Walter Becker 1950-2017

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen may have been two against nature, but even Becker's lancet wit and Tele skills couldn't sidestep the Grim Reaper and he has passed away leaving behind a Cadillac-sized musical legacy and two sons. At the time of writing the cause of death is unspecified, but maybe we should have picked up the hint when gigs in July went ahead without him. Either way, in an age of loss, the passing of Becker remains oddly unbelievable: the great survivor who came through the death by drugs of his partner Kim Stanley, who struggled with and largely overcame his own drug demons, who fought off Stanley's would be litigious mother, who himself survived a serious car smash, and divorce from his wife Elinor; Becker the man behind Aja and Pretzel Logic and Gaucho has gone. Surely not, surely it's one of Becker's slick cynical jokes, he's gas-lighting us, driving us a little mad, taking his renowned reclusiveness – he made a home for himself for years off Hawaii when he and Fagen first parted ways – just one step further. He'll be back won't he?

If that sounds irreverent, well, Becker would probably approve: his was the ultimate über cool, never the sentimentalist, always the gimlet-eyed outsider that underwrote Steely Dan's panache. Some, Fagen among them, attributed this acerbic but precise as the surgeon's scalpel worldview to Becker's apparently tough, often distressing childhood. Getting attached to anyone was too risky, better to go for the wisecrack, the hyper-polished lyric and lithe melody. And if you can't control relationships, and age does wither you, then look for control through the studio: and this in a way was Becker's gift to music, to use the studio to nail down the most perfect sonic experience possible (whatever the cost in dollars and burnt out synapses).

In taking ultimate control of the sound he sought, Becker left many a guitarist on the cutting room floor (how's it hanging, Mr Knopfler?), so it's no surprise that the soul and proficiency of jazz artists appealed to Becker. Fagen once shared with this correspondent how they'd wanted more 'old school' jazz artists on board, recording sessions with the likes of Al Cohn, which Fagen described dryly as a 'learning curve' for all involved. It's interesting that Becker as a producer, once the Dan split, worked with the likes of Michael Franks and Ricky Lee Jones who also lived and worked in that hinterland between jazz and the singer-songwriter, artists who likewise employed a wry rhyme to hide the hurt.

The house of jazz has many rooms and it would be a parlous view of the jazz tradition that it couldn't include Steely Dan, especially in the golden years between 1972 to 1980. This isn't just because Becker and Fagen were lucky enough to meet at college in the heady days of the late 1960s when the boundaries between rock, jazz and folk came tumbling down; nor was it because they insisted on using the best of musicians, many of whom had impeccable jazz credentials, like Joe Sample, Victor Feldman (a Steely stalwart) and Wayne Shorter. The Steely jazz thing was that they loved the great traditions – the insight and wit of the Great American Songbook, the passion and prowess of bop (Horace Silver is embedded in the first song on their third album) – but never let them be their masters: Becker took all that material, Tin Pan Alley, rock's 'stick it to the man' attitude, jazz's cool and love of the unique and used it to express his own and our own humanity.

In a decade, the 1970s, which produced so many ground-breaking records, Becker helped craft albums and songs that were themselves, unforgettable; at once simple, yet complex, Becker's paradox was that he was deeply affectionate of a world that seemed limitlessly cruel, whose sanity he questioned even as he barely hung on to his own.

– Andy Robson

– Photo by Tim Dickeson

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website

If you do not change browser settings, you consent to continue. Learn more

I understand

Breaking News

Archie Shepp’s Art Songs & Spirituals blows the blues away at Barbican

Archie Shepp’s Art Songs & Spiritual…

This evening gets off to a flying start with Simon...

Read More.....
Gregory Porter, Joshua Redman, The Bad Plus, Sergio Mendes and bigger Big Top for Cheltenham 2019

Gregory Porter, Joshua Redman, The Bad P…

The first names have been revealed for next year's Cheltenham...

Read More.....
Billy Harper charges up Church Of Sound

Billy Harper charges up Church Of Sound

A house of praise is the perfect setting for one...

Read More.....
Ezra Collective Get Sweaty And Prophetic For Jazz-Plus Party At Patterns

Ezra Collective Get Sweaty And Prophetic…

  "This is about joy and happiness and celebrating everything that's...

Read More.....
GoGo Penguin: Kings Of The Bill Take Flight At Concorde

GoGo Penguin: Kings Of The Bill Take Fli…

  The Concorde usually hosts mid-ranking rock bands or popular club...

Read More.....
Helena Kay’s KIM Trio launch Moon Palace album with 'L and D' video

Helena Kay’s KIM Trio launch Moon Palace…

Fast emerging saxophonist Helena Kay is set to release her...

Read More.....
Ben LaMar Gay Breaks Back Of Chicagoan Post-Jazz With Melancholic OTO Matinee

Ben LaMar Gay Breaks Back Of Chicagoan P…

A wet afternoon in the 'Big Smoke' is brightened by...

Read More.....
Shepp Sharp, Fiery and Free at Enjoy Fest

Shepp Sharp, Fiery and Free at Enjoy Fes…

The Enjoy Jazz festival is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary...

Read More.....
Baker On A Roll As Her Eden Project Pays Tribute To Ed Blackwell At Brunswick

Baker On A Roll As Her Eden Project Pays…

  Lorraine Baker recorded one of the season's freshest sounding releases...

Read More.....
Freestage Stars Ready To Fire Up EFG London Jazz Festival

Freestage Stars Ready To Fire Up EFG Lon…

With the full programme confirmed for this year's EFG London...

Read More.....
Sons of Kemet: Kinetic and Chaotic at Komedia

Sons of Kemet: Kinetic and Chaotic at Ko…

There is already a sense of excitement in the air...

Read More.....
Henri Texier, Denys Baptiste, Ghost Note and AEC heat up 37th Tampere Jazz Happening

Henri Texier, Denys Baptiste, Ghost Note…

The 37th edition of what is a key date on...

Read More.....
Dave Holland's Aziza Up The Ante At Ronnie's

Dave Holland's Aziza Up The Ante At Ronn…

The old joke that the audience will have a chance...

Read More.....
Art Ensemble and Mary Halvorson among the hair-raising turns at Berlin Fest humdinger

Art Ensemble and Mary Halvorson among th…

The English music critic Richard Williams finished his three-year stint...

Read More.....
A Melting Pot Of Sounds – Pelin Opcin talks about the EFG London Jazz Festival

A Melting Pot Of Sounds – Pelin Opcin ta…

Alyn Shipton spoke to Pelin Opcin, the EFG London Jazz...

Read More.....
Roy Hargrove – 16/10/69 – 2/11/18

Roy Hargrove – 16/10/69 – 2/11/18

Although several of his legendary predecessors met their maker while...

Read More.....
Victor Wooten puts the bass on top at Ronnie Scott’s

Victor Wooten puts the bass on top at Ro…

No one really noticed the quiet, contemplative figure who was...

Read More.....
Love Supreme Jazz Festival launches new monthly music series

Love Supreme Jazz Festival launches new …

With the first names still be announced for the 2019...

Read More.....
Alexander Hawkins heads up Emulsion Fest Part VII

Alexander Hawkins heads up Emulsion Fest…

The seventh installment of the genre-busting Emulsion Festival is set...

Read More.....
Shirley Tetteh, Denys Baptiste and Ian Shaw among Parliamentary Jazz Award winners

Shirley Tetteh, Denys Baptiste and Ian S…

The winners of the 14th annual Parliamentary Jazz Awards took...

Read More.....
Omar Puente and Steam Down Collective for Albany

Omar Puente and Steam Down Collective fo…

South London's longstanding music and arts venue, The Albany, has...

Read More.....
Up From The Vaults: Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet Albums Back on Vinyl

Up From The Vaults: Don Rendell/Ian Carr…

Long regarded as among the most notable and, in recent...

Read More.....
Georgia Mancio's triumphant triple bill at second Pizza Hang

Georgia Mancio's triumphant triple bill …

It's been something of an annus mirabilis for the vocalist...

Read More.....
Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings, The Necks and Ambrose Akinmusire make moves at Mondriaan Jazz Fest

Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings, The …

The second edition of the Mondriaan Jazz Festival takes place...

Read More.....
Black Top boogie on down for Sardinian Extravaganza

Black Top boogie on down for Sardinian E…

This exciting initiative taken by London-based vocalist Filomena Campus is...

Read More.....
UK Seers Foresee Future Homegrown Visions At Jazz In The Round's Emergence Fest

UK Seers Foresee Future Homegrown Vision…

Jazz In The Round promoters Chris Phillips and Jez Nelson...

Read More.....
Julian Siegel and Renegade Brass light up Limerick Jazz Festival

Julian Siegel and Renegade Brass light u…

This year's festival was perhaps short on surprises, compared to...

Read More.....
Dayes Of Future Past As Yussef Dazzles At Brighton's Haunt

Dayes Of Future Past As Yussef Dazzles A…

The bouncer outside is busy checking ID and handing out...

Read More.....
Gobbling Gourmet On Finnish Baltic Sea Jazz Cruise

Gobbling Gourmet On Finnish Baltic Sea J…

Most jazz cruises skim through moist Caribbean parts, proffering smooth...

Read More.....
New York group SUM premiere ‘Sinking Sand’ video

New York group SUM premiere ‘Sinking San…

Fast emerging New York group SUM bring together jazz, soul...

Read More.....
Claire Martin and Liane Carroll top JBGB autumn jazz line-up

Claire Martin and Liane Carroll top JBGB…

There's a busy jazz line-up at the Other Palace, PizzaExpress...

Read More.....
Guadeloupean Drummer Dolmen Goes For Gwoka At French Institute

Guadeloupean Drummer Dolmen Goes For Gwo…

The World Is Moving is an apt title for this...

Read More.....
Riot Jazz Brass Band for ISM Trust's The Empowered Musician Conference

Riot Jazz Brass Band for ISM Trust's The…

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) Trust are holding a...

Read More.....
Bishop Bones Up In Glasgow

Bishop Bones Up In Glasgow

Chicagoan trombonist Jeb Bishop (Vandermark 5/Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet/Globe Unity...

Read More.....
Szun Waves share new video for ‘Moon Runes’

Szun Waves share new video for ‘Moon Run…

Jazztronica trio Szun Waves have just released the video for...

Read More.....
Flying Machines Video Exclusive – ‘New Life’

Flying Machines Video Exclusive – ‘New L…

Guitarist Alex Munk returns in emphatic style with his hard-driving...

Read More.....


Subcribe To Jazzwise

Advertisement

Call 0800 137201 to subscribe or click here to email the subscriptions team

Get in touch

Jazzwise Magazine,
St. Judes Church,
Dulwich Road, 
Herne Hill,
London, SE24 0PD.

0208 677 0012

Latest Tweets

Office late pm vibes: dulcet guitar arpeggios punctuating raindrops, spirit in Motian @ECMRecords @ProperJazz… https://t.co/N7J5HWDOcM
Follow Us - @Jazzwise
Archie Shepp’s Art Songs & Spirituals blows the blues away at Barbican https://t.co/VwHEFpEUbB https://t.co/mmoiGPFKG3
Follow Us - @Jazzwise

Newsletter

© 2016 MA Business & Leisure Ltd registered in England and Wales number 02923699 Registered office: Jesses Farm, Snow Hill, Dinton, Salisbury, SP3 5HN . Designed By SE24 MEDIA