Wayne Shorter, Jazz Legend Who Collaborated With Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell, Dead at 89

Wayne Shorter, the legendary, Grammy-winning saxophonist who — in addition to his own renowned albums and work with jazz supergroup Weather Report — collaborated with the likes of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Steely Dan, and Joni Mitchell, has died at the age of 89.

The venerated musician died Thursday morning, March 2, in Los Angeles, Shorter’s rep confirmed to Rolling Stone. No cause of death was provided. His longtime label Blue Note said in a statement Thursday, “Visionary composer, saxophonist, visual artist, devout Buddhist, devoted husband, father, and grandfather Wayne Shorter has passed away at age 89, departing the earth as we know it and embarking on a new journey as part of his extraordinary life. Shorter was surrounded by his loving family in Los Angeles at the time of his transition.”

Over a career that spanned eight decades — from his 1959 debut to his 2023 Grammy-winning Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival — Shorter was one of the most prolific and visible ambassadors of jazz, expanding the boundaries of the art form itself while fusing its influence with all genres of music.

Herbie Hancock, Shorter’s closest friend and collaborator for more than six decades, said in a statement, “Wayne Shorter, my best friend, left us with courage in his heart, love and compassion for all, and a seeking spirit for the eternal future. He was ready for his rebirth. As it is with every human being, he is irreplaceable and was able to reach the pinnacle of excellence as a saxophonist, composer, orchestrator, and recently, composer of the masterful opera …Iphigenia. I miss being around him and his special Wayne-isms but I carry his spirit within my heart always.”

Courtney Love, who got to know Shorter through practicing Buddhism, shared a tribute in which she called the saxophonist “my Buddhist uncle” and shared a memory of a time he offered her guidance. “ I sat across from him, all steamed up, and we looked at each other,” Love recalled. “Those sparkling, knowing, mirthful eyes of his. And we just both cracked up. I forgot why I was mad. And Wayne said ‘it’s good to be alive, isn’t it?’ I agreed. … I learned so much from this man about compassion, not accepting defeat, about embodying one’s art with one’s whole ichinen sanzen – life force & kosenrufu/ human revolution, and about achieving enlightenment in this lifetime, as I’m sure Wayne did.”

“Maestro Wayne Shorter was our hero, guru, and beautiful friend,” Blue Note President Don Was added. “His music possessed a spirit that came from somewhere way, way beyond and made this world a much better place. Likewise, his warmth and wisdom enriched the lives of everyone who knew him. Thankfully, the work he left behind will stay with us forever.”

The Newark, New Jersey-born Shorter began his career under the tutelage of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, performing alongside fellow future jazz greats (and collaborators) like Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. After a half-decade stint with Blakey, Shorter released his debut as bandleader in 1959, featuring three musicians — bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Jimmy Cobb, and pianist Wynton Kelly — who just months earlier formed the backbone of Davis’ Kind of Blue

The graduate of an arts high school with a college degree in music education, Shorter excelled in both composition and improvisation — two skills he’d eventually employ when he was recruited to join Davis in what was eventually dubbed that trumpeter’s Second Great Quintet.

That lineup — also featuring bassist Ron Carter, pianist Hancock and drummer Tony Williams — first appeared together on 1965’s E.S.P., and would support Davis as he explored jazz fusion on subsequent landmark albums like In a Silent Way, Miles in the Sky, Nefertiti (with Shorter writing the title track) and Bitches Brew (including the Shorter composition “Sanctuary”).

Shorter’s period with Davis coincided with some of his greatest successes as bandleader, notably 1965’s Juju and 1966’s Speak No Evil

After exploring jazz fusion alongside Davis in the late Sixties, Shorter formed Weather Report with keyboardist Joe Zawinul in 1970, with that collective further expanding the subgenre’s sound by funneling jazz through funk and world music influences. Following the recruitment of bassist Jaco Pastorius in 1976, Weather Report enjoyed their most enduring success, as heard on albums like 1977’s Heavy Weather and 1978’s Mr. Gone (the title a nickname of Shorter’s).

Over the course of his career, Shorter won 12 Grammy Awards, starting in 1979 for Weather Report’s 8:30 and, most recently, a victory at the 2023 Grammys in the Best Improvised Jazz Solo category (“Endangered Species,” from Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival, capturing one of Shorter’s last-ever performances in 2017). 

In addition to his own work as bandleader and sideman, Shorter was an in-demand session musician and a favorite of Mitchell, who enlisted the saxophonist for all 10 studio albums she released between 1977 and 2002, including 1979’s jazz-indebted Mingus.

“I love Wayne Shorter,” Mitchell wrote in a March 15 remembrance. “He’s the best saxophonist ever, in my opinion. Miles thought so too. Even over Coltrane and the people who were much more famous than Wayne, really. Everything was magical about him.”

Mitchell also reminisced about meeting Shorter for the first time in the studio, where he was recording with Weather Report. That encounter resulted in his lengthy collaboration with Mitchell. “He’d go out in the studio, put his horn in his mouth, and the first lick that came out of him was so like a bird. It was amazing,” Mitchell continued. “Then his hand was in the air waving for ‘one more take,’ and I said, ‘no way. I’ll punch you in, but I won’t start over.’ So I punched him in and I left the first lick that he played on the record. It was magnificent. He was just kind of unconscious when he played it, but it was so bird-like and so unusual. He was a beautiful musician. He will be sorely missed.”

Shorter also contributed the classic saxophone solo to Dan’s “Aja,” as well as on Don Henley’s “The End of Innocence.”

Shorter had struggled with health issues in recent years, and dozens of jazz musicians — both collaborators (Hancock, Branford Marsalis) and the generations of artists he inspired, like Terrace Martin, Kamasi Washington, Terence Blanchard — rallied around the saxophonist in the form of benefit concerts to help raise money to help pay his medical expenses.

However, his work remained vital: Shorter’s inventive LP Emanon, a three-disc live set complete with a graphic novel co-conceived by the then-85-year-old saxophonist, placed at Number Three on Rolling Stone‘s 20 Best Jazz Albums of 2018.


One of the last living jazz legends of his era, Shorter was among the recipients of the 2018 Kennedy Center Honors, which acknowledged his contribution to jazz as “a genius, a trailblazer, a visionary, and one of the world’s greatest composers.” Shorter also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 2015, an NEA Jazz Masters Award and the Polar Music Prize.

This story was updated March 15 with Joni Mitchell’s statement.