Michael Brecker was arguably the most influential tenor of the post-Coltrane era. By integrating funk and pop elements into the Coltranian heritage, he paved the way for a new generation of saxophonists.
"His saxophone playing set a new standard for jazz, R&B and pop." Bob Mintzer
Born in 1949 in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), Michael Brecker was immersed in the world of jazz from an early age by his father, an amateur pianist. He learned the clarinet and the alto saxophone, before opting for the tenor under the influence of the music of John Coltrane.
In 1969, he left for New York. He was first a member of the jazz-rock band Dreams with his brother Randy, trumpet player, then he collaborated with Horace Silver and Billy Cobham. In 1974, the Brecker Brothers created a surprise by forming the group that would carry the banner of jazz-funk fusion in the 1970s: the Brecker Brothers. Their highly energizing music is spiced with fearsome settings and breathtaking virtuosity. An over-charged cocktail that will become the Brecker Brothers' signature but in which, however, they will avoid getting locked up by returning to more acoustic formulas a few years later.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the fusion banner has many advantages since it allows them to wear a multitude of costumes, which gives Michael the opportunity to play, in studio or on stage, with an incredible number of stars: Chick Corea, George Benson, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Franck Sinatra, Herbie Hancock, Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan, Dire Straits…
At the same time, the two brothers lead a jam session in the famous Manhattan club they also own, Seventh Avenue South. It is on this occasion that by jamming with Mike Mainieri (vibraphone), Eddie Gomez (bass) and Steve Gadd (drums), Michael decides to form one of the most popular bands of the 1980s: Steps Ahead (in which drummer Steve Gadd will leave his place a little later to Peter Erskine).
In spite of these undeniable successes, it was not until 1987 that the saxophonist's first solo opus was released. Soberly entitled Michael Brecker, this record is elected best album of the year by Downbeat magazine.
The 1990s will be fertile with the reformation of the Brecker Brothers in 1992, materialized by two albums (Return of the Brecker Brothers and Out of the Loop). But Michael worked essentially in a more personal direction, either collaborating with leading jazzmen including pianists Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner, or recording his own albums. In 2002, he paid tribute to the work of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, two major influences, by recording a live album in Toronto with Herbie Hancock and Roy Hargrove. One of his latest projects will be particularly ambitious since it brings together an ensemble of 15 musicians whose composition is rather original (strings, oboe, clarinet…). It was with this quindectet that he recorded the album Wide Angles in 2003, shortly before the first symptoms of leukaemia forced him to put his career on hold. Parenthesis that will close tragically with his death in 2007.
Photo credit: Jos L. Knaepen