Keeping the Michael Brecker Spirit Alive

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Michael Brecker: 1949 – 2007

There are as many styles of tenor sax playing as there are disciples and influences: Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Stan Getz. The late Joe Henderson was pretty unique and though he influenced a lot of tenor players, his style of improvising was so different that I really can’t think of anybody who quite sounded like him.

Michael Brecker studied with a famous New York city teacher named Joe Allard, whom I don’t know much except that he was the go-to teacher for saxophone players in the Big Apple. Brecker was a busy session player and played on a lot of albums. He helped found Seventh Avenue South as a New York City jazz club in 1977. He also founded the crossover jazz group Steps Ahead in the 1980s.

Brecker died in 2007 at the age of 57 of bone marrow cancer. Like Charlie Parker with “Cherokee” and John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”, Brecker electrified the tenor sax world with his solo on the 1974 album on Claus Ogerman’s album Gate of Dreams. The song was “Caprice”. He had a new sound and a new approach to the tenor sax. And like Bird and Trane, he was a phenomenal virtuoso. Meanwhile, a decade later circa 1983, Brecker reunited with Claus Ogerman to make another symphonic album, Cityscape, also a tour de force.

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Mike Brecker might not be with us, but his influence on other players remains and keeps his spirit alive. When you hear music by Chris Potter, the late Bob Berg, Bob Mintzer, Bob Sheppard, Eric Alexander, or even Jan Garbarek, you are hearing the influence of Michael Brecker. For modern players, his influence was inescapable. He was a gentle spirit, a pioneer, and a fiercely original tenor player.

Let’s listen to my interview with Michael Brecker when he came on Cafe LA in 1997. Hear him talk about his career, his love of John Coltrane, “The Brecker Sound”, and his lost luggage. Plus, we hear a track off of his then latest album, the 1996 release, Tales From The Hudson.

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Here is some vintage footage of him performing from his Seventh Avenue South jazz club in 1984. This originally aired on a Manhattan cable access program, The Jon Hammond Show. The opening credits are an 80’s flashback and the club is dark, but Brecker’s solo sounds out of sight.