Tenor saxophonist and composer Michael Brecker garnered eleven Grammy awards during the course of his celebrated career. In addition, he was the first to win both the "Best Jazz Instrumental Performance" and "Best Jazz Instrumental Solo" two years in a row. Following a two-and-a-half-year battle with MDS and then leukemia, Michael passed away on January 13, 2007. In his memory, his family asks that donations be made to The Marrow Foundation's TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE FUND.
Born into a musical household in 1949, Michael’s father played jazz on the record player for his sons and took Michael and his older brother, Randy, to see, among others, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington. While Randy took up trumpet, Michael launched his studies on clarinet and alto sax; moved by the genius of Coltrane, Brecker switched to tenor sax in high school. After studying, as did his brother, at the University of Indiana, Michael 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. Jam sessions 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 while ascending to worldwide acclaim.
Michael recorded and performed with a virtual Who’s Who of jazz and pop giants in the 70s and 80s, including McCoy Tyner, 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 and Frank Zappa. 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 with Paul Simon, Michael reunited with Randy for 1992’s Return of the Brecker Brothers. The Breckers’ Out of the Loop (1994) and Michael’s Tales From the Hudson (1997) put additional Grammys on the saxophonist’s shelf, leading to Michael 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!), followed by extensive touring with each piano titan.
Following 1998’s Two Blocks From the Edge and 1999’s Time Is of the Essence (featuring Metheny, organist Larry Goldings, and drummers Elvin Jones, Jeff "Tain" Watts and Bill Stewart). Brecker’s seventh solo album, Nearness of You: The Ballad Book, features a dream ensemble of fellow jazz giants—Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette—who had never before recorded an album together. Produced by Pat Metheny, with legendary singer-songwriter James Taylor adding his voice to the peerless musical alchemy on two tracks, Nearness of You was named "Record of the Year," and Brecker 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, Brecker, Hancock and Roy Hargrove released Directions in Music, a live concert at Toronto's Massey Hall, which celebrates the music of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Directions In Music won a Grammy for “Best Jazz Instrumental Album.” The Directions project recently performed for hundreds of thousands of concertgoers, making it among one of the highest profile jazz events in recent years.
Brecker began 2003 creating his first large ensemble record. Wide Angles features the 15-piece Michael Brecker Quindectet. Wide Angles has since appeared on dozens of “Best Jazz Records of the Year” lists and won two Grammys in February, 2004.
Brecker’s accomplishments assure that his career will forever be intertwined with the history of music. Jazziz magazine said it best: "You’ll find no better example of stylistic evolution than Michael Brecker, inarguably the most influential tenor stylist of the last 25 years."