MICHAEL Brecker was regarded by many as the most influential tenor saxophonist of the past quarter century, carving out a stellar reputation in his own right and collecting 13 Grammy awards along the way, in the eclectic company of players as diverse as Herbie Hancock and Aerosmith, Charles Mingus and Eric Clapton. There was also his formidable “heavy metal bebop” partnership with his older, trumpet-playing brother Randy.
When Michael succumbed to leukaemia in January 2007, aged just 57, he had not long completed what would prove to be his final album, Pilgrimage. It won two posthumous Grammies, and the stature of his collaborators on that record indicate his ranking in the jazz world – Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, John Patitucci, Pat Metheny and Jack DeJohnette.
Next week Randy Brecker joins the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra as guest soloist in a four-venue tour celebrating his late brother’s music. “I miss him a lot and I think of him all the time, obviously as a brother but also as a band-mate,” he says. “He was like part of my musical soul, and even though we had solo careers, we still played together a lot.”
The Breckers grew up in Philadelphia in a musical household – their father, a lawyer, was also a jazz pianist.Apart from listening to the paternal record collection of Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis and Horace Silver (who would become a mentor to the siblings), Randy and Michael were open to every influence going, from R&B to the Philadelphia Orchestra, in a city that was something of a musical melting pot. “And we did have a special thing together,” recalls Randy. “Understandably, perhaps, a similar philosophy towards music. There were a lot of nuances that we didn’t have to talk about; we just felt things the same way.”
Randy has played with Tommy Smith, the SNJO’s director, several times in the past, but this is his first time with the orchestra itself. The music they play together will be drawn from Michael’s own material, numbers such as Strap-Hangin’, In the Meantime and Take a Walk, arranged by such notable talents as Vince Mendoza, Gil Goldstein and Chuck Owen. Smith regards fellow saxophonist Brecker as “one of the real titans of jazz’s modern age”.
Randy, now 66, carved out a distinguished and similarly wide-ranging career of his own, having cut his musical teeth with the seminal jazz-rock fusion outfit Blood, Sweat and Tears, as well as with such jazz giants as Horace Silver and Thad Jones, later recording with such diverse names as Frank Zappa, Stevie Wonder and Jaco Pastorius.
He has collected five Grammies, including one for his 2008 recording Randy in Brazil. In 2009 his Tykocin Jazz Suite saw him journeying to his ancestral homeland of north-east Poland, where the composer Wlodek Pawlik featured him as soloist with members of the Bialystock Philharmonic Orchestra.
Ironically, Tykocin, where the Breckers’ maternal forebears hailed from, was identified during the desperate hunt for a matching bone marrow donor for Michael. Ultimately, a suitable donor for Michael was never found.
Since her husband’s untimely passing, Michael’s wife Susan has campaigned vigorously to heighten awareness of the need for bone marrow-derived stem cell donors.
The Anthony Nolan Trust, the charity which runs a stem cell donor register, will have a presence at the four Scottish concerts, which start at Greyfriars Kirk in Lanark next Thursday.
The music that was silenced plays on while, so far, in the United States, more than a dozen lives have been saved as a result of stem cell donors inspired by Michael Brecker’s story.
• The SNJO with Randy Brecker play Greyfriars Kirk, Lanark, on 24 May; Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, on 25 May; Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, 26 May; and Adam Smith Centre, Kirkcaldy, 27 May. For further information, see www.snjo.co.uk.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
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Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
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