Catching Up With Randy Brecker
AAJ: I really liked Ada's (Roditti, saxophonist/Randy's wife) album with you, Mike Stern and Don Alias. Real nice. Is that her first?
RB: Thanks. Yeah, it's her first official release.
AAJ: And she's on your latest album.
AAJ: Can you talk about the making of the new ESC album: 34th N Lex ?
RB: It was meant to be a more acoustic thing. Mike's playing tenor, David Sanborn, Ronnie Cuber (baritone), Fred Wesley (t'bone), Ada, Chris Min Doky (bass), Clarence Penn (drums), Adam Rodgers (guitar) and George Whitty (keys, production) are also on it.
AAJ: I can hear all kinds of things in it, even fragments reminiscent of Brecker Brother's tunes seem to find their ways in. What's the significance of the title for you?
RB: Well, that's where I live.
AAJ: I knew it had to be something like that (laughs).
RB: It's an apartment, a rental with single pane windows, so it's noisy with the cars and sirens; you'll probably hear one here pretty soon. It's a pretty active corner.
AAJ: I take it you don't have any trouble sleeping.
RB: Well, it took me awhile to get used to it.
AAJ: Yeah, I'm sure. So who's in your working band now?
RB: George Whitty on piano and keyboards, Chris Min Doky on bass, Clarence Penn on drums and Adam Rodgers plays guitar.
AAJ: "The Fisherman" was dedicated to Bob Berg (great tenor saxophonist and Miles alumni) and sounds very much like something he'd have done on his own albums.
RB: Yeah. He loved fishing. His funeral was about half fishermen. Some who knew he played something but not much more than that.
AAJ: That's a trip. Did you have projects lined up that you were doing?
RB: Yeah, he was going to do the tour this summer (of Europe) and he was also going to be on the album ( 34th n Lex ).
AAJ: It's tragic. He was an incredible musician and person and it was really good to see some-thing done in his honor. We were recording tracks that very day (12/5/02) for him to be on; our next CD is dedicated to him. How is everyone doing?
RB: They're getting though it. We were pretty close. I have a place out in Eastern Long Island, too (as did Berg, and where his family still lives). It's been hard for them. I'm close to his family and they're getting through it.
AAJ: That's good to know. Just talked with Bill Evans; he says you write and record on the road and seemed pretty impressed with that.
RB: Yeah, well, there's not much else to do on the road. I write with a small keyboard I carry with me. I use an M-box by Digidesign which lets you plug your horn or instrument right into a laptop. A lot of guys are using them now. I have a studio at home and work with my co-producer, George Whitty (also pianist, arranger, composer).
AAJ: Good system, the M box. That must really free you up. Interesting that Bill's also a fisherman (and both were with Miles and Brecker adjacently).
RB: That's right.
AAJ: What were your original influences?
RB: Well, originally they were all trumpet players. My dad was a pianist and played sometimes and had Miles, Clifford Brown and Chet Baker in his collection, so I was always listening to those. Later when I had a stereo of my own in my room I'd take them in there. We had a family band, but he knew what a hard life it could so he wanted us to have something to fall back on.
AAJ: Right. So when did you know you were going to be a musician?
RB: Pretty early on, probably about third grade. I wasn't interested in anything else. Music is my life. I love music more than my wife. Mike and I both started playing in third grade, though he's a few years younger than me. At school there was trumpet and clarinet available. I chose trumpet and Mike didn't want to play the same thing as me, so he chose clarinet. Our sister Emily was a serious classical pianist but played bass in the family band. My dad would take us to hear music around Philly, like Clifford Brown.
AAJ: You got to hear Clifford?
RB: No. My dad did though.
AAJ: That's amazing. I don't think I've ever known anyone who'd gotten to see him live. The tune 'Shanghigh' ( 34th 'n Lex ) has a real 'Red Clay' vibe in the horn line. What's your process for writing tunes or do you have one?
RB: I don't really have one. Sometimes I start with a melody or changes or a rhythm part working with a keyboard. I work with a keyboard at least a few hours a day. Sometimes you don't know if something will be an A section or B section.
AAJ: Yeah, that's true. As you collect fragments you never know if they'll be a segue, intro, coda or an A or B section 'til you have a context. You worked with Jaco quite a bit. What was that like?
RB: Well, he was an amazing musician. He played everything: drums, piano and a lot of other instruments. Jaco had played a lot of soul: James Brown etc.
AAJ: Yeah, and it showed. You and Mike owned the club 7th Avenue South (midtown Manhattan club owned by Mike and Randy in the 70's and creative hub) at the time, where both your groups and Jaco's played sometimes. Was it true that his 'Word of Mouth' band started there?
RB: Good question'could be. Steps Ahead was also forming and Jaco wanted Mike and a second saxophonist. I think Mike wanted the chance to be featured and to play acoustic and Steps was an acoustic band featuring one saxophonist.