I started playing the alto sax in the 6th grade. I seemed to be naturally good at it or at least drawn to it. The first day I got it I played it for hours not knowing anything about the saxophone. In the seventh grade, I was introduced to the baritone sax and played it until I graduated from high school.
In high school, I was also introduced to jazz and improvisation by one of my high school band directors, Dennis Eichler. There was no jazz band class at first so we met after school. As I think about that time I can remember being extremely excited about jazz. I was finally playing a genre of music that was closer to the type of music I wanted to play, which was rock, pop, r&b etc. However, jazz made a lasting impression. In fact, now in my 50’s, jazz is just about the only music I listen to.
That brings me to one of my favorite players, Michael Brecker. I have many other favorites but Michael is at the top. He died at age 57 in 2007. His playing is mesmerizing. He had one of the purest tenor sax tones I have ever heard, and I am totally floored by the speed with which he can play patterns and passages. He easily moves in and out of the altissimo register of the horn, which are the overtones of the horn, and difficult to learn to manipulate. It sounds so natural that sometimes it sounds like he is still within the natural register of the horn.
Michael was extremely influenced by John Coltrane, another of my favorite players. As I stated earlier, I’m in my 50’s now, and it wasn’t until I was in my late 30’s that I could even understand Michael Brecker or John Coltrane’s improvisation ideas.
In 1998 I had been in the Navy music program for about 9 years. In 1998 I was stationed in Naples, Italy, playing lead tenor in the Big Band. It was kind of a sought after position. I was excited to be there. I wasn’t a bad lead tenor player. I hid my weaknesses very well. I never improved my playing to the point where I played like Brecker or Coltrane, but I could hold my own. I practiced a lot back then.
I was so influenced by Brecker that I paid $600 for a Guardala mouthpiece, the same one that Michaels uses. I wanted to at least have the same tenor sound if I couldn’t play like him. Before every performance, I was always listening to a Michael Brecker CD or some other great saxophone player. It got me in the right frame of mind every time. And sometimes I surprised myself.
Michael Brecker was a phenomenal live player. I saw him once in New Orleans. I was with my wife at the time. The concert was a gift from her. After about 40 minutes I couldn’t take anymore. He had totally blown my mind. It was just unbelievable to hear someone play the saxophone that way. It was like he was possessed. It is hard to express here.