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Brecker Extras, Part IV: A Philly Jazz Talk with Randy Brecker

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

Thanks to Dr. Suzanne Cloud of the Philly Jazz Legacy Project for hosting this Zoom Talk with me and Randy Brecker in which Randy reminisces about his early days in Cheltanham, a suburb of Philadelphia, growing up in a musical family headed by piano-playing, songwriting patriarch Bobby Brecker and featuring his little brother Michael, who started out on clarinet, and his pianist sister Emily. Randy recalls vivid memories of weekly family jams at home, attending Camp Onibar during the summer, where his father had written songs for the camp's musical theater productions alongside colleagues Morris "Moose" Charlap and Irv Graham, and going with his father to Philly jazz clubs like The Showboat and Pep's as well as the Red Hill Inn in Red Hill, New Jersey and clubs in New York City. He also talks about that special "telepathic" connection he had forged with brother Michael, going back to their childhood days of jamming in their bathroom at home and including their subsequent collaborations in Dreams and the Brecker Brothers. "Mike and I really had a sixth sense when we played together," he says in the video. "We didn't have to talk about the nuances, we didn't have to talk about phrasing. We could just do it really easily. It was like a natural thing."

We also discuss Michael's development as a player, from clarinet to alto sax and finally to tenor sax at age 16 under the tutelage of Vince Trombetta, a veteran saxophonist who also worked in the band on the Philadelphia-based "Mike Douglas Show." And I read from my book, "Ode to a Tenor Titan: The Life and Times and Music of Michael Brecker," about Michael encountering the life-changing music of John Coltrane, his biggest influence and inspiration. As Michael explained: "His playing was highly emotional; it had a large spiritual, mystical quality to it, and a gorgeous sound. His tone was unique -- mysterious, dark, hard yet lushly beautiful. Every note of a Coltrane solo had weight and meaning. From a technical viewpoint, it was outrageous; frm an intellectual view, it was deep, full of exciting, innovative ideas that hadn't been done before. For me, as a high school musician, it was just outrageous and compelling. Throug hthe music of John Coltrane, I had found a calling. And I remember feeling so grateful that I was playing the tenor saxophone. And it was really as a result of hearing Coltrane that I decided on music as a life's endeavor."

In this hour-long video, Randy also talks about playing with Duke Pearson's big band, recording his first album as a leader in 1969, The Score, which featured a 19-year-old Michael Brecker on tenor. And he reminisces about the formation of Dreams in 1970 and The Brecker Brothers in 1975. There are numerous other colorful stories in this Philly Jazz Talk, including Randy reminiscing about his longtime friendship with alto sax great David Sanborn, whom he had met at Stan Kenton Band Camp at Indiana University at the age of 15, and how he ended up hiring a 17-year-old Will Lee from the University of Miami to fill the bass chair in Dreams.

Randy also describes a thriving New York City loft scene during the late '60s/early '70s, the main hub of which was a three-story building on 19th Street and 10th Avenue where bassist Dave Holland, saxophonist Dave Liebman and keyboardist Chick Corea each occupied a separate floor. "I had a 1600 sq. ft. place nearby and was paying $175 a month," he recalled with a chuckle, recalling those more carefree times in the Big Apple. "And we had jam sessions at my loft too. People would go from place to place and do these jams. It was 24/7 music. That was the way to learn how to play."

I also address the whole reason why I decided to write "Ode for a Tenor Titan: The Life and Times and Music of Michael Brecker," and why it was such a sad and beautiful tale to tell.

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