Celebrating Michael Brecker

Randy Brecker, Donny McCaslin, Gil Goldstein, Adam Rogers, John Patitucci, Antonio Sanchez

Michael Brecker, Adam Rogers, John Patitucci, Antonio Sanchez

When tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker lost his battle with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a deadly bone marrow cancer in 2007, the world mourned the death of one of the most influential and imitated post-Coltrane saxophonists of the 20th century. Brecker could play any style of music – from straight ahead to funk and rock, and his big sound has appeared on many albums dating from the 1960s. From James Brown, John Lennon, Lou Reed, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Steely Dan, and Frank Zappa, to Billy Cobham, Jaco Pastorious, Tony Williams, Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and countless others, there was not an area of music that was not touched by Michael Brecker; and his 28 Grammy nominations and 15 Grammy wins are evidence enough that his talent did not go unrecognized during his lifetime.

But it was his own groups where he attracted thousands of musical fans, with his brother, Randy in the Brecker Brothers, and later on through a solo career. At the Monterey Jazz Festival in 2018, we are pleased to honor the late saxophonist with a musical tribute, featuring musicians and colleagues that have recorded, toured, performed, or generally hung with the saxophonist throughout his career – brother and trumpeter Randy Brecker, pianist and arranger Gil Goldstein, saxophonist Donny McCaslin, drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist John Patitucci, and guitarist Adam Rogers.

In 2006, JazzTimes' Bill Milkowski interviewed a number of Michael's musical partners, including some of the artists featured this year at Monterey.

Adam Rogers, guitarist
Pretty much every night Mike is really digging deep and pulling out a lot of stuff and playing with this phenomenal amount of intensity that you can’t help but be affected by, regardless of how you particularly play as an improviser. Being on the bandstand with him really made me think about my own playing in a lot of different ways. Because when Mike plays, after he’s done with an improvisation you kind of have to think, “Well, how do I want to play after that?” It really makes you think about your own playing and what things do you want to elicit. It’s really a thought-provoking experience to play next to Mike.

An amazing thing about Mike is that he’s a real student of music. And I have always felt that he’s most interested in things that he hasn’t heard before. In playing with him, the more that I would delve into my recesses to pull something out that maybe I didn’t know how to do, the more interested he would become. He loves that process of exploration in himself or in the musicians he’s playing with.

On a couple of tours I did with Mike, he filmed these really funny things with his Canon digital camera. I was honored to be a part of one, although it was indicting in ways I don’t know if I want out there. It’s pretty funny, though, and certainly the way he edited it together was hysterical. He brings his monumental obsessive creativity into that medium as well, as you might imagine. At first meeting he’s quiet and humble, but he’s got a really fantastic sense of humor. He seems to always be able to pull out the underlying funniness in any situation.

Donny McCaslin was Michael Brecker’s replacement the all-star group Steps Ahead in the 1990s:
Maybe one of the first things I ever heard him on was one of those Blue Montreux records. I was in high school at the time and there’s a tune in particular of his called “Uptown Ed,” a kind of post-boppish melody, and I remember being just astonished at the virtuosity, of course, but also by the passion in his sound and the intensity with which he plays his instrument. Those things just hit me right away as a 14-year-old. And I was like, “Man! That’s how I want to play.”

I remember seeing him when I was a student at Berklee. This was around the time that his first record as a leader came out on Impulse! He was a guest artist and did a clinic and a concert with a student ensemble. And I remember hearing him say in the clinic that he was taking saxophone lessons and composition lessons. I was struck by the fact that here was a guy at the top of his field and he’s still studying the saxophone.

One of my strongest impressions of Mike was meeting him and discovering that he was such a humble and gracious person. That was years later, when I was playing in Steps Ahead during the mid-’90s. I got to talk to him a bit and he was just so funny and self-effacing and good-natured that it just put me at ease immediately.