How I Remember Mike:
Michael Brecker was among the first saxophonists I listened to for direction and inspiration. No, I was not alone – but I felt Mike was playing especially for me – I still do.
I first met Mike at a clinic held in St. Louis. I don’t remember the college but I was playing at a hotel club in the area. The drummer with our road band heard an advertisement on the radio telling that Mike would be at the local college for a daytime clinic and nightime performance. I was able to make the clinic, borrowing a van from the keyboard player.
The clinic opened with Mike introduced and then sitting on the edge of the stage answering questions from the audience. Only at the end did he play with a student rhytm section. He may have played drums – it’s been a long time and my memory fades.
During the Q and A, I asked Mike if he relied more on the studio or live performance for the bulk of his income. His answer was “both”.
After the clinic, I approached the stage and instigated a one on one conversation with Mike. We talked for what seemed like a lifetime and was likely only 5 minutes. I remember asking him about transcriptions of his solos and how much was premeditated or left to chance. He was very accommodating and gracious – something I will never forget.
Later, probably a year or two down the road, my trumpet playing friend and I headed from Atlantic City to New York. On the trip up the Parkway in his old van, we joked about how we may run into some name players on 48th street. We laughed as we said, maybe we’ll even run into Mike!
We did. Standing at the counter of Art Shell’s shop on 48th street, Mike walked up and stood next to me. My buddy nudged me and I looked up. There, next to me, I saw all 6’ 5’ or so of the infamous tenor player, larger than life. He was wearing his signature denim jacket of the time and stopped by to pick up some reeds. It was busy and he walked behind the counter to grab some boxes of LaVoz reeds. He muttered something which I took to mean, “put it on my account.”
While he was there I thought, “I HAVE to play in front of him so he know’s I’m not a schmuck.” There was a nice-looking Mark VI on the wall and my mouthpiece was in my pocket. I asked if I could try it and took it down from the hanger on the wall.
I played every MB lick I could conjure up and hoped he would recognize that I was not a poser, but a real player. Whatever he may have thought, his comments were kind and he offered his number to talk, as he was in a hurry.
I did call him a couple times after that meeting. Unfortunately I only reached his machine and I didn’t want to push the issue. Months went by and the next time I called the number had been changed.
Several years later another friend and I made a pigramage to NYC to see Mike on several occasions. On one occasion at the Village Vanguard I had another exchange with Mike. He had finished the first set and was searching the bandstand for something. I asked and he said, “I can’t find my keys.” I offered a suggestion or two to no avail and eventually I can only assume he found them.
These brief meetings with Mike, although brief and unassuming, had a lasting impact on me as has his music.
I am pleased to have had the opportunity to meet and speak with my greatest inspiration, regardless of how trivial it may have been to him. After reading what others have to say about his character and humanity, I can see that he did not see it as trivial at all.
God Bless You Mike. Thank you for the inspiration.