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Michael Brecker Print

Michael Brecker died on 12th January 2007 and, on 20th February, a memorial event was held at The Town Hall, West 43rd Street, NYC.   Tim Ouimette was there and shares his recollections of the evening and of the man.

New York.
February 22nd, 2007.

There really isn’t much that one can add about Michael Brecker as a musician.   Anyone interested in music enough to be reading this probably knows Michael’s work and can supply superlatives of their own.

On Tuesday evening the New York music community gathered at the Town Hall to remember one of their own.   Michael was one of those players that, while setting the standard for us, also just seemed to be 'around' town - a local musician.   We have friends that work with him.   We all took for granted that Mike would regularly playing in a club somewhere or out on a concert tour .   No big deal.   For the last thirty years it was like that.

Two years ago we were shocked to learn that Michael had become seriously ill.   There was a worldwide call to find a particular donor for a match.   As his condition was brought to light, blood donations and testing skyrocketed and the result was the saving of many other lives.   This gave Michael immense joy even as he struggled for his own life.   Last summer, I remember hearing that a family member was indeed a blood match and Michael was progressing.   Further, there was news that he had made an appearance with Herbie Hancock shortly thereafter.   This is why Michael’s death was so difficult for many of us - we had relaxed and assumed that such a giant music spirit was cured - of course he was - how could he not be?   But it was not to be and, as many of us learned Tuesday night, Michael Brecker was even more virtuosic as a human being than as a saxophonist.

Michael’s brother Randy brought some much need humor and perspective, discussing how difficult it was to get the musical upper hand with Mike.   One anecdote ended with Randy, after listening to his brother play some incredible (and typical) solo on a recording session, being confounded as the producer tells him 'OK Randy, now you take it from here'.   Of course his response was “Take it where????”   The larger point of Randy’s comments was simply that Mike was always pointing the way and it was up to all that he touched to 'take it from here'.   One comment that was reiterated was 'you don’t want to be the next soloist after Michael'.   (I ran into David Sanborn outside the Town Hall afterward and he laughingly agreed.)

The list of people that Michael had helped with problems of addiction is long.   Among them James Taylor, who sent along a video message attesting to Mike’s help, being his sponsor and there for him always.   Pat Methany spoke eloquent of Michael’s dedication and generosity.   David Liebman brought us all back to the eternally sessioning loft scene that he shared with Mike and the guys just coming up of the ‘70’s.   How Mike saw no difference between jazz and pop music and how he elevated both.

Paul Simon told the story of the famous 'Still Crazy After All These Years' solo.   Mike comes in, listens once or twice, goes in and plays a 'keeper' of a first take solo.   Paul’s jaw is hanging down and Mike says 'How that?'.   And Paul says 'good' (laughter here).   Mike says 'I want to play one more'.   Paul says 'go ahead' (Big laugh here).

Herbie Hancock spoke of Michael the humanitarian who helped countless people struggling with his illness and how much meaning his life - and death - had.   Herbie spoke from the Buddhist perspective of the Four Sufferings - Birth, Illness, Old Age and Death; how Mike led a life of purpose on a high level, and why we should all emulate such a life.   He informed us that Michael had been practicing The Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin and had been chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo for the last months of his life.

The highlight of the evening was the remembrance given by Michael’s son Sam, who spoke at length about his dad with a sweet appreciation for their time together.   The stories of wrestling, bike riding, attending Sam’s baseball games balanced out any sorrowful or morbid thought any of us may have had.   One could not listen to Sam without thinking that above all, this was proof of Michael’s greatness.   Leaving a happy family with no regrets, happy to have had him at all.   The wise and mature comments given by Sam, who is only thirteen, were just what we all needed to hear and to get Michael’s enduring message: 'everything will be all right'.

There were beautiful performances by Randy, Herbie, Jack DeJohnette, John Patitucci, Paul Simon, Pat Methany and others, plus an astounding compilation film of Michael’s career.

The evening ended with the family accompanied by Wayne Shorter and Buster Williams chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo for five minutes with a Buddhist altar onstage.   Many people in the Town Hall joined in and the chanting sent us off on a calm and hopeful note.

We needed to have this memorial.   I mean, the musicians in New York that knew him, (even a little), and were inspired by him (a lot!) ; the fans who loved his playing and were transfixed for the last thirty years, we all needed to get together and get some closure.   You see, we were all just feeling really sorry for ourselves.   Mike wasn’t judgmental at all, but he wouldn’t approve of that.   We didn’t know it but we needed Randy’s deft humor and some studio war stories, something to make us feel better.   Some music, anecdotes, anything to breathe it out and accept it.   We don’t cry for the dead, we cry for ourselves.   Hearing about Michael’s life and his triumphs even in death make us all stand up a little taller.

We all came away from this event knowing precisely how to be better.   And I realized what I most loved about Michael’s playing.   There are a thousand things - right?   Well, his life was in that sound and there is his biggest similarity to John Coltrane not the sound so much....but the LIFE!

Tim Ouimette.

Tim is a working musician in NYC. His big band has headlined at the 'Rainbow Room', NYC and appeared at 'The Blue Note', NYC with Ben E. King.   A busy session musician, his lead trumpet has graced the bands of Ray Charles, The Cab Calloway Legacy, Blood Sweat and Tears and Ray Barretto together with backing Bobby Sanabria and Keith Richard.   He is also in demand as an orchestrator and arranger.   You can access his website by clicking on the image.

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