Jazz tenor saxophonist, composer, and bandleader Michael Brecker lost his battle of several years with the leukemia-related blood disorder MDS on Saturday. He was 57 years old.
As a child in his native Philadelphia, Brecker was exposed to Miles, Ellington, Coltrane, and other jazz avatars by his father, lighting a fire in the youngster to follow his jazz muse. With his brother, trumpeter Randy Brecker, the popular and prolific sax man made an indelible mark in jazz and pop. The brothersâ€™ careers began in earnest upon arriving in New York City in the early 1970s. The Breckersâ€™ broad musical palette, ranging from hard post-bop to rock fusion, won them rapid acclaim and made them very sought after session players. Additionally, the brothers founded two influential bands, the short-lived Dreams (which included drummer Billy Cobham) and the popular Brecker Brothers Band, a group flexible enough to effortlessly go from Monk to funk.
Internationally renowned, Michael was the recipient of multiple Grammys and was first to win â€œbest jazz instrumental performanceâ€ and â€œbest jazz instrumental soloâ€ for two years in a row. His debut solo release, Michael Brecker, was Downbeatâ€™s Jazz Album of the Year in 1987, with subsequent releases through the years garnering awards and critical praise as well. In 2003 he managed to find the energy to be a remarkable presence with brother Randy on the exciting Telarc release Some Skunk Funk, a live big band romp recorded in KÃ¶ln, Germany. Despite being seriously ill and primarily sidetracked in recent times, Brecker put the finishing touches on his final work just two weeks before his death.
Michael Breckerâ€™s roster of recorded achievements as accompanist is so vast itâ€™s much easier to inventory who he didnâ€™t play with. He was equally at home recording with McCoy Tyner or Jack DeJohnette as he was with James Taylor or Aerosmith, and his resume is about as diverse as one can have while still being fully committed and proficient within each of the genres he straddled. Brecker is considered a major tenor stylist and influence on jazz in the post-bop era.
In recent years, Brecker campaigned for stem cell research and bone marrow donor awareness due to his affliction. He is survived by his wife and two children. - Tali Madden
Mr. Madden escaped New York a few decades ago, and still misses his egg creams. Aside from a brief flirtation with the Desert Southwest, he's been damply ensconced for half his life in Portland, Oregon. The freelance writer has written extensively on blues and jazz for outlets including the late Blues Access magazine, contributed to the MusicHound Blues and Jazz album guides, and produced and programmed jazz broadcasts for public radio.