July 26, 2018
The magnificent Wayne Shorter has written a graphic novel to accompany his next album
by Ian Dreiblatt
Look up at the stars and imagine what it would be like to be an astronaut or a pilot. Imagine exploring the pyramids or Machu Picchu. Imagine flying like a bird or crashing through a wall like Superman. Imagine running with dinosaurs or swimming like mer-creatures. All that exists is a product of someone’s imagination; treasure and nurture yours and you’ll always find yourself on the precipice of discovery.
This is among the advice offered two years ago in an open letter to “the next generation of artists” by cute-buddies-cum-epochal-musical-geniuses Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. They’re two of the most beautiful humans who’ve ever lived, and they share many achievements. Both are veterans of Miles Davis’s legendary Second Great Quintet (the longest-lived combo Davis ever put together), practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism involved with Soka Gakkai International, ravenous-eared world travelers, and expansive intellectuals who swing like motherfuckers. But there’s one achievement they haven’t shared — Hancock, now seventy-eight, is an author, having published an autobiography called Possibilities in 2014; Shorter, eighty-four, is not.
That’s about to change.
Blue Note Records, Shorter’s label, has put out a press release announcing his next album, Emanon, due out on August 24th. But “album” may be a misnomer — Emanon will consist of three CDs (sorry kids, no digital downloads on this one) and a graphic novel, which Shorter has written with help from screenwriter Monica Sly, an introduction by the incomparably great Esperanza Spalding, and illustrations by Randy DuBurke, the artist behind award-winning books like The Moon Ring, Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography, and Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. No word yet on the plot of Emanon, but Nate Chinen of NPR writes that it “alludes to dystopian oppression” and “is clearly informed by the saxophonist’s anchoring faith in Buddhist teachings.”
“Emanon,” incidentally, is the title of a jaunty tune Dizzy Gillespie recorded in the forties, and is—you won’t be able to unsee it—“no name” spelled backwards. (Noname the person is not apparently involved in the project.) “‘No name’ means a whole lot,” Shorter explains. “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. 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.”
Just spitballing here, but “Something Called Human” could make a pretty good title, too. Anyhow, pre-orders are available now, a steal at $74.98. Rumors that Herbie Hancock is presently hard at work on that last Game of Thrones book are probably quite exaggerated.
Ian Dreiblatt is the former Director of Digital Media at Melville House.