Randy Brecker: A Fusion Legacy
"We had a band in the '70s called Dreams," recalls Brecker. "We did two records. Me, Mike, Billy Cobham. John Abercrombie later. Guys that ended up playing in Brecker Brothers. Will Lee, Don Grolnick. At one point, John McLaughlin stole our drummer, Billy. To be around that music was a huge influence. Hearing McLaughlin's writing. Something appealed to me in his writing. I remember hearing the first [Mahavishnu] record and saying, 'I'm going to apply myself and write my own music.' So that band was a big influence. James Brown. of course, Miles. Miles would come and hear us a bunch of times when we had Dreams. He was a fan of the band. I never talked to him, but he'd always be in the audience. We played at the Village Gate on weekends. So I'd like to think we had a little influence on him too. But that whole period, everybody was kind of together. We were playing jam sessions a lot with all these guys. It was a really exciting period. Everybody was influencing the next guy."
The Breckers were forging ahead in that musical vein. But hadn't exactly planned what came next.
"I had been writing some music with the intent of doing a solo record with guys I'd been playing with. Other guys were writing for their own projects too. Don Grolnick was doing a project. We'd get together once a week," says Brecker. "We were were just trying our stuff. I had the idea to add Mike [Brecker] and David Sanborn as the horn section ... The name was inadvertent. It wasn't our idea, which was the strangest thing of all. The name was coined by Steve Backer, who was the executive producer on our first few records. We signed to his production company. Becker called up just about when I was going to start recording stuff and doing demos. He said, 'I heard about this music and if you call your band The Brecker Brothers, I'll sign you to this new deal I have with Clive Davis.' Davis was the renowned longtime head of Columbia Records, who had departed and was starting Arista Records.
"It took me about a week to come around," Brecker admits. "Because at first I really wanted it to be a solo record. I thought it was a little weird that Sanborn would be standing there out front as part of the Brecker Brothers band. But it was a good opportunity and I think I made the right decision. I said, 'OK, Call it the Brecker Brothers.' It's kinda funny, because we were playing together for years before that. Nobody ever thought of it. In print once, when we were playing with Billy Cobham, somebody mentioned 'the brothers Brecker.' But still, it's kind of an obvious name. It rolls right off the tongue. The alliteration. It's a good idea at this point. I wish I could take credit for that one."
Even while it was still in the trumpeter's head as a solo recording, it wasn't to be mainstream jazz. "I was writing this stuff in the early 70s, up to 1974-75 when we recorded this stuff. It was the great era of Blue Note Records. It was a golden era of straight ahead jazz. I didn't think I could do anything to surpass all those great records. I wanted to combine all my influences from growing up in Philadelphia and playing in R&B bands and doing all this studio work. I was exposed to a lot of different styles of music. I knew there was a world outside the so-called jazz community that wanted to listen to music that was sophisticated, but funky and easy to listen to at the same time. That was a goal of the whole thing. Plus trying to put Mike and Sanborn together. I'd gone to jazz camp with Sanborn when I was 15. I met him. He had moved to town [New York] and I thought that would be a great pairing. It proved to be true."
After a successful stint of tours and records from the mid-70s to early 80s, the band geared won. "We never really broke up, but the record deal expired," says Brecker. "We did six records for Arista. We'd been playing together for over 10 years in various groups. We both, especially Mike, had expressed desire to do a solo record. I'd gotten called by Jaco Pastorius to join his band and Mike joined Steps Ahead. He wanted to experiment more in acoustic music. That's how Steps started out, as sort of an acoustic fusion band. I jumped at the opportunity to play with Jaco and the classic Word of Mouth [band] and big band. I stayed with Jaco for a couple years."