Michael Brecker - Farewell to a brother

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The jazz world was stunned to learn of the death of Michael Brecker in January. Although he had been ill for some time there were tentative signs of recovery over the past months and Brecker had even been in the studio working on a new album. Brecker was easily the most influential saxophonist in jazz since John Coltrane. His legacy will live on in the records he has left behind. Stuart Nicholson looks back at the life and music of Michael Brecker.
Michael Brecker - Farewell to a brother
Saturday 13 July 1996 was hot. Temperatures were in the eighties and no one even mentioned global warming. At the North Sea Jazz Festival, held at that time in the Nederlands Congresgebouw in the Hague, the combination of sunshine and jazz had attracted a record crowd. At 7.15pm in the Jan Steen Zaal, situated underneath the huge PWA Zaal auditorium, Carla Bley was puzzled to see the venue filling up as she concluded her concert with her Very Big Band.

By the time the next band was due on, the room was jammed tighter than rush hour in the London tube and was very, very hot. Nobody cared. They had crammed in to make sure of a place for the next band on the programme. At 8pm, when the MC walked onto the stage, the atmosphere was electric. He introduced the tall, commanding figure of McCoy Tyner, who walked on to a huge ovation with his bassist Avery Sharpe and drummer Aaron Scott. Then the MC asked for a round of applause for “a very special guest, Mr Mike Brecker.” The roar from the crowd was deafening. Brecker gave an awkward wave and smiled sheepishly. What followed was a concert of awe inspiring creativity. Tyner, who in the past was sometimes guilty of coasting with his trio, played like a man possessed.

The highlight of his career had come early when, in the 1960s, he made jazz history redefining the jazz piano alongside John Coltrane who took the tenor saxophone, and jazz, to a new level. Now he was playing with a musician who was the most influential saxophonist since Coltrane himself, revered by his peers and idolised by young music students who poured over transcriptions of his solos. Who knows what was going through Tyner’s mind that night. Was the past flowing into the present? It certainly seemed like it, with the intensity, and above all the spirituality, of his playing.
As he comped, his hands crashed on to the piano keys from shoulder height, while his solos were full of cascading shimmering runs, often utilising his hallmark use of an interval of a fourth.

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