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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, received an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee College of Music in 2004, and was inducted into the DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame in 2007.
|Birth name||Michael Leonard Brecker|
|Born||March 29, 1949|
Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||January 13, 2007 (aged 57)|
New York City, U.S
|Genres||Jazz, post-bop, jazz fusion, funk, R&B, rock|
|Instrument(s)||Tenor saxophone, drums, EWI|
Early life and career edit
Michael Brecker was born in the Philadelphia suburb of Cheltenham to a Jewish—and artistic—family: his father, Bob (Bobby), was a lawyer and amateur jazz pianist and his mother, Sylvia, was a portrait artist. Michael was exposed to jazz at an early age by his father. He began studying clarinet at age 6, but was tempted to switch to saxophone after hearing the likes of Paul Desmond and Cannonball Adderley. He switched to the alto saxophone in the eighth grade, before settling on the tenor saxophone as his primary instrument in his sophomore year of high school after being influenced by John Coltrane.
Brecker graduated from Cheltenham High School in 1967 and spent that summer at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. In the fall he followed his older brother, Randy, to Indiana University. There he formed a jazz rock group with trumpet player Randy Sandke and others called “Mrs. Seamon's Sound Band”, named after a dormitory official who disliked longhaired students. The group were finalists in the competition at the Spring 1968 Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival but were disqualified for their interpretation of The Doors song Light My Fire. The band also performed outdoors on campus in a benefit for presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy in that year’s presidential election. Following that semester the band accepted a management offer and moved to Chicago. There, drugs and a love triangle led to a suicide which brought Chicago police to the manager's apartment, where all of the band except Sandke and Brecker (both of whom were not at the scene) were arrested. More trauma followed, and according to Randy Sandke, these events had an adverse psychological impact on Brecker, which led to him developing a heroin addiction that lasted throughout the 1970s.
During the fall 1968 semester at I.U., Brecker formed a trio (which included the drummer from Mrs. Seamon's Sound Band) and played gigs at a church basement club called The Owl. Some of that was recorded. He dropped out before the end of the semester, spent a month in Mexico City, then returned to Philadelphia where he played with musicians including Eric Gravatt and Billy Paul.
Brecker 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-funk 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. In 1977 he founded the Seventh Avenue South jazz club with his brother Randy.
Sideman and leader edit
Brecker was in great demand as a soloist, sideman and session musician. He performed with bands whose styles ranged from mainstream jazz to mainstream rock. Altogether, he appeared on nearly 900 albums, either as a band member or a guest soloist. He put his stamp on numerous pop and rock recordings as a soloist, including notable work with James Taylor and Paul Simon. Other sessions included albums with Steely Dan, Lou Reed, Donald Fagen, Dire Straits, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel, John Lennon, Aerosmith, Dan Fogelberg, Kenny Loggins, 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, Everything but the Girl, Patti Austin, Art Garfunkel, Carly Simon, The Brothers Johnson, Karen Carpenter, and T-Square.
Brecker also recorded (or performed) with many leading jazz musicians of his era, including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Hal Galper, 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, Max Roach, 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, Richard Tee, Dave Brubeck, Charlie Haden, John Abercrombie, Vince Mendoza, Roy Hargrove and Spyro Gyra.
Later career edit
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.
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 concert CD from the tour, Directions in Music: Live At Massey Hall (2002), won a Grammy in 2003.
Illness and death edit
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 a Manhattan hospital. 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 lacquer-finished Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone (serial number 86351, manufactured in 1960) with silver-plated neck (serial number 92203), fitted with a Dave Guardala MB1 mouthpiece and LaVoz medium reeds. His earlier mouthpieces included a metal Otto Link 'New York' 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.
Selected discography edit
As leader or co-leader edit
- 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
- 1986: Magnetic with Steps Ahead, inc. Victor Bailey, Mike Mainieri, Peter Erskine, Chuck Loeb, Kenny Kirkland, Hiram Bullock, Paul Jackson, Peter Schwimmer, Mitchel Forman and Diane Reeves
- 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
As sideman edit
- 1969 Score – Randy Brecker
- 1970 Dreams – Dreams
- 1971 Air – Air
- 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 One Man Dog – James Taylor
- 1972 Something/Anything? – Todd Rundgren
- 1973 Berlin – Lou Reed
- 1973 A Wizard, a True Star – Todd Rundgren
- 1973 Mind Games – John Lennon
- 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 Hotcakes – Carly Simon
- 1974 Walking Man – James Taylor
- 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 Shabazz – Billy Cobham
- 1975 A Funky Thide of Sings – Billy Cobham
- 1975 Still Crazy After All These Years – Paul Simon
- 1975 Mothership Connection – Parliament
- 1975 Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
- 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 Songs for the New Depression – Bette Midler
- 1976 Ringo's Rotogravure – Ringo Starr
- 1976 Blue Moves – Elton John
- 1976 Smile – Laura Nyro
- 1976 In the Pocket – James Taylor
- 1976 Good King Bad – George Benson
- 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 "Live at the Berlin Philharmonic" – Hal Galper
- 1977 Tightrope – Steve Khan
- 1977 Sleeping Gypsy – Michael Franks
- 1977 Lady Put the Light Out – Frankie Valli
- 1977 You Can't Live Without It – Jack Wilkins
- 1977 Never Letting Go – Phoebe Snow
- 1977 Ghost Writer – Garland Jeffreys
- 1977 Ringo the 4th – Ringo Starr
- 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 Love Explosion – Tina Turner
- 1978 The Blue Man – Steve Khan
- 1978 Phonogenic – Not Just Another Pretty Face – Melanie
- 1978 Double Fun – Robert Palmer
- 1978 Against the Grain – Phoebe Snow
- 1978 One-Eyed Jack – Garland Jeffreys
- 1978 Chaka – Chaka Khan
- 1978 Boys in the Trees – Carly Simon
- 1978 Clayton – David Clayton-Thomas
- 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 Keep the Fire – Kenny Loggins
- 1979 Spy – Carly Simon
- 1979 Thighs and Whispers – Bette Midler
- 1979 In Out and Around – Mike Nock Quartet with Mike Nock (p), Michael Brecker (ts) and Al Foster (d)
- 1979 Fate for Breakfast – Art Garfunkel
- 1979 Cheryl Lynn – Cheryl Lynn
- 1979 Casiopea – Casiopea
- 1980 Gaucho – Steely Dan
- 1980 To Chi Ka – Kazumi Watanabe (Columbia)
- 1980 Body Language – Patti Austin
- 1980 Aretha – Aretha Franklin
- 1980 Naughty – Chaka Khan
- 1980 80/81 – Pat Metheny
- 1980 Candi Staton – Candi Staton
- 1981 Escape Artist – Garland Jeffreys
- 1981 Scissors Cut – Art Garfunkel
- 1981 Word of Mouth - Jaco Pastorius
- 1981 Torch – Carly Simon
- 1981 The Innocent Age – Dan Fogelberg
- 1981 Three Quartets – Chick Corea
- 1981 Season of Glass – Yoko Ono
- 1982 The Nightfly – Donald Fagen
- 1982 Objects of Desire – Michael Franks
- 1983 Pacific Fire – George Benson
- 1983 In My Life – Patti Austin
- 1983 Hello Big Man – Carly Simon
- 1983 In Your Eyes – George Benson
- 1983 Emergency – Melissa Manchester
- 1983 Wins – Franco Ambrosetti (Enja)
- 1983 An Innocent Man – Billy Joel
- 1983 Fast Emotion – UZEB
- 1984 Valotte – Julian Lennon
- 1984 New Sensations – Lou Reed
- 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 That's Why I'm Here – James Taylor
- 1985 Gettin' Away with Murder – Patti Austin
- 1985 Amanda – Eliane Elias and Randy Brecker
- 1985 Mezgo – Eddie Gómez
- 1985 Skin Dive – Michael Franks
- 1986 The Bridge – Billy Joel
- 1986 Word Up (Cameo album) - Cameo
- 1986 August – Eric Clapton
- 1986 Destiny – Chaka Khan
- 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
- 1986 Hearts and Numbers – Don Grolnick
- 1987 Exiles – Dan Fogelberg
- 1987 The Camera Never Lies – Michael Franks
- 1987 Coming Around Again – Carly Simon
- 1988 Times Like These – Gary Burton
- 1988 Getting There – John Abercrombie
- 1988 Patti Austin – Patti Austin
- 1988 Lefty – Art Garfunkel
- 1988 Time in Place - Mike Stern
- 1988 Never Die Young – James Taylor
- 1989 Soul Provider – Michael Bolton
- 1989 City Streets – Carole King
- 1989 So Far So Close – Eliane Elias
- 1990 The Language of Life – Everything but the Girl
- 1990 Have You Seen Me Lately – Carly Simon
- 1990 The Rhythm of the Saints – Paul Simon
- 1990 Master Plan – Dave Weckl
- 1990 My Romance – Carly Simon
- 1991 New Moon Shine – James Taylor
- 1991 I'm on Your Side – Jennifer Holliday
- 1991 Don't Call Me Buckwheat – Garland Jeffreys
- 1993 Walk the Dog and Light the Light – Laura Nyro
- 1994 Crossings – Steve Khan
- 1994 SMAP 006: Sexy Six - SMAP (Victor)
- 1995 Young Lions & Old Tigers – Dave Brubeck (Telarc)
- 1995 Infinity – McCoy Tyner (Impulse!)
- 1995 Strength – Toko Furuuchi (Sony)
- 1995 Beauty and Harmony – Miwa Yoshida (Epic/Sony)
- 1995 Abandoned Garden – Michael Franks
- 1996 The New Standard – Herbie Hancock (Verve)
- 1996 Across America – Art Garfunkel
- 1996 Stardust – Natalie Cole
- 1996 Wilderness – Tony Williams
- 1996 Merge – Jack Wilkins with Randy Brecker, recorded in 1977
- 1996 Village – Wallace Roney
- 1997 West Side Story – Dave Grusin
- 1997 Give and Take – Mike Stern
- 1997 Hourglass – James Taylor
- 1997 A Story – Yoko Ono
- 1998 Eliane Elias Sings Jobim – Eliane Elias
- 1999 The Truth: Heard Live at the Blue Note – Elvin Jones (Half Note)
- 1999 Timeless: The Classics Vol. 2 – Michael Bolton
- 1999 Barefoot on the Beach – Michael Franks
- 1999 What It Is – Jacky Terrasson
- 2000 "Cyrus Chestnut and Friends: A Charlie Brown Christmas" with Cyrus Chestnut
- 2001 Reunion – Jack Wilkins with Randy Brecker
- 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
- 2002 October Road – James Taylor
- 2003 Louis Bellson and His Big Band with Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Herb Geller, Benny Bailey, Howard Johnson, and Lew Soloff
- 2003 Nature Boy: The Standards Album – Aaron Neville
- 2004 Dreamer – Eliane Elias
- 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 Quiñones, Michael Brecker, John Patitucci, and Hilario Durán
- 2005 Listen Here! with Eddie Palmieri
- 2005 In The Now – Darren Kramer Organization
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