Remembering Michael Brecker

I was telling this story about the late Michael Brecker to a friend and he suggested that I share it with you. I am fortunate that I could count among my friendly acquaintances the late, great jazz saxophonist, Michael Brecker. Although Michael recorded many solo albums as well as jazz albums with his brother Randy (The Brecker Brothers), he was also one of New York’s first call session players.

At the time of this story, Michael had just released a solo album when Paul Simon asked him to join his Rhythm of the Saints tour. Michael told him no, because he wanted to promote his own music. But when Paul promised him a 15-minute solo spot in the middle of his concert, playing in front of 20,000 people each night, Michael couldn’t turn it down.

The Los Angeles Forum Show

I saw the show at the Forum in LA, and after Paul introduced Michael for his solo, Paul Simon and the entire 11-piece band exited the stage leaving Michael all alone. Michael picked up his Akai EWI and started playing, then using a foot-switch, he triggered some pre-recorded rhythm samples from his Akai S1000 that he then played against. Switching from the EWI to his sax, slowly… one by one… the band members rejoined Michael on stage and started playing. The song built and crescendoed to a spectacular finish as eventually everyone was back on stage, including the six drummers/percussionists.

The Dallas Reunion Arena Show

Now I told you about that show in order to tell you about the next show. Two weeks later, Michael invited me to bring my wife, Lisa, and attend the Dallas performance at Reunion Arena. What a treat – the S. African accapella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who sang on the Graceland recording, were in town performing at SMU and they rushed over and joined Paul for the extended 40 minute encore. Michael’s solo seemed inspired that night, and if possible was even better than in LA. The song went from a dizzy, jazzy disjointed feel to a really tight ending.

After the show, Lisa & I went backstage to thank Michael for the tickets. I told him how impressed I was with his solo and congratulated him on the off-beat style that I thought was so much better than the previous time I heard his performance.

How A Little Mistake Made for a Great Performance

He seemed to get a little embarrassed, as he told me that it was a mistake. It seems that he WAS truly inspired, he closed his eyes, got totally involved with the music, turned the rhythm around and inside out, and just let it soar. As far as he knew, he could have been levitating. It wasn’t until he heard drummer Steve Gadd give him an “end the song” cue that he turned around to face the band and realized that this totally grooving engine of a band had no idea where “one” was, much less the turnaround to end the song. He said, “I saw this large group of musicians, all playing away, all looking at me with big round eyes, trying to get a clue where I was going next. The question on everyone’s lips was, where’s one? I showed them the downbeat by moving my sax and punctuating the notes and when I did that Steve was right on top of it. Which is how we all manged to end up together at the end.”

There is probably a lesson here about how listening to the other members of the band can even make a mistake turn out alright, but I’ll leave it for now as my small contribution to the life story of Mr. Brecker.

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1 Comment

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