Michael Brecker Died Today

m-breckerMichael Brecker passed away today in New York, of Leukemia. He was a monster player, and will be greatly missed.

I heard him play live twice, once at the Pasadena Jazz Festival, and once at the Hollywood Bowl, as part of their summer Jazz at the Bowl series. The evening at the Hollywood bowl was billed as a “Three Tenors” program, three tenor saxophonists shared the bill. It opened with the Bowl’s jazz series house band, the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and featured the solo chops of their tenor sax player, Rickey Woodard on several songs. Now, Rickey is a great player, and having had a chance to play with him a few times, it was a blast to see him really shine in his element. That aside, the big band was clearly just setting the table for the feast that was to come.

Joshua Redman and Michael Brecker did the next two sets. Josh came out first, with his combo, and he lit the place up. He’s an amazing player, and his approach to the instrument is both intense and deeply musical. When he first came onto the scene in the mid 1990′s, he was heralded as the best player of the new generation, and his artistry has only matured since then. He has buckets of technical virtuosity. He led his combo through their paces for about 45 minutes, and then they left the stage while he closed out the set with one of the most soulful renditions of “Come Rain of Come Shine” I’ve ever heard. When the last note drifted off the stage and lingered in the seats of the bowl, and as the applause started to rise up from those of us listening, you got the sense that you had just heard one of the great Tenor Sax players of all time.

Then, Michael Brecker took the stage.

From the very first phrase, he had irrevocable command of every person with range of the sound of his horn. It was like the earth had dropped two feet, and 20,000 people were suspended in mid-air, refusing to yield to the force of gravity because the artist had insisted that they stop. and listen.

He played with such eloquence. His lines had that sense of inevitability that makes you believe that they could never have been played any other way, like themes that had been plucked from the song of the earth and transposed into Bb. When he drew from his technical virtuosity, which is unspeakably vast, he did so with the kind of ease that makes you wonder what he could do if he really pushed himself some time.

I have a library in my mind, a collection of film reels featuring the transcendent scenes where life seems larger than then moments that constrain it. Michael Brecker at the Hollywood Bowl is one of those. He will be greatly missed.

12 thoughts on “Michael Brecker Died Today

  1. Jonathan

    He will be greatly missed. Unfortunately I did not get to see him nor have I heard much of his music. I do know that Rusty Higgins has always spoken highly of him and the little bit of music I have heard from him was amazing.

  2. Sharolyn

    I just called my brother. I figured he would already know, but no, I broke his heart.

    Steve is a tenor sax player, and my most recent photo of him is holding up a Christmas present – a book of transcribed Brecker solos. (Which, by the way, are funny to look at… pages full of black and things like “15-tuplets”. Don’t you wonder about the guy whose job it was to keep hitting rewind, trying to duplicate the solo on his own saxophone, and finally coming to the conclusion that it was a 15-tuplet?)

    When Steve was in high school, we would often drive around town in his VW bus, listening to the Brecker Brothers.

    He had met Michel Brecker several times, and was hoping for one more.

    What a loss for the global jazz community. This has happened too soon and he will be missed.

  3. aly hawkins

    I’m not quite the jazz hound that you, Michael, or Sharolyn are, but this is a wonderful piece of writing and a beautiful, fitting tribute that I’m confident Michael Brecker would appreciate.

    “I have a library in my mind, a collection of film reels featuring the transcendent scenes where life seems larger than the moments that constrain it.”

    I latched onto this immediately. Who of us does not have this same library…populated perhaps by different film reels, but all pointing, nonetheless, to whatever It is that transcends the moment? Gazing down on the 405 from the tram to the Getty at sunset, singing “Happy Birthday” at a baby’s First, uncorking a bottle you’ve been saving for a special occasion and inhaling the secrets held within…life is an aggregate of these moments, all pointing to Something beyond.

    Thanks, M, for a reminder that it’s good to be alive.

  4. BEYAZ

    I am from Turkey…I listen to him over years,I always loved to his playing…I am also a musician who plays tenor saxphone and trumpet…I am very very sorry to hear that…

  5. StonyRocky

    I’m from China. I love Michael Brecker’s music a lot. Never got chance to see him playing live. This writing piece pictures a scene of a great concert. I play guitar, but Michael Brecker is always my most favorite musician.

  6. Morphea

    Stony, Beyaz, welcome. Turkey and China. Sweetness.

    Aly – for god’s sake. I tried to make what you wrote into the scrolling marquee for my screensaver at work and it’s too long. Nonetheless, I’m saving it somewhere for it moved me, man. It moved me. For realios.


  7. Morphea

    Michael, beautifully written. You make me wish I’d been there.

    And to all you smug bastard Californians (re: Aly’s last paragraph): our one 3-hour visit to the Getty changed our lives forever and we still long to live down there. Dammit. Every time one of you mentions it we get all achy in our stomachs, which then brings the bittersweet memories of gallons of red wine, Aly and Ash’s cloves, 3 different kinds of Italian food, Chad and his pancakes (I just…love you, man), martini-soaked karaoke party (did I really enact Otto Titsling while Aly sang? No…must be a boozy fever dream) and all of Ventura that we saw. We MISS you. And California.

    [gazes out window at snowy, cloudy Seattle and heaves a sigh]

  8. Sharolyn

    I wanna come, too! :)

    You’ve got to love a karaoke song that includes the lyric: “Aerodynamically this bitch was a mess”.

    Like many other mourners (I’m sure), I have been listening to Michel Brecker. Since I’m not as all super-cool as Mike with his fancy-pant music samples, graphics, and internet tube manipulations, here is an amazon link that will allow you to sample some of his music.

    Like any great musician, his sounds evolved, so don’t let this be a classic example of anything. I love number two, “Some Skunk Funk”. It takes me back to the first time my parents let us stay home without a babysitter, and the bathtub overflowed because my brothers and I got distracted when “CHips” came on the TV.

    Only “Some Skunk Funk” is much better than the CHips theme. It’s just that they both feature quartal chords and that 70s funky beat that makes you want to shake your Boom Boom LaTush…



    micheal brecker had inspired me for many many years and will do to the end,as he did to many musicians all around the planet.we will miss him for shure.but there is one belife in my mind that makes sence of his death.he had finished his mission here, his soul now is somewhere else in this vast universe on some other planet to complete his inspiring mission cause his soul is eternal.GOD BLESS YOU WE LOVE YOU


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