New Michael Brecker CD,

I just finished listening to Michael Brecker's new, and unfortunately, last CD, "Pilgrimage". To say that I am feeling overwhelmed by the power of this music would be an understatement. The playing is absolutely incredible, but it is the compositions that really show why he was, without a doubt, one of the all time greatest jazz instrumentalists.

If you are at all interested in modern jazz, this CD is a must-have. If you are not, pick it up anyway; music this powerful makes genre considerations irrelevant.

A Jazzman’s Farewell Album, All Heart and Soul

Published: June 2, 2007
It was a frail Michael Brecker who walked slowly into a Manhattan recording studio last August, clutching a cane and a folder of sheet music.

He did not look capable of holding, much less playing, his tenor saxophone during a weeklong recording session scheduled for him. One of jazz’s most influential tenor saxophonists over the last quarter-century and an 11-time Grammy winner, he had been battling myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone marrow disease commonly known as MDS, for more than a year and would pass away about four months later, at 57.
But he did hold his saxophone, and played it extremely well, for the grueling weeklong session that would result in his final recording, “Pilgrimage” (Heads Up), a collection of nine originals, released last week. Among the selections is “When Can I Kiss You Again?,” a ballad whose title comes from a question that Mr. Brecker’s son, Sam, asked him during a hospital visit when physical contact with his father was prohibited to prevent infection. And the CD’s final track is the 10-minute “Pilgrimage,” a song that alternates between serene ensemble playing and tumultuous soloing from Mr. Brecker.

“In its balance of ambition and abandon, serious-mindedness and ebullience,” Nate Chinen wrote of the new album in The New York Times, “there’s a crystallization of what jazz, at its best, is all about.”

Mr. Brecker’s favorite collaborators — the guitarist Pat Metheny, the bassist John Patitucci, the drummer Jack DeJohnette and the pianists Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau — all agreed to attend the session on short notice. Mr. Brecker had played on more than 900 albums, including familiar pop solos on Paul Simon and James Taylor tunes, but now it was apparent that his days were numbered. A reporter was invited to document a day of recording.

Not that there was anything morbid about Mr. Brecker. He became energized immediately upon reuniting with his longtime sidemen. He cast off his cane and began zipping around the studio taking care of logistics.

“Even the first day in the studio, we didn’t know if the whole thing was going to happen,” said Mr. Brecker’s manager, Darryl Pitt. “But Mike just kept getting stronger and stronger in spirit, and it carried through him physically.”

The band clicked immediately. During preparations, Mr. Metheny began running quick arpeggios, which Mr. Patitucci mimicked on bass. Mr. Brecker followed suit on saxophone, and Mr. DeJohnette began singing along. Mr. Hancock, meanwhile, set up a Fender Rhodes electric keyboard next to a grand piano and began playing each with one hand.

“You’re doubling, Herbie,” Mr. Brecker said.

“Yeah,” Mr. Hancock replied jokingly. “I get double pay.”

Mr. Hancock winced as he struggled to finger some of the chord voicings Mr. Brecker had written for the piano part.

“That’s some serious stuff right there,” he declared, prompting the other musicians to cheer Mr. Brecker.

“Iron Mike,” Mr. Patitucci yelled, a good assessment of Mr. Brecker’s surprising strength and endurance that week. In a phone interview after the recording session, Mr. Brecker said, “I must have been running on adrenaline, because I collapsed after it was over.”

Mr. Brecker had stopped performing publicly in 2005 and was often too weak to practice his saxophone. Still, he displayed during the sessions the trademarks of his playing: distinct tone and daring harmonic forays. His performance seemed to reflect the urgency of his situation. His lines were probing but purposeful. He reared his body up and down with emotion as he played, and often grunted midphrase.

“His whole life — all the life he had left — was pouring out of his horn,” Mr. Pitt said. “There was nothing left in him after the session.”

“Michael was extremely self-critical and hardly ever felt that he played well,” he added. “This was the first time I’ve heard him — in his career — say he was satisfied with what he’d done.”

Mr. Brecker was so ill that he often composed music in bed, using a portable keyboard, his electronic saxophone and his laptop.

Yet Mr. Hancock, who has recorded and performed with him since the 1980s, said: “Michael has gone up yet another notch with his writing and playing. He’s taken something that’s destructive and turned it into something extremely constructive.”

Mr. Metheny, who appeared on Mr. Becker’s first solo album, in the late ’80s, said, “There’s no one else who would or could write anything like this.”

Mr. Brecker said that in a way, his illness helped his creative expression by giving him a sense of “extra purpose” and a new feeling of freedom as a composer.

Mr. Pitt said Mr. Brecker did not want the other musicians to know the pain and discomfort he was in during the session. During the months that followed it, Mr. Brecker became obsessed with adding tracks and remixing the album, he said.

“Making that album kept Michael alive,” Mr. Pitt said. Shortly after he pronounced the recording finished, Mr. Brecker died.
This is a wonderful post. Thanks for sharing.
I had seen the article in the NY Times, and they also gave it a rave review recently . . . it does sound like a dream session (with very unfortunate undertones, of course).

I was familiar with Brecker mainly from pop/rock sessions from years past, but clearly he's a serious jazz player and composer. Will be excited to get this one.

I noticed Mehldau is the only player not quoted in the article . . . wonder if he wasn't there that day, or maybe over-dubbed some parts.

A few months ago I happened to turn on internet radio and heard a great song called “Every Day (I Thank You)” featuring Pat Metheny and Michael Brecker. That reminded to check out Metheny's website which I hadn't visited in a while, where I found the following eulogy that Pat spoke at Mike's funeral only a few days earlier - making special note of the above song the Pat wrote especially for Mike - that was a moving coincidence to say the least.

In Memoriam of Michael Brecker
by Pat Metheny

The piece I just played was written many years ago, especially for Mike. We played it together lots of times. It was called “Every Day (I Thank You)”. Somehow those words have an extra special meaning today.

We all have so much to thank Mike for.

Music was, of course, what gave me, and probably many of us here today, the chance to know Mike, through music. In my case, first as an admirer and then as a collaborator.

I have often mentioned that the most treacherous location in the jazz world was to be on a bandstand as the guy who has to play the solo right after Mike Brecker.
I was lucky to have been in that situation many times over the years, and I learned so much from Mike on so many levels, as all of us who ever had the good fortune to play with him always did. There's been, from the very earliest days, so much to talk about Mike, the musician. There's just the whole thing about the way he played. It was just so amazing to hear somebody play like that. Every single time.

For musicians, there are hundreds of nuts and bolts things going on there to marvel at, to study, to learn from, to enjoy. Things that have literally set the bar for all of us in so many areas over the past 35 years, as they will for future musicians for countless generations to come.

In many ways, I think at various points everyone was so blinded by the brilliance and ingenuity and strength of this guy, coming along with perfect time, who had found another 150,000 ways to navigate through any given set of chord changes while simultaneously displaying a level of saxophone technique and a sound that seemed almost superhuman. So many things in action there in fact, that the deepest treasure of Mike's amazing gift was sometimes hard to pick out in the wealth of all of it.

Because even with all of that, the real thing that made Mike so special as a musician, as a player, was his incredible ability to communicate what it is to be human. The complications of it. The struggle of it. The joy of it. To manifest a
sound that could describe things about what it is to be here on earth that everyone, musician or not, could feel and recognize as being true.

That is the rarest thing.

His communicative skills were evolved far beyond any particulars of any given style of music, or the advanced level of technique that he possessed, or the assimilation of his influences, or even music itself, as it turns out. Because the thing underneath it all was this; Mike had a way of connecting with people in every important human transaction, that was kind of the fundamental currency that in turngave his playing and his music the illuminating quality that made him stand so apart.

In retrospect, the diligence that he applied towards music was simply a symptom of the transcendent quality to touch people deeply that was pervasive in so many aspects of his life. I know that for me, my interactions with Mike over the years all retain an almost indelible quality in my memory that is very unique. From the smallest moments, to the I know that for me, my interactions with Mike over the years all retain an almost indelible quality in my memory that is very unique. From the smallest moments, to the biggest concerts, somehow I remember everything about being around him in such detail.

In the past several years, during his fight, and in particular in the weeks since his passing, the outpouring of love for Mike has been so bountiful, so beautiful.
It's notable how in almost every description of an encounter with Mike, no matter who is talking, you can feel the person reflecting on those minutes, or hours or months or years that they were around him as being among the best moments of their lives.

Mike really paid attention. And in his quiet and gentle way, he noticed and appreciated all the things that make each one of us around him exactly who we are. It seems that he had that gift with just about everyone he encountered. And as musicians, he saw and brought out the best in all of us. Musically, and maybe more importantly, in every other way too.

The timelessness and weight of Mike's contribution may ultimately be traced in equal measure to the humility that he naturally and effortlessly carried with him at all times. Mike's ability to make every person in every room feel like a valuable and genuine peer - especially given the incredible skills and accomplishments that he himself possessed - really put him in category entirely of his own.

Last summer, Mike was well enough to finish a new album. By that time, his fight had been an ongoing battle for more than two years and Mike had not been able to physically play for most of that time.

What happened in the studio during those few days in August is almost impossible to describe. It's one of the most amazing, powerful, unbelievable things that I, and all of us who were there, have ever seen, or ever will see.

We just finished mixing and mastering the record a couple days ago and in a little while here you will hear a brief fragment of it. You'll hear right away what I'm talking about. Mike just left us some of the greatest music of his career. Of his life. And his efforts to get this final message out to all of us - which is really what it was - a message - will go down as one of the great codas in modern music history.

It is said that the best way to honor someone who has left us is to try to emulate their best qualities in the way that we live the remainder of our own days.
May that start here with all of us today.

We'll never have a better model than Mike about what it is to be here on earth, and how to live our lives. Along with Susan, Jess and Sam, Mike is a hero for all of us.

The Brecker family have set up a foundation in Michael's honor known as Time is of The Essence. The foundation seeks to support the testing of new donors to deal with blood diseases such as lymphoma, leukemia and MDS. 100% of all proceeds go to the testing of new registrants. Tax deductible donations can be made @ 1.800.627.7692 or by visiting The Marrow Foundation.
Yeah its a great one to memorialize such a great musician.your guys post are very moving.
Thank you for posting this, and thanks to Gdoodle for posting about Pat as well.
What a heart felt eloquent eulogy for a great sax man. His final album is IMO one of the finest jazz releases in years. RIP Michael Brecker.