All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Live Reviews


Memories of Michael Brecker: Town Hall Tribute


Sign in to view read count
Michael Brecker's music allowed us to see that we are all connected in some strange but magically flowing way.
Michael Brecker Memorial
Town Hall, Manhattan
February 20, 2007

Last night, my companion Stefania and I took a train ride from Connecticut into Manhattan to pay homage to a fallen musician. Michael Brecker, the prolific and well respected saxophonist, had passed away five weeks prior at a hospital in New York after a long-standing battle with MDS (myelodyplastic syndrome). It was a little publicized memorial at Town Hall in midtown Manhattan, and I for one, went there with little expectations other than to honor the memory of a musician who had over the years given me such wonder and joy.

I was drawn to the saxophonist's playing early on in his career. In my high school years, I had been determined to listen to and absorb all the old jazz recordings offered by my local library. They were predominantly vinyl pressings of whatever artists library benefactors saw fit to release from their collections. You would think that such dependence on donations would result in relatively slim pickings, with only those recordings that were less appreciated being recycled. But to my surprise the selection was bountiful, with names and recordings that I probably would have never otherwise experienced. I listened with old black Bakelite earphones to the "world music" of Yusef Lateef and the piano syncopations of Thelonius Monk. I marveled at the unfamiliar timings of Dave Brubeck with Joe Morello on drums and sat mesmerized by the orchestrations of Oliver Nelson and Charles Mingus. I was captivated by the individual tonal qualities of Stan Getz, Bill Evans and Paul Desmond.

But then I listened and listened to John Coltrane's Giant Steps. This experience was something special, and soon I was hooked. I went on to his Ole and Impressions and was totally blown away. When I eventually got to A Love Supreme, I was beginning to understand that some music was capable of communicating more than simple notes on a page or sounds over my earphones. This music moved me like no other. It was leading me to explore new dimensions—not just of sound but of communication with and connection to a higher force.

But the times were changing: rock was fully embraced as the music of the day, and I became fully engaged in this guitar-centric era. I found myself turning away from the old lions of jazz and seeking voices from my generation. The first time I saw Michael was in the basement club of the Village Gate, which reportedly was featuring a super group of players I had long wanted to see. The band was Dreams, a group that was crossing the line between jazz and rock at a time when others like Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago Transit Authority were also finding their way to an audience accustomed to the sounds of rock. While the drummer Billy Cobham made an indelible impression on me with his clear, acrylic drum set and his dance-like technique, it was, above all, the first experience of hearing Michael Brecker playing alongside his brother Randy that has resonated with me to this day. The two combined to create a distinctive, unified horn sound that, like Coltrane before them, made their music different from the rest.

Brecker's career and my love of music were on parallel paths. We were, after all, the same age. I would be attracted to certain songs and particularly saxophone solos along the way. Often I would hear some line or a solo in a popular song and be so impressed that I would make an concerted effort to find out who played that part. Invariably it was Michael Brecker, a musician whose discography is nothing short of astounding. (Who hasn't he played with in the last thirty-five years?)

Over time, I became only more impressed. When his first album as a leader came out and won a Grammy, I knew I was not alone in my judgment of his extraordinary talent and unique ability to communicate musically. This musician was my John Coltrane! I started to collect his solo efforts as well as any collaboration in which he was involved. Every chance I would get to see him play was one more chance to experience his brilliance, and he never disappointed.

Following him so closely over the years, I could perceive his playing getting better, practically by leaps and bounds. I was watching before my eyes a true giant making huge strides both on his instrument and in his writing. Each successive performance made a greater impression on me than the last. His solo work with McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane's former pianist and a brilliant artist in his own right, on an album called Infinity, is in my mind some of his best. Here Brecker takes on his mentor's role and brings it to his own unique and extraordinary level.


comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Noa Fort at Cornelia Street Café Live Reviews
Noa Fort at Cornelia Street Café
by Tyran Grillo
Published: March 21, 2018
Read Cologne Open 2018 Live Reviews
Cologne Open 2018
by Henning Bolte
Published: March 21, 2018
Read Jon Faddis at The Wheel Live Reviews
Jon Faddis at The Wheel
by Mark Sullivan
Published: March 20, 2018
Read Dixie Dregs at Lincoln Theatre Live Reviews
Dixie Dregs at Lincoln Theatre
by Eric Thiessen
Published: March 18, 2018
Read Kyle Taylor Parker at The Green Room 42 Live Reviews
Kyle Taylor Parker at The Green Room 42
by Tyran Grillo
Published: March 17, 2018
Read The Dixie Dregs at Scottish Rite Auditorium Live Reviews
The Dixie Dregs at Scottish Rite Auditorium
by Geno Thackara
Published: March 17, 2018
Read "Chris Oatts Quintet at Chris’ Jazz Cafe" Live Reviews Chris Oatts Quintet at Chris’ Jazz Cafe
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: June 26, 2017
Read "Bob DeVos Quartet At Trumpets Jazz Club" Live Reviews Bob DeVos Quartet At Trumpets Jazz Club
by David A. Orthmann
Published: February 8, 2018
Read "Bonerama at the Iridium" Live Reviews Bonerama at the Iridium
by Mike Perciaccante
Published: August 5, 2017
Read "Bill Laswell/Milford Graves/John Zorn at The Stone" Live Reviews Bill Laswell/Milford Graves/John Zorn at The Stone
by Tyran Grillo
Published: December 22, 2017