Tomorrow marks the 15th anniversary of Michael Brecker’s death at age 57. That gives me a good excuse to reassess his legacy. The release of Bill Milkowski’s new book on the saxophonist was another useful prod, providing me with additional information and insights.
I hope the essay below raises Brecker’s reputation a notch among critics—although it’s safe to say that saxophonists have long known what a formidable presence he was on the horn.
I note with regret that Brecker never got named a NEA Jazz Master, and only made it into the Downbeat Hall of Fame after his death, when readers (not critics) voted him in. Even today, you won’t find Brecker in the Jazz at Lincoln Center jazz hall of fame. None of his recordings are included among the hundreds honored by the Library of Congress in their National Recording Registry. And his name is conspicuously absent on many other honor rolls and ceremonial lists.
Why is Micheal not a NEA Jazz Master?? This is not right. I don’t think I knew much about him other than he played this ripping part on Michael Franks song “Dr. Sax”. This was back before the internet, and you had to BUY physical media to listen to stuff. I actually saw him perform at the Shoreline back in….1989(?) I think. He was NOT the headliner, that honor goes to Spyro Gyra, a band I did know and really liked. Also featured was the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. But it was really the Michael Brecker band that simply blew my mind. And he also did his thing when he would loop things on the EWI…..just amazing stuff. I think my friend and I left well before Spyro Gyra finished. We had already witnessed God-like talent and everything after that was….meh.