|Monday, 23 March 2009 09:16|
Born: March 29, 1949, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died: January 13, 2007, New York.
Cause of death: Complications arising from the blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)
Notable because: Hugely popular sax player - soloist on Paul Simon's 'Still crazy after all these years.'
Michael Leonard Brecker was an American jazz saxophonist and composer. Acknowledged as "a quiet, gentle musician widely regarded as the most influential tenor saxophonist since John Coltrane," he won 15 Grammys as both performer and composer and was inducted into Down Beat's Jazz Hall of Fame in 2007.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and raised in Cheltenham Township, a local suburb, Michael Brecker was exposed to jazz at an early age by his father, an amateur jazz pianist. He grew up a 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, then moved to alto saxophone in school, eventually settling on the tenor saxophone as his primary instrument. He graduated from Cheltenham High School in 1967 and 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. 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 musicality.
During his career, he was in great demand as a soloist and sideman. He performed with bands which spanned 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 excellent examples from this body of work. For example, on James Taylor's 1972 album, One Man Dog, Brecker's solo on the track "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" complements the other acoustic instruments and sparse vocal. Also, on Paul Simon's 1975 album Still Crazy After All These Years, Brecker's solo on the title track is used to a similar effect. His solos are often placed in the bridge, or appended as a coda. This musical structure and instrumentation typifies (and somewhat defines) this jazz-rock fusion style. Other notable collaborations in this genre include work with Steely Dan, Lou Reed, Donald Fagen, Dire Straits, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Aerosmith, Dan Fogelberg, Frank Sinatra, Frank Zappa, Bruce Springsteen, and Parliament-Funkadelic.
Brecker also recorded or performed with leading jazz figures during his era, including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Chet Baker, George Benson, Quincy Jones, Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorius, McCoy Tyner, Pat Metheny, Elvin Jones, Claus Ogerman, and many others.
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. 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. 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. This composition is a definitive work for tenor sax; its demanding solo enabled Brecker to show his complete mastery of the instrument. The live concert CD from the tour, Directions in Music, won a Grammy in 2003.
While performing at the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival in 2004 , Brecker noticed 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 experiment proved not to be a cure. He made his final public performance on June 23rd 2006, playing with Herbie Hancock at Carnegie Hall.
On January 13, 2007, Michael Brecker died from complications of leukemia in New York City. His funeral was held on January 15, 2007 in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.
On February 11, 2007, Michael 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 receiving 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 nominated and subsequently 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.
During his career, Brecker played a Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone using a highly-customized Dave Guardala mouthpiece. Previously, he had played a Selmer Super Balanced Action saxophone.
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