episode of Days Of Our Lives blaring on the screen of his hotel room television.
"The totality of music shouldn't be handcuffed to a certain style or category," bellows Shorter in a professorial tone, as if teaching a Jazz 101 course.
"Jazz is not just a sound, it's a spirit. It's like a bee that goes from stylistic flower to flower, all the while buzzing with reminders like, 'Don't forget the freedom'... 'Don't forget your rights'... 'What about your loyalty to yourself over that conditioned process that developed over the last 75 years through one-size-fits-all radio and TV domination?'"
Not that he's being evasive. He simply doesn't give a rat's ass for the whole publicity predicament that comes as a consequence of his reluctant association with what he frequently refers to as the "corporate T-Rex," meaning his record label.
For an encore, he starts asking some questions of his own and not answering those either. The one that goes "Have you ever seen the bust of a jazz critic in a music hall of fame?" has me chuckling to myself. "Just about as many as there are jazz artists in the top 10."
It's clear that Shorter's having trouble biting back his contempt for music writers in general, at one point saying, "We'd all be much better off if journalists would write novels instead of criticism," and adding pointedly, "It's not too late to start."
Someone else might take that as a dis, and it's likely meant to be, but Shorter is far too entertaining to stop when he's on a tear.
When I ask if he's heard anything inspiring lately, Shorter responds, "I'm listening to the heartbeat of everything that has been taken for granted and passed by.
"I've chosen the road less travelled, avoiding the sing-songy stuff you hear on American Idol - anything that might cause someone to say, 'It looks like we've got a hit here!'"
Just saying "Gil Evans" is enough to send Shorter into a reverie about his secret teenage desire to write operas and a brief pondering of Xavier Cugat's use of French horns en route to a breakdown of what makes for a worthwhile John Williams film score. The best bits are his occasional detours into the whispering world of Miles Davis wisdom.
"Miles once said, 'Hey, Wayne, don't you ever get tired of hearing music that sounds like music?' I guess my eyes must've lit up like I was about to say something. But before I could answer, he said, 'Yeah, I know what you mean. '"
email@example.com Toronto guitarist Tim Posgate is the ideal tour guide for Toronto's Downtown Jazz Festival . Not only is Posgate leading his dreamy improvisation ensemble Jazzstory into a festival gig at the Goethe Institute (163 King West) Friday (June 20), but the guitarist also curates his own mini-festival. Posgate's Grand Festival Of Autumnal Happiness showcases his fanatical support of the local jazz scene and digs further into the underground than the mainstream fests ever would. He's plugged in, in more ways than one.
Here are Posgate's must-see tips for this year's Downtown Jazz fest. Nimmons 'n' Nine Plus 6 Friday (June 20), noon, Nathan Phillips Square
"This man and this moment are so important in the history of Canadian jazz music."
Wayne Shorter Tuesday (June 24), 8:30 pm, Nathan Phillips Square
"If you don't know, then don't go. Leave the tickets for a fan who would sleep out to get them!"
NOJO with Sam Rivers (June 26), 5 pm, Nathan Phillips Square
"How could you miss a free Sam Rivers show?"
David Mott Quintet June 26, 6:30 pm, Music Gallery
"Toronto's best-kept secret that everybody knows about."
Eric Boeren Quartet June 26, 8:30 pm, Goethe Institute
"Han Bennink on drums, Wilbert de Joode on bass, Dutch treat!"