Remembering Michael Brecker


Volume CVII, No. 2February, 2007

Vince Trombetta

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Photo by Tomek Broszkiewicz (“Brocha”) via

I met Michael Brecker on Dec. 12, 1964 when he took his first alto saxophone and clarinet lessons with me at my mother’s home in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia.

Since he had such a great love for John Coltrane, I switched him to the tenor sax after about eight months.

Michael studied with me until the middle of 1968. He was one of the brightest and most well-oriented students I have ever had. He had a bottomless curiosity and a passion for quality, which continued with him his entire life.

His character separated him from the rest of his peers. Beside all the talent and ability he had, his other attributes were generosity, patience, and a respect for others.

I can still see either his mother or father dropping him off for his weekly lessons. Then as our lessons progressed he started taking public transportation from Melrose Park, another section of Philadelphia, to my mother’s home in North Philly. To think, I sold Michael his first Mark VI tenor sax.

When Michael arrived in New York City in late 1969 there were some rough years, but again it was his perseverance and hard work that made good things come his way.

We had many conversations during those early years in New York, and remained friends throughout. All good things were headed his way.

First came the band Dreams, then Horace Silver, the Brecker Brothers and then Steps Ahead.

Along with his brother Randy, the Brecker Brothers Band would change the course of music for years to come.

And who will ever forget the first time you heard Some Skunk Funk. Wow!

His collaboration with composer and arranger Claus Ogerman on both “Gate of Dreams” and “Cityscape” will go down as one of the great marriages for saxophone and strings.

His recordings as a leader started with “Don’t Try This at Home,” and moved on to such memorable albums as “Now You See It, Now You Don’t,” “Tales From The Hudson,” “Two Blocks From The Edge,” “Time Is Of The Essence,” “Nearness of You,” and “Wide Angles.”

Not since the death of John Coltrane in 1967 has any saxophone player affected the world of music on a global mass like Michael Brecker.

He, like so many greats before him, died at too young an age. He was only 57.

Michael can now be added to the history of music as one of the most influential and virtuoso saxophonists of all time.

For the past 30 years his style has been the most studied by saxophonists throughout the world.

His bout with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and then leukemia were a tough struggle for Michael, his family and friends.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Michael’s wife, Susan; his children, Jessica and Sam; his brother Randy; and his sister, Emily Brecker Greenberg.

God’s eternal presence fills all of us with gratitude as we acknowledge the people who have touched us deeply. Michael was one those people. He left a mark on all of those who knew him.

Many saxophonists and composers are products of his wonderful works, and are blessed to have spent some short time with him on earth. I myself feel very blessed to have had Mike as a student for four years, and to have remained friends for so long.

Vince Trombetta is a saxophonist, composer and teacher. He’s also the vice president of AFM Local 47 (Los Angeles).