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Randy Brecker: Zelig Goes Brazilian

By Published: October 27, 2008

As Brecker's time with Silver expired, the formation of the Dreams band came about as the new decade dawned.

"By then, late 1969 or early 1970, Horace decided to break up the band. In that band were myself, Billy Cobham and John B. Williams. Billy and I came back to New York and were kind of floating around. During those months, my brother moved to New York, also from Indiana University, and befriended a trombonist, Barry Rogers, who was very famous in the Latin field. Barry had played with Eddie Palmieri and set the standard on trombone and its sound with Eddie Palmieri's band," says Brecker.

"He was looking to do something else. He had met a couple singer/songwriters from L.A., Doug Lubhan and Jeff Kent. They wanted to start a band with horns, called Dreams. Lo and behold, myself and Billy were out of a job. Mike called me and told me about this scenario. We all got together, six of us, and we listened to tunes and jammed up some arrangements and it just jelled very fast. We decided to add a guitar and chose the then-young jazz guitarist John Abercrombie, who brought along a wah-wah pedal to the audition because he thought it made him sound more rock and roll. We loved the way he played, so he ended up joining the band and playing on the first record, which was called Dreams (Columbia, 1970). The group also did a follow-up album, Imagine My Surprise (Columbia, 1971).

Randy Brecker "That kind of launched all of our studio careers, because we had a steady job on weekends at the Village Gate opening for any number of famous groups or comedians. A lot of people came down and heard myself and my brother and Barry play together. We became known as the horn section. One thing led to another. That's what really started our studio careers."

After Dreams, Brecker did some more work with Silver, as well as Larry Coryell and The 11th House. The brothers Brecker played with Cobham's groups for a couple years, after the drummer left one of the seminal fusion groups, John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra. Cobham's band recorded frequently in a short time. "Every four or five months, he would go in and record stuff he was writing. Shabazz (Atlantic, 1974) was one of them, A Funky Thide of Sings (Atlantic, 1975) was another. We did two or three records with him."

Brecker Brothers

The formation of the Brecker Brothers, which still has a strong legion of fans, "came about during the years we were playing with Billy Cobham," says Brecker. It was his idea that stemmed from a desire to start following his own muse.

"During the early '70s when I was doing a lot of studio work, playing with Billy Cobham and bands on the road... When I got home from a long day at the studio, I felt the need to express myself creatively, so I started to write. The main thought behind a lot of the tunes was the fact that I had a friend, who was then unknown, whose name was David Sanborn. We went to camp together at Indiana University when we were 15. He had moved to Woodstock. I thought it would be a great idea to bring him and my brother together in a horn section," says Brecker.

"I started writing with that in mind, and also people that started playing in Dreams: Don Grolnick on keyboards and Will Lee on bass, who replaced the original singer/songwriters on the second Dreams record. We would get together on a weekly basis, because Don was writing a lot of tunes too. [Guitarist] Steve Khan was in the apartment building where they all lived, and Chris Parker, a great drummer. That became the nucleus of what became known as the Brecker Brothers Band."

The origin of the band name took a different turn. "A guy named Steve Becker thought of the name. He approached me at the point where I'd written enough material to conceptualize a project. I was going to record everything and then try to sell it. Word had filtered around that we were getting together and playing these tunes." Becker had signed a production deal with Clive Davis, who had left Columbia and was joining the new Arista Records label.

Randy Brecker "I met with Steve, and he said, 'If you call this group the Brecker Brothers, I'll sign you to my production deal and you'll be with Arista Records.' Believe it or not, all those years we played together, nobody had coined the phrase. I was conceptualizing a Randy Brecker solo record. At first, I said I wanted it to be called Randy Brecker, featuring Mike Brecker and David Sanborn. The Brecker Brothers doesn't make that much sense, because there were three horns, equally featured, so where does that leave Sanborn? After thinking about it for about a week, Mike was playing so great, as was Dave, I then said it was a good opportunity. I don't have to record a demo and take it around and hope to sell it. So I called up Steve and said, 'Go ahead. Call it Brecker Brothers.'"

"That's how the band was born. We signed and we did that first record (The Brecker Brothers, Arista, 1975), which sold far beyond my wildest dreams, partially due to the fact that Clive Davis insisted we go back into the studio... He coerced us to go back into the studio and record a single. These were the years when a single helped sell a CD. So we went back to Don's apartment and jammed up a tune in about three hours, called 'Sneakin' Up Behind You,' which became a hit on the R&B charts. That's what really sold the thing. It got up to number five, I think, of the top 50 R&B tunes.

"We stayed together for six years, did six albums. They all did quite well."

The Brecker Brothers had critical and popular acclaim and earned seven Grammy nominations between 1975 and 1981.

Brecker's career stayed in constant motion. He performed on Mingus' last album, Me, Myself An Eye (Atlantic, 1978), which led to performances with the various Mingus itinerary bands operated by his widow, Sue Mingus. He also recorded with the likes of Jaco Pastorious, Stanley Clarke, Stanley Turrentine, Clapton and countless others over the years.

In 1992 the Brecker Brothers returned. Their popularity strongly forged, the band did a world tour behind the triple-Grammy nominated GRP recording, The Return of the Brecker Brothers. The band finally won two Grammys with Out of the Loop (GRP, 1994). The '90s also saw the trumpeter earn a Grammy for his solo effort that also touched on Brazilian music, Into the Sun.

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