Celebrating Saxophonist Michael Brecker, with Those Who Knew Him Best

Jan 24, 2017

Susan Brecker with Gary Walker
Credit Steve Williams

It was 10 years ago this month we lost saxophonist Michael Brecker to a rare form of bone cancer. His widow, Susan Brecker, has organized an all-star benefit concert in his honor on Wednesday night, featuring artists including Wynton Marsalis and Diana Krall. She recently spoke about the concert and her husband's legacy, and you can listen to our conversation here.

During his 58 years Michael gave Coltrane fans something to embrace. But like Coltrane, Michael's indefatigable searching spirit gave us new things to embrace, within a quartet, quintet, dectet or big band setting. Maybe it was just a raucous night at 7th Avenue South, the club in New York he founded with his trumpet playing brother Randy. Or maybe just the right solo on a Paul Simon or James Taylor recording. Whenever he picked up his horn it felt like family, a spirit his wife Susan says was always there, a natural inquisitiveness, which made the music challenging, the home a wonderful place to be.

As Susan said during our chat, Michael's musical involvement could be a bebop line, a Japanese folktale, a Scottish tune, or with the EWI, a technological turn on a street previously untraveled. Toward the end of his life the focus was Bulgarian wedding music. Some tape exists which we quite possibly will hear in the future.  

To celebrate Michael and raise funds for cancer research at Columbia University Medical Center, "The Nearness of You" will take place on Jan. 25 at the Appel Room at Jazz At Lincoln Center. Along with Marsalis, Krall and Liebman, it will feature Joe Lovano, David Liebman and Ravi Coltrane, who like Brecker were all members of Saxophone Summit; another saxophone contemporary, David Sanborn; pianist Robert Glasper; drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts; and bassist Will Lee, who serves as musical director. There will be other special guests, to seek out the spirit so important to the music, and to give all of us more to live for.