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Arts and Culture

“He was Our Generation’s Coltrane” – Bill Milkowski on Michael Brecker (Part 1)

Tenor Titan cover - cover photo by Ssirus Pakzad.jpg
Ssirus Pakzad

If you took a poll of tenor saxophonists, there is a good chance you would discover that the most idolized player after John Coltrane was Michael Brecker. Brecker made his first recordings with his brother Randy in the late 60’s. He became renowned for his work with the innovative fusion band Dreams. Starting in the mid-70’s, the Brecker Brothers band became legendary for their sophisticated style of jazz funk. At the same time, Brecker was a sideman with straight-ahead jazz artists like Hal Galper and Horace Silver and made countless cameo appearances on pop records with everyone from James Taylor to James Brown, Frank Zappa to Blue Oyster Cult. In all, he appeared on more than 900 recordings.

In his new book Ode to a Tenor Titan: The Life and Times and Music of Michael Brecker, Bill Milkowski provides an in-depth portrait of the saxophonist beginning with the rich musical environment of his suburban home in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. He sheds light on Brecker’s struggle with substance abuse and follows his career to its culmination – a heroic struggle to make his final recording while simultaneously fighting a debilitating bone disease.

Along the way, a picture emerges of New York’s storied loft scene and the lucrative world of New York’s commercial studios in the 1970’s. You get the backstory of how some seminal fusion groups came into existence and you come away with an idea of the work, dedication, passion and discipline that made Michael Brecker who he was.

Be sure to listen to part 2 of this interview.