‘How a man grew to greatness’: the incredible story of saxophonist Wayne Shorter

In a new Amazon docuseries, executive-produced by Brad Pitt, the late music legend tells his story of triumph and tragedy

Dorsay Alavi met the saxophone virtuoso and composer Wayne Shorter in 1995, when she was hired by Verve Records to direct a video in support of his album High Life. So began a three-decade friendship that continued to blossom as she and her camera followed him on a 2002 concert tour, with “many conversations over the years”. But when she decided to make him the subject of a more intimately personal documentary – which premiered over the weekend on Amazon Prime as the three-part Wayne Shorter: Zero Gravity – she encountered a simple yet daunting stumbling block.

“It required some finesse to talk with him, especially with direct questions about musicians in the past or the tragedies of his life,” she tells the Guardian via Zoom from Los Angeles. “I had to prepare myself for Wayne to evade those questions, but there was a level of trust there … It never went how I thought it was going to go.” She describes Shorter as a “very generous” chatterbox motivated by genuine interest, all too happy to get the life story of takeout delivery drivers and telemarketers. But when she’d ask him about songwriting theory or his memories of collaborators, he’d deflect with a joke or a roundabout story that would put his emotion in indirect terms while still signaling the depth of his feeling. She soon found that it was more productive to discuss the ideology behind his elaborate melodies than their history or construction. “Wayne never liked to talk about the music,” Alavi says. “That just left everything else.”

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