Some players attain a legendary status within a particular genre of music. They’ll play the smoothest of smooth, the hippest of bebop, the most experimental of free… and then there is Michael Brecker.
In a world where superlatives are used to describe almost anything, he is one of the exceptions to truly deserve hero status.
Born in 1949, Michael Brecker was able to forge a path that has put him on a pinnacle among saxophone players.
Although he tragically passed away too soon, he left behind an indelible mark on the saxophone world. So much so that it is now hard to imagine how the modern saxophone sound would have progressed without his influence.
From his funk-fusion playing with the Brecker Brothers, to his work with more traditional jazz setups, and even his iconic solos on numerous pop and rock records, Brecker’s technical virtuosity is always evident, yet there is also a sense of humour, modesty, and incredible melody.
Brecker’s technical ability was astounding, making him the idol of generations of upcoming saxophonists. His playing on tracks like “Delta City Blues”, “In a Sentimental Mood” (on the Akai EWI), or the amazing Claus Ogerman album “Cityscape” have become yardsticks that all saxophonists aspire to.
There was always an emotional connection in Brecker’s playing too. Even when performing completely a capella, he could fill a concert hall with his expressive sound.
Brecker was always searching and developing as a musician. His experimentation and focus with the AKAI EWI helped make that instrument a potentially serious instrument and not just a gimmick of the technological age.
Throughout his career, Brecker not only showed his proficiency in jazz, but also guested with pop and rock acts. He even spent time during the early 80’s as a member of the Saturday Night Live Band. All these, as well as his own releases have meant that he has been honoured with 15 Grammy Awards, as well as many, many other awards. His discography is impressive – having performed on over 700 albums as a leader, sideman and soloist.
Although he was an inspiration to his peers and an idol to a generation of younger players he remained very modest and self effacing. Audiences at his masterclasses and concerts would be in awe but this never seemed to swell his ego. All the references to his character from fellow musicians and friends show him to have been an incredibly gentle and kind man.
The brilliance and range of the body of work that Michael Brecker has left behind as well as the sheer influence that he has had on generations of saxophonists since leaves no doubt that he really is a true Legend.
About the author:
Nick Webb is a saxophonist and writer based in Brighton, UK.