Heavyweights weigh in about Brecker

Sammy sent me the question below about Brecker's harmonic concept. I thought it would be interesting to forward it to some of today's top saxophonists and get their answers. As more replies come in I'll update this post.

"Hey David, This one is not for the blog...yet. I am phrasing my question off the cuff, and it might be unintelligible if published verbatim...

Q: How do you go about analyzing Brecker lines? They are often quite disjunct, but always sound hip when you hear the recording. (Michael Brecker, may he rest in peace, was an incredible innovator.) I've yet to see a good analysis of one of his "in and out" type of solos. Some folks claim the style comes from Coltrane...but they never point to WHICH Coltrane solos were influential. (The only Coltrane I've found that even comes close is a small section of Night Has a 1000 Eyes, an interim portion between choruses. And I haven't seen that analyzed either.) I've heard that he uses the augmented scale, but can't seem to make an analysis using augmented scales. Await your thoughtful reply.. Sammy"
Bob Mover-

In response to that question re: Mike, I can respond by saying that probably the best sources to talk to concerning Michael's intervallic approach would be Dave Liebman, who was an influence on Mike in the years that we were sessioning a lot together in the late '60's and early
'70's. A
s for the augmented scale, a fellow named Gary Campbell, an excellent saxophonist who teaches at the University of Miami, turned us all on to possibilities of that scale around that time. Mike and I spent a lot of time jamming and listening and talking music together
during that period. I remember our listening to Sonny Rollins play "Four" on his RCA record
ing and the way he extended that augmented scale through a whole section of the tune, was something that knocked both Mike and I out, and we copped it off the record together. Another interesting thing concerning the "inside/outside" aspects of Michael's playing that I know had an influence on him was Paul Bley's solo on "All the things you are" on the "Sonny Meets Hawk" record, as well as Sonny's playing on that record which is definitely inside/outside. We went through Bley's solo many times listening and playing along trying to figure out what on earth he was doing. Then we would go to sessions together and try to apply these concepts. Later on when Mike was with Horace and I was with Mingus, we actually would get together two or three times a month and actually study from each other. We would each give each other an hour. Mike showed me how he was working on how to artfully use pentatonics and patterns around chord changes. I showed him some of my harmonic things, such as, some of the cyclic matrices I was working on. Mike was influenced by lots of music. At the end of his life, he was studying and trying to play Serbian and Balkan folk music. Years before, Mike had turned me on to practicing Irish/Scottish reels and transposing them into different keys. As Mike got busier, and sometimes I was busy too, we would practice on the telephone together. Mike and I also did this with several other people, especially, Tom Harrell.

Mike was a wonderful guy, warm, with a great s
ense of humor. A generous, thoughtful, meaningful friend and a brilliant musician. I wish that he'd had more time. - Bob

John Gross-
I do not h
ave an answer. I do not, with few exceptions, analyze anyone else's solo. However I feel compelled to say that M.B. was, in my opinion, one of the most important Tenor Sax players in the history of the instrument. Besides being passionate and emotional in his manner of playing he also had a huge musical intelligence which he used to it's fullest. He, along with all the other important Tenor players, was a student and fan of the music. God bless him and all the other Giants.

P.S. My personal list of the most important tenor players: Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Stan Getz
, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Albert Ayler and Mike Brecker. Of course there are countless more great players but I believe these particular player had the greatest influence.
Pat Tuc
I've only transcribed 2 or 3 Brecker Solos. But I do know one influence of his which is Steve Grossman. If you listen to a late 70's Hal Galper album called: "Speak with a Single Voice", there is a modal tune on there in D minor concert where Brecker was pretty much playing all of Grossman's Lines verbatum, but cleaner (Grossman solos to compare this to are on: Elvin Jones "Live at th
e Lighthouse", Grossman "Born at the Same Time" and all Stone Alliance albums). Even in later Brecker's solos after that you hear him playing Grossman stuff, Steve Grossman was definitely influenced by John Coltrane. David Liebman talks about the "Loft Days" where he lived in a Loft in Manhattan in the early 70's where he, Grossman, Bob Berg and Michael Brecker would have Jam Sessions and they would all try to play like Coltrane and as fast as they could. As far as the "in and out" playing that your reader asked about, when I transcribed Gossip off of Mike Stern's "Time and Place" Album; the solo starts off in C minor, but Michael is outlining the key of Db major for the first 14 bars, I think this works because of how sparse the bass part is. Then he goes through some Giant Step type changes bars 14 to 16. Then in bars 22 to 24 he goes right down the Augmented scale. Then towards the end of the solo (bars 33 to 41) he plays this diminished lick motive to build up to the end of the solo, which is influenced by many late Coltrane solos like "Transition" etc, so that may be a solo for your reader to check out. Later, Pat
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Anonymous said...

The kid from Brooklyn also weighs in:


David Carlos Valdez said...

Hey kid,
Can you check your link again?

Anonymous said...

I vaguely remember thinking years ago when I heard Brecker's solo on Love for Sale with Chet Baker that he was playing a lot of licks from Coltrane's solo from the same tune with Miles, though it would be more tsuris than I feel like dealing with to go back and try to find examples, even though there's a transcription of that Brecker solo online.

Anonymous said...

I thought Liebman was the kid from Brooklyn.

Anonymous said...

David -

Why did you delete your original Michael Brecker post, the one about your friend the flautist? I thought that was a really eye-opening article, and really encouraging for aspiring jazz musicians that think that jazz greats like Brecker have super-human abilities that are completely unattainable. It was nice to know that the superhuman-seeming feats are sometimes more planned than one might believe. Not that I'm trying to saying Brecker wasn't great. That goes without question. But I felt that same way when I read your post as when I read not too long ago that Trane spent a significant amount of time 'practicing' his solo for the Giant Steps recording.

David Carlos Valdez said...

Alright, here goes back up. I thought that I would take it down for a bit considering the emotional reaction that it triggered.

Troels said...

Hey! Could some of you point to specific examples of Brecker playing lines derived from the 'four tonic system'?

David Carlos Valdez said...

I don't have many Brecker transcriptions. My old housemate Anders Bostrom could answer this question better than me. I'm ask him and get back to you.

Troels said...

I would like to add, that the Hal Galper album that Pat Tucker mentions is now available as 'Children of the night'.