It was the opening night of what had originally been planned as a four-day residency for Wayne Shorter and his quartet at SFJAZZ, and the absence of the 85-year-old jazz legend, who canceled due to illness, hung in the air.
Then longtime friend Herbie Hancock got on the microphone.
"May Wayne have a happy, long life. This guy's amazing—he's been through so much health-wise, and now he's in the middle of writing an opera!" Hancock said. "Can any of you do that?"
And so the retooled residency—with Shorter's enduring group of Brian Blade, Danilo Pérez and John Patitucci backing various luminaries influenced by the saxophonist and composer—became a celebration of Shorter's music.
That was no more evident then on Thursday night: Hancock (who'd suggested the show go on as a tribute when Shorter fell ill) traded keytar licks with trumpeter Terence Blanchard, dueted on piano with Pérez, and supplied atmospheric synthesizers with Kendrick Lamar collaborator Terrace Martin on compositions like "Nefertiti" and "Visitor From Nowhere."
"These were written decades, almost eras ago, right?" Hancock remarked from the stage. "They don't sound like that, though. Wayne's compositions never get old—and we can't say that about everybody."
The tribute continues Friday night in a sold-out show with Branford Marsalis and Blanchard heading the group. But it's the Saturday and Sunday shows, just on the cusp of selling out, which are grabbing more attention in my circles.
The reigning minister of Los Angeles' new jazz explosion, Kamasi Washington, joins Martin to play Shorter's music on Saturday night, while Sunday is given over to two local boys made very, very good: Joshua Redman and Ambrose Akinmusire.
And with any luck, Shorter himself will be back soon. As Hancock said Thursday night, "Wayne never, never, never gives up."
The Wayne Shorter Legacy Celebration continues on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, Jan. 4–6, at SFJAZZ. Details here.