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Brecker, Michael


Born: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 29 March 1949

Genre: Jazz

Best-selling album since 1990: Nearness of You: The Ballad Book (2000)

Hit songs since 1990: "African Skies," "Chan's Song," "Naima"

By 1990 Michael Brecker, a seven-time Grammy winner, had established himself as one of the most technically accomplished and widely heard tenor saxophonists in popular music. He spent the 1990s seeking to shore up his credentials as a jazz player. Brecker was among the first reed players of the jazz-rock era as a co-founder of the vocals-horns-guitars-rhythm band Dreams. Brecker gained name recognition when he and his older sibling, the trumpeter Randy, recorded as the Brecker Brothers in 1975. Their father was a part-time jazz pianist, and their sister is a classical pianist. From 1973 to 1974, Michael earned mainstream jazz credits in the group helmed by jazz pianist Horace Silver, but the commercial success of the Brecker Brothers' urbane electric funk styledubbed "heavy metal bebop"and Michael's burgeoning career as a studio session player and guest soloist in performance (for Frank Sinatra, Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, and Steely Dan, among others) delayed him from recording an album under his own name until he was thirty-eight years old.

By then the saxophonist was the owner, along with his brother, of the Manhattan jazz club Seventh Avenue South. He had been an influential member of the virtuosic ensemble Steps Ahead, whose members employed the newest instrumental technology; he had championed the Akai Electric Wind Instrument (EWI), a breath-controlled synthesizer. But Brecker was best known for his unwavering saxophone tone, crisp articulation, and dexterity, which allowed him to finger unusually complex melodic lines. These skills were on display on albums featuring the elite of progressive jazz, including Don't Try This at Home (1988) (for which he won his first Grammy) and Now You See It . . . Now You Don't (1990), efforts that gained Brecker an enthusiastic following among saxophone students.

There were dissenting notes in the choir of praise, however. Some critics and hard-core jazz fans dismissed Brecker as purveying technique over expressiveness. While attempting to refute that charge, he remained tirelessly eclectic. He toured with Paul Simon's Afro-Brazilian-steeped tour in support of the album Rhythm of the Saints in 1991 and 1992 and then rejoined Randy for two new Brecker Brothers albums. These garnered multiple Grammy nominations, and Out of the Loop, with Brecker's South Africaninflected tune, "African Skies," won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Performance Instrumental in 1994. The Brothers toured internationally in 1995, introducing contemporary jazz to the People's Republic of China with sold-out performances in Shanghai and Beijing.

Thereafter, Brecker turned his attention to the aggressive acoustic jazz that had excited him in his youth, especially as expressed in the work of the late John Coltrane. He recorded Infinity (1995) with a trio led by Coltrane's piano collaborator McCoy Tyner; the album won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Individual or Group (1995). Tyner repaid the favor, playing an unplugged version of "African Skies" on Brecker's Grammy-winning (for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Individual or Group) album Tales from the Hudson (1996). On Time Is of the Essence (1999) Brecker worked with Coltrane's drummer, Elvin Jones. He also forged collaborations or strengthened existing creative ties with pianist Herbie Hancock, guitarist Pat Metheny, bassists Dave Holland and Charlie Haden, and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

By the age of fifty, Brecker had clearly harnessed his prodigious energy and facility to eloquent ends. His release Nearness of You: The Ballad Book (2000) was inspired by Coltrane's 1962 album Ballads. Brecker was awarded the Jazz Instrumental Solo Grammy for his poetic statement on Hancock's composition "Chan's Song," while James Taylor won Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for a wistful reprisal of his old hit "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," around which Brecker wrapped a tender obligatto.

Brecker recorded and toured with Hancock and trumpeter Roy Hargrove in a production called Directions in Music (2002), revisiting repertoire associated with Coltrane and Miles Davis. He was nominated for a Grammy for his unaccompanied rendition on that album of Coltrane's challenging ballad "Naima," and he was favorably cited for his unadorned but exalted chorus of "America the Beautiful" on Charlie Haden's American Dreams (2002). From fusion roots Michael Brecker has developed into an ardent upholder of American standards.


Now You See It . . . Now You Don't (Impulse!, 1990); Return of the Brecker Brothers (GRP, 1992); Out of the Loop (GRP, 1994); Tales from the Hudson (Impulse!, 1996); Two Blocks from the Edge (Impulse!, 1997); Time Is of the Essence (Verve, 1998); Nearness of You: The Ballad Book (2000); Directions in Music (Verve, 2002).

howard mandel

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"Brecker, Michael." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . 17 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Brecker, Michael

Michael Brecker

Tenor Saxophonist

For The Record

Selected discography


For nearly 20 years, fusion jazz superstar and reedman Michael Brecker left his mark on thousands of studio recordings and collaborations in jazz, pop, and rock & roll. The tenor saxophonist staked out a solo career beginning in the late 1980s to a welcoming round of applause. Yet even as he recorded on his own, he upheld family ties in 1992, to stand beside his elder sibling, trumpeter Randy Brecker, for a reunion album, Return of the Brecker Brothers, and for a series of live appearances. Michael Brecker, who was influenced largely by John Coltrane and mentored by Horace Silver among others, successfully achieved crossover status between fusion, post-bop, and contemporary jazz. For his first solo album he worked with Pat Metheny, Elvin Jones, and Charlie Haden, and as a solo artist and bandleader he toured with McCoy Tyner. Brecker worked with Adam Rogers, Clarence Penn, and Larry Goldings, and played with popular stars from Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon to Steely Dan. In 30 years, Brecker earned an impressive seven Grammy awards from the National Association of Recording Arts and Scinces.

A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Michael Brecker was born on March 29, 1949. For Breckers father, attorney Robert Brecker, jazz was a way of life. The family owned an Hammond organ, and Brecker enjoyed playing with his father who doubled as a jazz pianist between courtroom gigs. Michael Brecker studied the clarinet and played some alto saxophone before settling on tenor saxophone in high school. His teenage years were a succession of jazz dreams come true for the boy. After school he spent free afternoons with his father listening to Coltrane records and playing drums and horns at home, or else making the rounds of Philadelphia clubs where Brecker jammed with professional musicians like Eric Gravatt. It was Gravatt who first taught Brecker the meaning of endurance.

Brecker followed behind his older brother in attending college at the University of Indiana in 1966. There Brecker majored in fine arts before moving to New York City in 1969, where he picked up session work and played in rehearsals. He recalled for Down Beat the atmosphere in New York City when he first arrived there in the 1960s, It was a special time to be in New York. Thats when the so-called boundaries between what was then pop music and jazz were becoming very blurry.

In New York, trombonist Barry Rogers befriended Brecker and mentored him through the newness of living in the big city. From Rogers, Brecker learned about Cajun music, African rhythms, and Latin sounds. Together Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, and Rogers founded a band called Dreams in 1969. Along with the main trio, Dreams included a strong rhythm section comprised of John Abercrombie, Billy Cobham, Don Grolnick, and Will Lee. Also during those early years Brecker joined with approximately two dozen others in

For The Record

Born on March 29, 1949, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Robert Brecker. Education: University of Indiana.

Co-founder of Dreams, recorded with Columbia, 1969; with Horace Silver, 1973-74; with Randy Brecker (Brecker Brothers), 1975-79; co-founder of Steps (later known as Steps Ahead), mid-1970s; session musician, 1969-1986; solo debut, Impulse! Records, 1987; signed with GRP, 1990; toured and recorded with Paul Simon, 1991; reunited with Brecker Brothers, 1992; collaborations with Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Horace Silver, 1995-96.

Awards: Grammy awards, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1987, 1993 (two awards), 1994 (two awards), 1995 (two awards); Album of the Year, Down Beat, 1986; Album of the Year, Jazziz, 1986

Addresses: Management International Music Network (IMN), Kate McLaughlin, Northeast Agent,

an organization called Free Life Communication. The organization, comprised of performing artists, perpetuated their art by giving free concerts throughout the city.

In 1973 and 1974, Brecker and his brother joined Horace Silvers band, an experience that Brecker likened to attending college because there was so much to learn from Silver. After breaking with Silvers band, the brothers set out to forge their own identity, billing themselves generically as the Brecker Brothers. Thus Michael Brecker, in tandem with his brother, pioneered what was a new jazz form at the time, called fusion or electro-fusion jazz. The brothers performed together habitually between 1974 and 1979. They recorded six albums together for Arista, and reportedly the duo contributed instrumental accompaniment on more than 1,800 records. The brothers opened a club, called Seventh Avenue South, where the initial jamming took place for the Breckers next band, called Steps (later known as Steps Ahead). That group featured Mike Manieri, Eddie Gomez, Don Grolnich, and Steve Gadd. Additionally there was a brief tenure with Bob Mintzers band and some work with guitarist Mike Stern.

Throughout the 1980s, Brecker worked intensively as a session musician in New York. It was largely such studio work that kept him gainfully employed until the release of his solo debut album in 1986. By that time, Brecker was anxious to work independently, as he felt a need for greater artistic freedom, which might be achieved most readily in solo work. He staked out his proverbial territory as a solo artist and a bandleader, and he joined in collaborations with Joey Calderazzo around that same time. Breckers efforts reached fruition with the release of Michael Brecker in 1986, his first solo album after a 20-year career as a sessions saxophone player and sideman. The recording, released on MCA/Impulse!, was nominated for a Grammy award as best solo jazz instrumental. In 1990, he released Dont Try This at Home on Impulse!, and he toured and recorded with singer and composer Paul Simon in 1991.

Brecker and his elder sibling, having achieved considerable success as an early fusion duo in the 1970s, kept the family tradition alive with a follow-up album in 1992. Return of the Brecker Brothers was a long-overdue sequel to their original Brecker Brothers album and their earlier collaborations. The brothers appeared together in live performance on a number of occasions following the release of their comeback album, including a performance to help christen the renovated Five Spot in Manhattan early in 1993. News-days Martin Johnson welcomed the return of, [t]heir hard-driving, expansive sound, and the funk and fusion reunion between the siblings gave fans and critics cause to cheer.

Breckers African Skies took the Grammy as best instrumental composition of 1993. He was also a member of the 1994 Grammy-award-winning GRP All-Star Band under the direction of Tom Scott. Breckers Grammy fever raged again in 1995, when Tales from the Hudson, a pairing with Pat Metheny, won two awards, including the award for the best instrumental solo performance for Cabin Fever.

As Breckers solo career solidified, a pairing between him and pianist McCoy Tyner made the bill at Yoshis in Oakland, California. The booking, arranged by Jason Olaine, led to a Grammy-winning collaboration between Brecker and Tyner on their 1994 Impulse! release, called Infinity. Brecker assembled other impressive lineups as well, including Adam Rogers on guitar, Clarence Penn on drums, and Larry Goldings on organ. In 1997, Samuel Fromartz for Reuters called Breckers solo work, passionate but not pretty, and described a Brecker concert as a feeding frenzy.

As a bandleader and solo artist in the late 1990s, Brecker led a quartet with Calderazzo on piano, James Genus on bass, and drummer Jeff Tain Watts. The dynamic foursome recorded a sizzling contempo-style album, Two Blocks from the Edge, only after a yearlong tour of performing and perfecting the material. The compilation, written largely by Brecker and with assistance from Calderazzo, went to market as Breckers fifth on the Impulse! label in 1998 and included the popular Brecker composition, Delta City Blues, that evolved into his personal theme song. University of Kentucky jazz professor Miles Osland said of the song in Down Beat, [A] textbook example of exemplary musical artistry combined with superlative technical prowess. John Janowiak labeled the song more succinctly, as down-and-dirty soul.

Creatively speaking, Breckers muse went into overdrive in 1998. He debuted as a bandleader at the Catalina Bar & Grill in Los Angeles, California and played a spectacular solo concert in Italys Dolomite Mountains. The Dolomite venue was accessible only by means of a one-hour hike from a depository chairlift landing preceded by a rugged hour-long drive. The performance lasted merely 60 minutes, but the spectacular view on the mountaintop justified the extreme conditions required to reach the site. The concert-goers, not surprisingly, harbored no anxieties for the music to stop, and Beckers performance ended in overtime.

Following his appearance in Rhode Island at the JVC Jazz Festival in August of 1998, Josef Woodard labeled Brecker as a reluctant giant in music [a] preeminent and influential saxophonist of his generation, blessed with fearsome technical finesse as well as melodic charms [who] continues to pursue the path of greatest personal reward, not necessarily the greatest commercial good. The commentary appeared in Los Angeles Times.

As the 1990s wound to a close, Brecker released Time Is of the Essence on Verve. The album, hailed as a long-awaited breakthrough, features Larry Goldings on organ, in complement to the piano styles of Pat Metheny. Also heard on the album are Jones, Tain, and Bill Stewart. Ted Panken said in Down Beat of Breckers performances on that release, Brecker plays with clarity, a hungry master searching forand often reachingthe next level.

Breckers work in 2000 brought additional reunions with Metheny, Jones, and Haden, with Brecker booked to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Brecker lives on the Hudson River and maintains an office in Manhattan. His master class laurels include a session at the University of Kentucky in October of 1998.

Selected discography


Swish, EWCD, 1980.

Smokingin the Pit (with Steps Ahead), NYC Records, 1980.

Cityscape, Warner Brothers, 1983.

Michael Brecker, MCA/Impulse!, 1986.

Dont Try This at Home, MCA/Impulse!, 1987.

Now You See It. Now You Dont, Impulse!, 1990.

All Blues (with GRP All-Star Band, Tom Scott leading), GRP, 1994

Live In Tokyo (with Steps Ahead), NYC Records, 1994.

Infinity (with McCoy Tyner Trio), Impulse!, 1994.

Tales from the Hudson (with Pat Metheny), Impulse!, 1995.

Two Blocks from the Edge (with Calderazzo, Genus, and Watts), Impulse!, 1998.

Time Is of the Essence, Verve, 1999.

Brecker Brothers

Brecker Brothers, One Way, 1975.

Back to Back, One Way, 1975.

Blue Montreux, Bluebird, 1978.

Heavy Metal Be-Bop, One Way, 1978.

Dont Stop the Music, One Way, 1980.

Straphangin, One Way, 1980.

Detente, One Way, 1980.

Return of the Brecker Brothers, GRP, 1992.

Out of the Loop, GRP, 1994.

Electric Jazz Fusion, Jamey Aebersol, 1999.

Appeared on

Hardbop Grandpop (Horace Silver), 1996.

The Promise (Johnny McLaughlin), 1998.


Down Beat, September 1994, p. 47; December 1994, p. 57; October 1998, p. 53; April 1999, p. 72, February 2000, pp. 27-33.

Entertainment Weekly, November 6, 1992, p. 68.

Los Angeles Times, May 28, 1998, p. 45; June 18, 1998, p. 31; November 21, 1999, p. 73.

Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 14, 2000, p. 7; April 17, 2000, p. 5B.

Newsday, February 18, 1993, p. 88.

Reuters, March 10, 1997.

San Francisco Chronicle, May 15, 1999, p. E3; March 31, 2000, p. D6.

Gloria Cooksey

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"Brecker, Michael." Contemporary Musicians. . 17 Dec. 2017 <>.

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