Born: March 29, 1949 | Died: January 13, 2007 Primary Instrument: Sax, tenor
Michael Brecker was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and exposed to jazz at an early age by his father, an amateur jazz pianist. Among the generation of jazz musicians that saw rock music not as the enemy but as a viable musical option, Brecker began studying clarinet, then moved to alto saxophone in school, eventually settling on the tenor saxophone as his primary instrument. After only a year at Indiana University, Michael Brecker moved to New York City in 1970 where he carved out a niche for himself as a dynamic and exciting jazz soloist. He first made his mark at age 21 as a member of the jazz/rock band Dreamsa band that included his older brother Randy, trombonist Barry Rogers, drummer Billy Cobham, Jeff Kent and Doug Lubahn. Dreams was short-lived, lasting only a year, but influential (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 Band, which played fusion that was equal parts bar band, Monk, and Sly Stone. The band followed the trail blazed by Miles Davis's 1970s bands and Weather Report, but with more attention to structured arrangements, a heavier backbeat, and a stronger rock influence. The band stayed together from 1975-1982 with consistent success and musicality.
At the same time, Brecker put his stamp on numerous pop and rock recordings as a soloist. His more notable collaborations include those with James Taylor, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Donald Fagen and Joni Mitchell. During the early 80s he was also a member of NBC’s Saturday Night Live band. Brecker can be seen in the background sporting shades during Eddie Murphy’s James Brown parody, Get In The Hot Tub. He also played sax briefly on Frank Zappa's live album Zappa in New York.
After a stint co-leading the all-star group Steps Ahead with Mike Mainieri, Brecker finally 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. He continued to record albums as a leader throughout the 1990s and 2000s, winning multiple Grammy Awards, and his solo and group tours consistently have sold out top jazz venues in major cities worldwide.
He favored his Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone and a highly-customized Dave Guardala mouthpiece.
Michael Brecker had been 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. As of late 2006 he was recovering, but it proved not to be a cure for him. Brecker made his return to public performance in June 2006, playing with Herbie Hancock at Carnegie Hall. His first recording after his illness is bassist Chris Minh Doky's album The Nomad Diaries, released November 2006.
On January 13, 2007, Michael Brecker died from complications of leukemia in New York City.
Vince Mendoza, Epiphany (Zebra, 1999)
Michael Brecker, Two Blocks from the Edge (Impulse!, 1997)
James Taylor, Hourglass (Columbia, 1997)
Mike Stern, Give and Take (Atlantic, 1997)
Michael Brecker, Tales from the Hudson (Impulse!, 1996)
Tony Williams, Wilderness (Ark 21, 1996)
Herbie Hancock, The New Standard (Verve, 1995)
The Brecker Brothers, Out of the Loop (GRP, 1994)
The Brecker Brothers, Return of the Brecker Brothers (GRP, 1992)
Michael Brecker, Now You See It, Now You Don’t (GRP, 1990)
Michael Brecker, Don’t Try This at Home (Impulse!, 1988)
Gary Burton, Times Like These (GRP, 1988)
Michael Brecker, Michael Brecker (Impulse!, 1986)
Kenny Wheeler, Double, Double You (ECM, 1983)
Joni Mitchell, Shadows and Light (Asylum, 1980)
The Brecker Brothers, Straphangin’ (Arista, 1980)
Steps Ahead, Smokin’ in the Pit (NYC, 1980)
Pat Metheny, 80/81> (ECM, 1980)
Frank Zappa, Zappa in New York (Rykodisc, 1978)
The Brecker Brothers, Heavy Metal Be-bop (Arista, 1978)
The Brecker Brothers, Brecker Bros. (Arista, 1975)
Billy Cobham, Crosswinds (Atlantic, 1974)
Dreams, Dreams (Columbia, 1970)
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