Tribune writer Bill Oram reviewed Watne Shorter's jazz show at Red Butte Garden Thursday:
Suspect scheduling meant that while some 45,000 red-and-white clad locals were crammed into a stadium Thursday night for the University of Utah’s home football opener, up the hill at Red Butte Garden there was enough open grass to make even the most wide receiver dream of six points.
Salt Lake City is not known for its jazz community — as its basketball team is constantly reminded on visits to New Orleans — but by the time legend Wayne Shorter, freshly minted into his ninth decade, took the stage around 9:30 p.m., it would have been tough to tell. The Utes were in the middle of a second-half comeback, en route to a 30-26 win, but the most impressive late-game performance? That would be Shorter.
The saxophonist, who made a name for himself alongside Art Blakey and as John Coltrane’s replacement in Miles Davis’s quintet, turned 80 on Sunday. His stage presence Thursday was less commanding that you might expect, but the sound was just as good as on those old Blue Note records.
Shorter played for about an hour, backed up by his fabulous quartet, with which he recorded “Without a Net” earlier this year.
Why organizers would put Shorter up against the Utes’ first football game in nine months is a mystery. On a perfect night for a concert — clear, hot to cooling — the audience was, in number, underwhelming. But it certainly embraced the moment, singing “Happy Birthday” to Shorter when he walked on stage.
The only thing that could be called disappointing was the absence of one final jam session between Shorter, his quartet and the acts that opened the night. The trio of Terry Lyne Carrington (on drums), Gerri Allen (piano) and Esparanza Spalding (bass) opened the night with an understated set. Spalding, the biggest contemporary star to perform Thursday, did not sing, as she frequently does, and in fact only spoke to introduce Carrington. The Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano Quintet (Sound Prints) was powerful and pleasing, although solos by drummer Joey Baron may have been the highlight of the set.
But the real takeaway was the joy and skill Shorter brings to his craft, now into his 80s. How many are able to remain relevant and keep pushing into their golden years? It’s the rare musician like Shorter, never-satisfied novelists and, of course, Betty White.
It was one more thing worth celebrating up on the hill.