My thoughts and listening have been dwelling on Michael Brecker of late. I was doing some study of Kenny Wheeler's composition recently and I pulled out Double Double You and ended up with tears in my eyes as I listened to Michael play. That led me through so much of his music that I haven't listened to for a while. 80/81, Three Quartets, Don't Try This At Home and many others. I still have a tough time with Pilgrimage. It's really tough for me to listen to that one...so many emotions are tied to it for me. The fact that I am so connected to Michael's music is a little funny in a way, I came to Brecker late (relatively speaking). I really never heard Brecker until I was in college, specifically the early 90s with Three Quartets. I grew up listening mainly to the "Big 4" of Trane, Wayne, Joe, and Sonny. About the only modern players I listened to were Branford and Lieb. I had heard of and about Michael, but I very naively "couldn't be bothered" to check him out in my high school days, ironic since learning of how close he and Lieb were and the esteem in which he still holds Michael. When I heard Three Quartets, it was one of those life changing moments. The sound, intensity, harmonic sophistication, everything just shattered my entire world. I never became a disciple the way some did, but I certainly checked him out whenever I could (I first heard him live with Paul Simon around that time). I remember doing my first Brecker Transcription (The Meaning of The Blues) in 1992 or 1993. It was during that exploration that I really started to see what all the fuss was about. He made everything sound so effortless that I was fooled into thinking the solo I was transcribing was much easier than it was.
Fast forward to 2007, I'm at IAJE when the word starts spreading around. The grief and sadness was palpable. I remember walking around and seeing all of my heroes absolutely stricken. An image that will stay with me forever was seeing Rick Margitza and Lieb sitting together with tears in their eyes the emptiest looks on their faces...so sad.
It goes without saying that Michael was a touchstone. He became an archetype of saxophone playing years ago and will continue to be one forever. I suppose that every sax player has a Brecker story. Here's mine: During the "Directions In Music" tour in 2002 or 2003, the group played at Ravinia in Chicago. My family and I went and had lawn seats. It was a typical outdoors summer concert, kids running around, people eating and drinking, a very pleasant, albeit slightly noisy evening. Michael did his solo version of Namia that night and over the course of the 10 minutes, the lawn got as quiet as I had EVER heard it. I like to tell people that even the crickets shut up!
That's what it was about his playing for me. Not the technique, sound or harmonic sophistication (although that is all great), but it was the way he could draw you in to what he was doing.
I miss him.