Today’s the 15th anniversary of Michael Brecker’s death, and Ted Gioia has some thoughts:
Almost every saxophonist I met in the closing decades of the 20th century treated Brecker as a superstar at the pinnacle of the jazz craft. This was especially true of students at college jazz programs, where Brecker was a revered name, not far below John Coltrane in the hierarchy of jazz saxophony. And Coltrane, even back then, was a distant historical figure none of these jazz students had ever seen perform live. Brecker, in contrast, was a horn-playing god who walked among us.
I studied music at EWU back in the late 80s—and worked the occasional shift as a late-night DJ at the college jazz station—so I can confirm that Brecker definitely loomed large among my fellow band nerds and me. His 1988 album Don’t Try This at Home was a holy relic; when he and his rhythm section came to Spokane for a gig at Casa Blanca that year, we treated it more like a pilgrimage than a night out with drinks. He was, in a sense, our Coltrane.
Which makes this all the more interesting:
But, as Gioia suggests, the saxophonist’s appeal was far broader than any one genre. “Brecker had completely assimilated a populist attitude into his personal style,” he writes. “When he played over a rock or funk groove, he wasn’t trying to cross over, he was just being himself.” Take a gander yourself at this discography. (Keep scrolling—the list does eventually come to an end.)
Let’s close with a video played at Michael Brecker’s memorial service, held February 20, 2007 at Town Hall in Manhattan: