Michael Leonard Brecker (March 29, 1949 – January 13, 2007) was an American jazz saxophonist and composer. He was awarded 15 Grammy Awards as both performer and composer. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee College of Music in 2004, and was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 2007.
|Birth name||Michael Leonard Brecker|
|Born||March 29, 1949|
Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, United States
|Died||January 13, 2007 57) (aged|
New York City, New York
|Genres||Jazz, post-bop, jazz fusion, funk, R&B, rock|
|Instruments||Tenor saxophone, EWI|
|Associated acts||Steps Ahead, Brecker Brothers, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Steely Dan, Todd Rundgren, Horace Silver, Chick Corea, Dire Straits, James Taylor, John Abercrombie, Billy Cobham, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Quincy Jones, Eddie Gómez, Elvin Jones, Joni Mitchell, Parliament-Funkadelic, Mike Stern, Spyro Gyra|
Early life and career
Michael Brecker was born in Philadelphia and raised in Cheltenham Township, a local suburb. Born and raised in a Jewish family, his father Bob (Bobby) was a lawyer who played jazz piano and his mother Sylvia was a portrait artist. Michael Brecker was exposed to jazz at an early age by his father. He grew up as part of the generation of jazz musicians who saw rock music not as the enemy but as a viable musical option. Brecker began studying clarinet at age 6, then moved to alto saxophone in eighth grade, settling on the tenor saxophone as his primary instrument in his sophomore year. He graduated from Cheltenham High School in 1967 and spent that summer at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. After a year at Indiana University he moved to New York City in 1969, where he carved out a niche for himself as a dynamic and exciting jazz soloist. He first made his mark at age 20 as a member of the jazz-rock band Dreams–a band that included his older brother, trumpeter Randy Brecker, trombonist Barry Rogers, drummer Billy Cobham, keyboardist Jeff Kent and bassist Doug Lubahn. Dreams was short-lived, lasting only from 1969 through 1972, but Miles Davis was seen at some gigs prior to his recording Jack Johnson.
Most of Brecker's early work is marked by an approach informed as much by rock guitar as by R&B saxophone. After Dreams, he worked with Horace Silver and then Billy Cobham before once again teaming up with his brother Randy to form the Brecker Brothers. The band followed jazz-rock trends of the time, but with more attention to structured arrangements, a heavier backbeat, and a stronger rock influence. The band stayed together from 1975 to 1982, with consistent success and musicality.
Sideman and leader
Brecker was in great demand as a soloist and sideman. He performed with bands whose styles ranged from mainstream jazz to mainstream rock. Altogether, he appeared on over 700 albums, either as a band member or a guest soloist. He put his stamp on numerous pop and rock recordings as a soloist. His featured guest solos with James Taylor and Paul Simon are examples of that strand of his work. Other notable jazz and rock collaborations included work with Steely Dan, Lou Reed, Donald Fagen, Dire Straits, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel, John Lennon, Aerosmith, Dan Fogelberg, Frank Sinatra, Frank Zappa, Bruce Springsteen, Roger Daltrey, Parliament-Funkadelic, Cameo, Yoko Ono, Todd Rundgren, Chaka Khan, Orleans, Blue Öyster Cult, The Manhattan Transfer, Average White Band, Players Association, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Everything but the Girl, Patti Austin, Art Garfunkel, Carly Simon, The Brothers Johnson, and Karen Carpenter.
Brecker also recorded or performed with leading jazz figures during his era, including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Chet Baker, Jan Akkerman, George Benson, Quincy Jones, Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorius, McCoy Tyner, Pat Metheny, Elvin Jones, Claus Ogerman, Billy Cobham, Horace Silver, Mike Stern, Mike Mainieri, Steps Ahead, Dave Holland, Joey Calderazzo, Kenny Kirkland, Bob James, Grant Green, Don Cherry, Hubert Laws, Don Alias, Larry Goldings, Bob Mintzer, Gary Burton, Yusef Lateef, Steve Gadd, Dave Brubeck, Charlie Haden, John Abercrombie, Vince Mendoza, Roy Hargrove and Spyro Gyra.
Brecker played tenor saxophone on two Billy Joel albums. In 1983, Brecker played on three tracks on the album An Innocent Man ("Careless Talk", "Tell Her About It" and "Keeping The Faith"). In 1986, he played on "Big Man on Mulberry Street" on the album The Bridge.
During the early 1980s, he was also a member of NBC's Saturday Night Live Band. Brecker can be seen in the background sporting sunglasses during Eddie Murphy's James Brown parody. After a stint co-leading the all-star group Steps Ahead with Mike Mainieri, Brecker recorded a solo album in 1987. That eponymously titled debut album marked his return to a more traditional jazz setting, highlighting his compositional talents and featuring the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument), which Brecker had previously played with Steps Ahead. In 1987 he featured his new solo album at the JVC Newport Jazz Festival, incorporating the EWI. Brecker continued to record albums as a leader throughout the 1990s and 2000s, winning multiple Grammy Awards. His solo and group tours consistently sold out top jazz venues in major cities worldwide.
He went on tour in 2001 with a collaborative group, Hancock-Brecker-Hargrove. This tour was dedicated to jazz pioneers John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Brecker paid homage to Coltrane by performing Coltrane's signature piece, "Naima". The composition is a definitive work for tenor sax; its demanding solo enabled Brecker to show his complete mastery of the instrument. The concert CD from the tour, Directions in Music: Live At Massey Hall (2002), won a Grammy in 2003.
While performing at the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival in 2004, Brecker experienced a sharp pain in his back. Shortly thereafter in 2005, he was diagnosed with the blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Despite a widely publicized worldwide search, Brecker was unable to find a matching stem cell donor. In late 2005, he was the recipient of an experimental partial matching stem cell transplant. By late 2006, he appeared to be recovering, but the treatment proved not to be a cure. He made his final public performance on June 23, 2006, playing with Hancock at Carnegie Hall. Brecker died from complications of leukemia in New York City. His funeral was held on January 15, 2007 in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
Early in his career, Brecker played a Selmer Super Balanced Action saxophone (serial number 39xxx), later moving to a Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone (serial number 86351, manufactured in 1960) with a Dave Guardala MB1 mouthpiece and LaVoz medium reeds. His earlier mouthpieces included a metal Otto Link STM (during the mid-1970s) and a metal Dukoff in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Brecker also played the drums as he often talked about time, or rhythm, being musically the most important. He displayed his drum prowess during shows with his own ensembles or accompanying students during masterclasses.
On February 11, 2007, Brecker was awarded two posthumous Grammy awards for his involvement on his brother Randy's 2005 album Some Skunk Funk.
On May 22, 2007, his final recording, Pilgrimage, was released and received a good critical response. It was recorded in August 2006 with Pat Metheny on guitar, John Patitucci on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau on piano. Brecker was critically ill when it was recorded, but the other musicians involved praised the standard of his musicianship. Brecker was again posthumously awarded two additional Grammy Awards for this album in the categories of Best Jazz Instrumental Solo and Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group, bringing his Grammy total to 15.
Brecker's search in the International Bone Marrow Registry for a match prompted his wife and manager to organize a series of bone marrow drives throughout the world, including the Red Sea, Monterey, and Newport Jazz Festivals. Brecker was subsequently featured in a film directed by Noah Hutton (son of Debra Winger and Timothy Hutton), named More to Live For. It documents Brecker's battle with leukemia, and the production of his final recording. By going public with his illness, Brecker raised tens of thousands of dollars for testing, and signed up many thousands of donors, but was unable to find a match for himself.
Herbie Hancock said that around nine months before his death, Brecker had started practicing Buddhism and three months later joined Soka Gakkai International, a group associated with Nichiren Buddhism. At Brecker's memorial service, Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Buster Williams (who all practice the same form of Buddhism) as well as Brecker's son, Sam, sat in a line with their backs to the audience while facing an inscribed scroll (Gohonzon) hanging in a wooden shrine (Butsudan) and chanted, "Nam myoho renge kyo" for five minutes.
Brecker's widow Susan organized two benefit concerts, the first in 2015 and the latter in 2017. The events were dubbed "The Nearness of You" concert and were held at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Appel Room. The concerts aimed to support cancer research at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and the work of doctors Azra Raza and Siddhartha Mukherjee. Guest performers included James Taylor, Paul Simon, Chaka Khan, Randy Brecker, Dianne Reeves, Bobby McFerrin, Diana Krall, Wynton Marsalis, Will Lee, Gil Goldstein, Antonio Sanchez, John Patitucci, Adam Rogers, Mike Mainieri, Andy Snitzer, Jack DeJohnette, Chase Baird, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Robert Glasper, Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano, Ravi Coltrane, Nir Felder, Eli Degibri and others.
The Michael Brecker Archive was established in 2013 at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, in collaboration with Susan Brecker, and Randy Brecker acting as advisor. The archive contains: original pencil and ink tune manuscripts covering Brecker's solo career and collaborations with Elvin Jones, Pat Metheny, Paul Simon, Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and others; three EWIs; mouthpieces, reeds and other equipment; over 250 commercially released LPs and CDs; over 1200 hours of unreleased live recordings and studio mixes on cassettes, DATs and other digital media; nine practice journals spanning from Brecker's time at Indiana University to the late 1990s; music books from his personal collection; an extensive clippings file; business materials; tour itineraries and record company/tour promotional materials; and over 1500 unreleased photo images.
As leader or co-leader
- 1975: The Brecker Bros. with the Brecker Brothers
- 1976: Back to Back with the Brecker Brothers
- 1976: Don't Stop the Music with the Brecker Brothers
- 1978: Heavy Metal Be-Bop with the Brecker Brothers
- 1980: Detente with the Brecker Brothers
- 1981: Straphangin' with the Brecker Brothers
- 1982: Cityscape (Michael Brecker and Claus Ogerman) with Marcus Miller, Eddie Gómez, Steve Gadd and Paulinho da Costa
- 1983: Steps Ahead with Mike Mainieri, Eddie Gómez, Peter Erskine, and Eliane Elias
- 1984: Modern Times with Mike Mainieri, Eddie Gómez, Peter Erskine, Warren Bernhardt, and Chuck Loeb
- 1987: Michael Brecker with Pat Metheny, Kenny Kirkland, Charlie Haden, and Jack DeJohnette
- 1988: Don't Try This at Home
- 1990: Now You See It… (Now You Don't)
- 1992: Return of the Brecker Brothers with the Brecker Brothers
- 1994: Out of the Loop with the Brecker Brothers
- 1996: Tales from the Hudson with Pat Metheny, Joey Calderazzo, McCoy Tyner, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette and Don Alias
- 1998: Two Blocks from the Edge with Joey Calderazzo, James Genus, Jeff "Tain" Watts, and Don Alias
- 1999: Time Is of the Essence with Larry Goldings, Pat Metheny, Elvin Jones, Jeff "Tain" Watts, and Bill Stewart
- 2001: Nearness Of You: The Ballad Book with Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Charlie Haden, Jack DeJohnette, James Taylor
- 2003: Wide Angles
- 2007: Some Skunk Funk with Randy Brecker
- 2007: Pilgrimage with John Patitucci, Jack DeJohnette, Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, and Brad Mehldau
- 1969 Score – Randy Brecker
- 1970 Dreams – Dreams
- 1971 Imagine My Surprise – Dreams
- 1971 The Guerilla Band – Hal Galper (Mainstream)
- 1972 Wild Bird – Hal Galper (Mainstream)
- 1972 Bridging a Gap – Mark Murphy (Muse)
- 1972 Something/Anything? – Todd Rundgren
- 1973 A Wizard, a True Star – Todd Rundgren
- 1973 In Pursuit of the 27th Man – Horace Silver
- 1974 Todd – Todd Rundgren
- 1974 The Chicago Theme – Hubert Laws (CTI)
- 1974 Crosswinds – Billy Cobham (Atlantic)
- 1974 Journey – Arif Mardin (Atlantic)
- 1974 Get Your Wings – Aerosmith (Columbia)
- 1974 It's Always Dark Before The Dawn – Jonah (20th Century Records)
- 1974 Waitin' for the Change – Jonah (20th Century Records)
- 1975 The Rape of El Morro – Don Sebesky (CTI)
- 1975 Good King Bad – George Benson (CTI)
- 1975 A Funky Thide of Sings – Billy Cobham
- 1975 Mothership Connection – Parliament
- 1976 The Main Attraction – Grant Green (Kudu)
- 1976 Tring-a-Ling – Joanne Brackeen
- 1976 End of a Rainbow – Patti Austin
- 1976 The Art of Tea – Michael Franks
- 1976 Jaco Pastorius - Jaco Pastorius
- 1976 Hear & Now – Don Cherry
- 1976 Reach Out! – Hal Galper (SteepleChase)
- 1976 Red Beans - Jimmy McGriff (Groove Merchant)
- 1977 Mel Lewis and Friends − Mel Lewis (A&M/Horizon)
- 1977 Ghost Writer – Garland Jeffreys
- 1977 Havana Candy – Patti Austin
- 1977 Tightrope – Steve Khan
- 1977 You Can't Live Without It – Jack Wilkins
- 1977 You Can't Go Home Again – Chet Baker
- 1977 The Best Thing for You – Chet Baker
- 1978 Zappa in New York – Frank Zappa
- 1978 The Blue Man – Steve Khan
- 1978 Live at the Bottom Line – Patti Austin
- 1978 Merge – Jack Wilkins
- 1979 Shadows and Light – Joni Mitchell with Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Lyle Mays and Don Alias
- 1979 In a Temple Garden – Yusef Lateef
- 1979 Arrows – Steve Khan
- 1979 In Out and Around – Mike Nock Quartet with Mike Nock (p), Michael Brecker (ts) and Al Foster (d)
- 1979 Casiopea – Casiopea
- 1980 Gaucho – Steely Dan
- 1980 80/81 – Pat Metheny
- 1980 Scissors Cut – Art Garfunkel
- 1981 Three Quartets – Chick Corea
- 1983 Wins – Franco Ambrosetti (Enja)
- 1983 "Careless Talk", "Tell Her About It", "Keeping The Faith" (album An Innocent Man) – Billy Joel
- 1984 L.A. Is My Lady – Frank Sinatra
- 1984 Night – John Abercrombie
- 1985 Brothers in Arms – Dire Straits
- 1985 Tentets – Franco Ambrosetti (Enja)
- 1985 Mastertouch (Torsten de Winkel (g), with (b), Alphonse Mouzon (dr), Joachim Kühn (p))
- 1985 Mezgo – Eddie Gómez
- 1986 "Big Man on Mulberry Street" (album The Bridge) – Billy Joel
- 1986 A House Full of Love – Grover Washington Jr.
- 1986 Gil Evans and His Orchestra with Gil Evans and His Orchestra – VHS, later DVD-Video in 2007
- 1987 Exiles – Dan Fogelberg
- 1987 The Camera Never Lies – Michael Franks
- 1988 Times Like These – Gary Burton
- 1988 Getting There – John Abercrombie
- 1994 Crossings – Steve Khan
- 1995 Young Lions & Old Tigers – Dave Brubeck
- 1995 Infinity – McCoy Tyner
- 1995 Beauty and Harmony – Miwa Yoshida
- 1996 The New Standard – Herbie Hancock
- 1996 Across America – Art Garfunkel
- 1996 Wilderness – Tony Williams
- 1997 West Side Story – Dave Grusin
- 1999 The Truth: Heard Live at the Blue Note – Elvin Jones (Half Note)
- 2001 Hourglass – James Taylor
- 2001 Reunion – Jack Wilkins
- 2001 Drum'n voice (All that Groove) – Billy Cobham [Nicolosi Productions]
- 2002 Rendezvous in New York with Chick Corea's Three Quartets Band
- 2002 American Dreams with Charlie Haden
- 2003 Louis Bellson and His Big Band with Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Herb Geller, Benny Bailey, Howard Johnson, and Lew Soloff
- 2004 The Passage Andy Narell – Song for Mia Solo
- 2004 Live from the Village Vanguard, Vol. 3 with the John Abercrombie Quartet
- 2004 Horacio Hernandez: Live at the Modern Drummer Festival with Marc Quinones, Michael Brecker, John Patitucci, and Hilario Duran
- 2005 Listen Here! with Eddie Palmieri
- "Michael Brecker 3/29/49 – 1/13/07 | Dusty Wright's Culture Catch". Culturecatch.com. 2007-01-16. Retrieved 2012-06-25.
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