January 13, 2007 – Michael Leonard Brecker was born on March 29th 1949 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Michael Brecker was 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, Thelonious Monk, and Sly Stone. 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 1975–1982 with consistent success and unwavering 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, Pat Metheny, Dire Straits and Joni Mitchell. During the early 1980s, 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, James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub Party. He also played sax briefly on Frank Zappa’s live album Zappa in New York.
In 1982 he recorded an acclaimed album with German arranger/orchestrator Claus Ogerman, Cityscape, which was a six-part composition for saxophone and orchestra.
After a stint co-leading the all-star group Steps Ahead with Mike Mainieri, Brecker finally recorded his first 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 29 albums as a leader throughout the 1990s and 2000s, winning multiple Grammy Awards. 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. He also played a Selmer “Super Balanced Action” (Super Action) tenor saxophone.
In 2005, Michael Brecker 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. 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 was with bassist Chris Minh Doky on the album The Nomad Diaries, which was released in November 2006. Brecker managed to record a final album, Pilgrimage, which was released on May 22, 2007 by Heads Up International.
As well as recording 29 albums as a leader, he was also one of the most ubiquitous, and certainly the most distinguished, of studio musicians, appearing on albums by Frank Zappa, Bette Midler, Bruce Springsteen, Carly Simon, Simon & Garfunkel, Bonnie Tyler, James Taylor, Luther VanDross, Tina Turner, Ringo Starr, Billy Joel, Rick James, Jan Akkerman, Herbie Hancock, John Lennon, Andy Gibb, Steely Dan, Elton John, Aerosmith, Diana Ross, Frank Sinatra, Lou Reed and so many more. He was 57 years 9 months 15 days old when he died while bravely fighting leukemia on 13 January 2007.
Acknowledged as “a quiet, gentle musician widely regarded as the most influential tenor saxophonist since John Coltrane”, Michael Brecker 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.