Tenor saxophonist and composer Michael Brecker is a multiple Grammy winner, and the first to win both the “Best Jazz Instrumental Performance” and “Best Jazz Instrumental Solo” awards two years in a row. As a result of his stylistic and harmonic innovations, Michael is among the most studied instrumentalists in music schools throughout the world today.
Born into a musical household in 1949 in Philadelphia, Michael’s father had played records by Dave Brubeck and Clifford Brown for his sons and took Michael and his older brother Randy to see Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington. While Randy took up trumpet, Michael launched his studies on clarinet and alto sax. When moved by the genius of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, among others, Michael switched to tenor in high school. After studying, as did his brother, at the University of Indiana, he moved to New York City, landing work with several bands before co-founding the pioneering jazz-rock group Dreams in 1970.
In 1973, Michael joined his brother in the frontline of pianist/composer Horace Silver’s quintet. The following year, the siblings branched off to form the Brecker Brothers, one of the most innovative and successful jazz-funk fusion bands of the decade. Michael and Randy also operated the popular downtown Manhattan jazz club, Seventh Avenue South. Gigs at this club with keyboardist/vibes player Mike Maineiri, bassist Eddie Gomez, and drummer Steve Gadd led to the 1979 formation of Steps Ahead. With Peter Erskine later replacing Gadd, the all-star quartet recorded seven albums and ascended to worldwide acclaim in the ’80s.
Michael recorded and performed with a virtual Who’s Who of jazz and pop giants in the 70s and 80s, including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Chet Baker, George Benson, Quincy Jones, Charles Mingus, Joni Mitchell, Jaco Pastorius, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan, Pat Metheny, Frank Zappa, and many others. Michael cut his first record as a leader in 1987. That solo debut, Michael Brecker, was voted “Jazz Album of the Year” in both Down Beat and Jazziz magazines. Its follow-up, Don’t Try This At Home, garnered Brecker his first Grammy. After investigating new rhythmic concepts on 1990’s Now You See It … Now You Don’t, and subsequently touring for a year and a half as featured soloist with Paul Simon, Michael reunited with Randy for 1992’s Return of the Brecker Brothers and Out of the Loop (1994). Additional Grammys landed on the saxophonist’s shelf with the release of Michael’s Tales From the Hudson (1997), which also resulted in his being named “Best Soloist of the Year” by JazzLife and “Jazz Man of the Year” by Swing Journal. At about the same time, Michael appeared on Herbie Hancock’s The New Standard (Verve) and McCoy Tyner’s Infinity (Impulse!), and he extensively toured with each of the piano titans.
Following 1998’s Two Blocks From the Edge and 1999’s Time Is of the Essence (featuring Pat Metheny, organist Larry Goldings, and drummers Elvin Jones, Jeff “Tain” Watts and Bill Stewart), Michael then recorded Nearness of You: The Ballad Book with jazz innovators Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette. Produced by Metheny, Nearness of You was the first time the guitarist stepped into that role for any major jazz artist other than himself and his own group. Nearness of You was named “Record of the Year,” and Michael was named “Artist of the Year” in both the Critics and Readers Polls of Japan’s Swing Journal, which has the largest circulation of any jazz magazine in the world. It also won two Grammys.
In June 2002, Michael, Herbie Hancock and Roy Hargrove released Directions in Music, a live recording at Toronto’s Massey Hall, which celebrates the music of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, which resulted in another Grammy. Michael began 2003 with the recording of his first large ensemble record. Wide Angles features a 15-piece large ensemble, the Michael Brecker Quindectet. Wide Angles appeared on many “Best Jazz Records of the Year” lists and won two Grammys. Said Jazziz magazine: “You’ll find no better example of stylistic evolution than Michael Brecker, inarguably the most influential tenor stylist of the last 25 years.”