Michael Brecker Archive

Following a two-and-a-half year illness, Michael Brecker passed away at the age of 57 in January 2007. As a result of his stylistic and harmonic innovations, Brecker is the most influential saxophonist of the last 30 years and is among the most studied contemporary instrumentalists in music schools throughout the world today. He is also a 13-time Grammy winner. His Archive is being established at William Paterson University.

Born into a musical household in 1949, Michael Brecker’s father–a lawyer and jazz pianist–played jazz on the record player for his young sons and took Michael and older brother Randy to see Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington perform live. Michael launched his studies on clarinet and then alto sax; moved by the genius of John Coltrane, he switched to tenor sax in high school. After studying at the University of Indiana, Brecker moved to New York City, landing work with several bands before co-founding the pioneering jazz-rock group Dreams in 1970. Three years later, Brecker joined his brother Randy in Horace Silver’s quintet.

The following year, the siblings branched off to form the Brecker Brothers–one of the most innovative and successful jazz-funk fusion bands. The brothers owned the popular downtown Manhattan jazz club, Seventh Avenue South, where jam sessions with keyboardist/vibes player Mike Mainieri, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Steve Gadd led to the 1979 formation of Steps Ahead. With Peter Erskine later replacing Gadd, the all-star quintet recorded seven albums. In the ’70s and ’80s, Brecker recorded and performed with a virtual Who’s Who of jazz and pop giants, including Eric Clapton, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Aerosmith, Chet Baker, George Benson, Quincy Jones, Charles Mingus, Joni Mitchell, Jaco Pastorius, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra, McCoy Tyner, Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan, Pat Metheny and Frank Zappa. These included Brecker’s memorable solos on such hit singles as Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” and James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Lonely Tonight.”

Brecker made his first record as a leader in 1987. That solo debut, Michael Brecker, was voted “Jazz Album of the Year” in both Downbeat and Jazziz magazines. His subsequent award-winning solo albums were combined with Grammy winning efforts on his reunion with his brother on 1992’s Return of the Brecker Brothers. The Breckers’ Out of the Loop (1994) and Michael’s Tales From the Hudson (1997) put additional Grammys on the saxophonist’s shelf, leading to Brecker being named “Best Soloist of the Year” by JazzLife and “Jazz Man of the Year” by Swing Journal. Brecker appeared on Herbie Hancock’s The New Standard and McCoy Tyner’s Infinity, followed by extensive touring with each piano titan. Brecker’s ballad album, Nearness of You was named “Record of the Year” and Brecker was named “Artist of the Year” in both the Critics’ and Readers’ Polls of Japan’s Swing Journal. In June 2002, Brecker, Hancock and trumpeter Roy Hargrove released Directions in Music, a live concert celebrating the music of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. In 2003, Brecker created Wide Angles, featuring Brecker’s 15-piece quindectet. Wide Angles appeared on dozens of “Best Jazz Recordings of the Year” lists and also won two Grammys.

In August 2004, was diagnosed with the bone marrow disorder myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Despite an exhaustive search for a matching bone donor (during which tens of thousands of new bone marrow donors registered at Brecker-sponsored donor drives throughout the world) and an experimental blood stem cell transplant, Brecker passed away from leukemia on January 13, 2007. Although he was extremely ill at the time, Brecker was able to complete a final album before he died. Pilgrimage, his first recording consisting entirely of his original compositions–with Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny, John Patitucci and Jack DeJohnette–received stellar reviews upon its release in May 2007.

William Paterson University is proud that Michael’s family has entrusted his collection to be part of the Living Jazz Archives, honoring his stellar career and his equally remarkable character, and bringing his music and his spirit to generations of young jazz students, researchers, fans, and the public.

The Michael Brecker Archive contains:

  • Original pencil studio and tour sheet music, including original sheets and scores from the Brecker Brothers, Steps Ahead, Brecker’s entire solo career, and his collaborations with Horace Silver, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Pat Metheny, Paul Simon, Claus Ogerman and many more.
  • Eight practice journals, spanning from his student days at Indiana University to the late 1990s
  • Over 800 hours of unreleased audio from concerts and studio sessions from digital sources and over 600 cassettes
  • Over 100 released albums and CDs, spanning his teenage summer at Ramblerny Arts Camp to his final recording
  • Awards, including a platinum record and Grammy materials
  • Music books from his personal collection
  • Business materials from his solo career, record company and management associations, his co-ownership of Seventh Avenue South, and more
  • Tour and record company posters
  • Over 1000 unreleased photos and other memorabilia including press clippings, set lists, etc.

The Michael Brecker Online Archive: