Michael Brecker, considered by many to be the most influential tenor saxophonist since John Coltrane, succumbed to leukemia on Saturday, Jan. 13. The 11-time Grammy Award-winner had been battling myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a cancer of the blood marrow, since 2005. He was 57.
Brecker, born in Philadelphia, Penn., on March 29, 1949, began his musical career in his teens, playing rock and R&B before moving to jazz, allowing him to fit comfortably within many genres. In 1969, he moved to New York, where he joined early fusion group Dreams, which also included his brother Randy on trumpet and drummer Billy Cobham. Brecker played with Horace Silver from 1973 to 1974 before co-leading the commercially successful Brecker Brothers throughout most of the ’70s.
Due to Brecker’s dynamic range and stylistic breadth-he was adept at compromising the forceful passion of Coltrane and Wayne Shorter with the accessible melodiousness of mainstream jazz-he was in high demand as a session musician, his discography eventually containing over 900 albums. Ubiquitous throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Brecker appeared on albums by Elton John, Paul Simon, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, James Taylor, James Brown, Joni Mitchell, Todd Rundgren, Lou Reed, Frank Zappa, Steely Dan, Funkadelic and Aerosmith. His jazz credits include appearances on records by Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Don Cherry, Grant Green, Charles Mingus, and many others that would turn a mere list into a sizable novel.
Incredulously, Brecker’s first album as a leader was released in 1987. 2003 saw the release of his last album, the ambitious Wide Angles, which won two Grammies. After experiencing mysterious back pain during a concert in 2005, Brecker was diagnosed with MDS. Sadly, the disease ultimately led to Brecker’s inability to fend off leukemia. His last studio album, finished just two weeks ago and currently untitled, will be released in June on Heads Up International and will feature Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Jack DeJohnette, Brad Mehldau and John Patitucci.
Michael Brecker is survived by his wife, Susan; his daughter, Jessica; his son, Sam; his brother, Randy; and his sister, Emily Brecker Greenberg.Originally Published