Wayne Shorter was 15 when he first wrote and illustrated his own comic book, in blue ballpoint pen. That was in 1949, and Shorter has traveled great distances since, becoming an influential saxophonist, a 10-time Grammy winner and one of the most highly regarded composers in modern jazz.
But as any fan of Shorter's can attest, he has held onto his teenage fixation with superheroes and sci-fi, as well as the comic book arts — so it's fitting that his highly anticipated next release, Emanon, releasing on Blue Note on Aug. 24, will include an original graphic novel — a cosmic-heroic odyssey written by Shorter with help from the screenwriter Monica Sly, and featuring art by Randy DuBurke — along with three discs of new music.
The music throughout is performed by the Wayne Shorter Quartet, a working unit for the better part of two decades, consisting of Shorter on soprano and tenor saxophones, Danilo Pérez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums. Disc one also features the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, a 34-piece ensemble, performing a suite composed and arranged by Shorter. (They recorded this music in 2013, shortly after performing it at Carnegie Hall.)
Each of the four movements in that suite — "Pegasus," "Prometheus Unbound," "Lotus" and "The Three Marias" — has a corresponding theme in the graphic novel, which draws inspiration from the concept of a multiverse and features a character named Emanon, an action-hero proxy of Shorter. The story, which alludes to dystopian oppression, is clearly informed by the saxophonist's anchoring faith in Buddhist teachings.
"Emanon" — "no name" spelled backwards — was also the title of a composition from the bebop era, as Shorter acknowledges. "When Dizzy Gillespie had a piece of music in the late 40s called 'Emanon,'" he says in a press release for the album, "it hit me way back then as a teenager: 'No name' means a whole lot. The connection with Emanon and artists and other heroes is the quest to find originality, which is probably the closest thing you can get to creation."
Shorter adds: "Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and some comic heroes, they lose their power or identity and become something called human, so that a human being has to do the same thing that Superman and all of them do."
Emanon will be released Aug. 24, and is available for preorder through Blue Note.