RIP, Michael Brecker

When I was a teenager, jazz great Count Basie passed away, and I remember being shocked at how hard my music teacher took the news.  For him, Count Basie was The Man, the one who had inspired him to pursue a life in music, to become a teacher to kids like me.

Today, I’m so sad — and shocked — to hear that one of my heroes, saxophonist Michael Brecker passed away last month.  With his passing, the world lost a great innovator and a rare artistic genius.

For me, as a saxophone-crazy teenager, hearing Brecker’s eponymous debut album blew my mind utterly and completely.  It was like getting a direct injection of musical innovation.   "Original Rays" showed his ability to control the remarkable EWI MIDI instrument.  His rendition of "My One and Only Love" introduced me to the iconic tune for the first time, got me interested in Coltrane, and stuck with me ever since — it was the song my wife and I used as our first dance at our wedding reception.  And there’s nothing quite his old albums where he’s playing in a style called heavy metal bebop, like on the track "Skunk Funk".  If you’re not into jazz, you know his sound, because he played just about everybody’s album.  Michael Brecker is the person playing the saxophone on Dire Straight’s tune "Your Latest Trick".  It’s safe to say that I drove my parents, siblings, and neighbors crazy playing along to that album, figuring out how to play those amazing licks of his, how to get that amazingly fat yet supple sound.  Hearing him play a concert live later that year was a dream come true.

I never heard him play live again, unfortunately.  And though I’m upset over his death as if I actually had known him personally, I only knew him through his albums.  But music gives you that direct connection to people. 

Life is short.  Live it up, do what you want and can to enjoy it.