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 Dreams—a 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.