Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Brecker, Randy (Randal Edward)

             Randy Brecker (by Jos L. Knaepen)

Trumpet and fugelhorn player Randy Brecker has structured an inventive career which has bridged the gap between post-bop and contemporary jazz. Since his arrival on the scene in the late 1960s, as a prolific and versatile performer, Randy has displayed an original voice which is ingrained in bebop, but equally at home in rock, big bands, funk and rhythm 'n' blues.

Randal Edward Brecker was born on November 27, 1945 in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, right outside Philadelphia. Brecker grew up in a musical family; his father Bob was a pianist and singer who filled the Brecker home with recordings by trumpeters Clifford Brown, Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard. His brother Michael was a tenor saxophonist with whom he often performed, and his sister Emily was a classical pianist.

Brecker decided to study music while in the third grade. Randy’s school had a trumpet and a clarinet available to the students, with the young child choosing the trumpet. As a child, Brecker spent his summers at band camps where he gained substantial performing experience. As a teenager, Randy began to perform with rhythm 'n' blues and funk groups throughout the Philadelphia area.

Upon graduating from high school, Brecker attended Indiana University in Bloomington, where he studied jazz theory with noted educator David N. Baker and trumpet with Bill Adam. While attending college, Randy performed with the Indiana University Jazz Band and competed with them at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival in 1966.

That year, the group won the festival and toured Asia and the Middle East for three months. Upon completion of the tour, Brecker remained abroad in Europe with saxophonist Don Menza. Randy stayed in Europe for a short time and then decided to move to New York City to begin his broaden his opportunities.

Upon arriving in New York, Brecker performed in a big band led by trumpeter Clark Terry, whom he had met at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival where Terry was a judge. After performing with Terry, he performed with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra as well as the Duke Pearson big band and a big band led by tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson.

Shortly after, Brecker joined the band Blood, Sweat and Tears. The band was known for its innovative combination of jazz, rock and funk. Brecker performed on the group’s debut album Child is the Father to the Man in 1968. Throughout his time with the band, Randy enjoyed playing with the acclaimed group, but wished to have a stronger foundation in the jazz community.

The following year, Brecker released his debut album as a leader. Entitled Score, the album featured Michael Brecker, guitarist Larry Coryell, pianist Hal Galper, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Mickey Roker.

Shortly after, Brecker left Blood, Sweat and Tears in order to perform with pianist Horace Silver’s quintet. After two years with Silver, Brecker briefly performed with drummer Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.

In 1969, Brecker and his brother Michael formed the jazz-fusion group Dreams with guitarist John Abercrombie, drummer Billy Cobham and trombonist Barry Rogers. The group released the albums Dreams in 1970 and Imagine My Surprise in 1972. The group was unable to achieve commercial success, though their efforts kept them in steady demand as studio musicians.

An early example of Brecker’s technical abilities is the song “New York” from Dream’s self- titled album. The song begins with a brief introduction from Cobham before Randy and Michael play a continual two beat phrase that segues into a back round line after the beginning of the vocal line. During his solo, Randy displays careful attention to the changes at hand while managing the freewheeling rock texture of the tune. The result is a sensitive awareness for both passion and prowess.

After the breakup of Dreams, Brecker briefly rejoined Silver where he performed on his album The Pursuit of the 27th Man. On “Liberated Brother,” Randy utilizes the bossa feel of the song by providing a lively timbre to the melody. During his solo from 1:00-1:52, he demonstrates a superior harmonic quality by taking a melodic concept and developing it throughout the solo. This method gives the solo a more compelling and dramatic effect.

Following his work with Silver, Brecker began performing with Larry Coryell’s fusion group Eleventh House. Soon after, Randy and Michael joined Cobham’s group Spectrum. Beginning in 1974, Randy and Michael formed the band the Brecker Brothers, which lasted until 1980.

The Brecker Brothers mixed jazz, rock and funk styles, which proved to be a successful combination. The group released their debut album The Brecker Bros. in January 1975. The album spawned the song “Some Skunk Funk,” which has since become a fusion standard and was a staple of their repertoire.

“Some Skunk Funk” is an excellent example of the Brecker Brothers sound, combining equal parts jazz and funk. Randy’s use of harmonic post-bop constructions is evident with his use of space as a means to break apart melodic objectives. The song showcases then new technology by way of the wah-wah like effect on top of his solo.

In 1977, a volume of Brecker Brothers transcriptions was published under the title The Brecker Brothers-And All Their Jazz. The book features trumpet, tenor saxophone and rhythm sections transcriptions of several of their songs. The same year, Randy and Michael opened the jazz club Seventh Avenue South in downtown Manhattan. The brothers operated the club until it closed in 1987.

In 1978, Randy performed on bassist Charles Mingus’ last album Me, Myself an Eye alongside his brother. Upon the end of the Brecker Brothers, Randy became a member of the Mingus Dynasty Big Band, an association that would last throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1981, Brecker performed with bassist Jaco Pastorius in his small group, as well as his big band Word of Mouth. The following year, Randy led a group with his wife, pianist Eliane Elias. The group released the album Amanda on Passport Records and toured internationally on several occasions.

In 1985, Brecker continued his prolific activity as a sideman and recorded with pianist Carla Bley and saxophonist Bob Mintzer's Big Band. The following year, Randy recorded the album In the Idiom, his first acoustic jazz record. The record featured a who’s who of jazz talent including Joe Henderson, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Al Foster and pianist Dave Kikoski.

In late 1986, Randy formed a group that included Dave Kikoski, saxophonist Bob Berg, bassist Dieter Ilg and drummer Joey Baron. The group toured throughout Europe on several occasions, including a tour of Eastern Europe that was sponsored by the State Department.

This group recorded the album Live at Sweet Basil in 1988, which was recorded at the celebrated New York club Sweet Basil. During the later part of the 1980s, Randy recorded sessions with composer Jukka-Pekka Uotila and pianist Don Grolnick. Through the later part of the 1980s, Brecker toured throughout America and Europe as a leader and with bassist Stanley Clarke’s group Jazz Explosion.

In 1989, he recorded the album Toe to Toe with pianist Jim Beard. On June 3, 1989, Randy was a member of the orchestra that performed Mingus’ rebuilt symphony Epitaph at Alice Tully Hall in New York. Seated with him in the trumpet section were Jack Walrath and Wynton Marsalis. Brecker’s studio work throughout the early 1990s included sessions with saxophonist Nick Brignola, bassist Christian Minh Doky, trombonist Conrad Herwig and pianist Marc Copland.

In 1992, Randy and Michael decided to reform the Brecker Brothers. The group celebrated their reunion with a world tour and the recording of their album The Return of the Brecker Brothers. Two years later, Brecker became a member of the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band.

1994 also saw Randy receiving his first Grammy Award for The Brecker Brothers album Out of the Loop. In 1995, Randy and Michael were the first modern jazz band to perform in the People’s Republic of China where they played to sold-out crowds in Beijing and Shanghai. The same year, Randy went on a tour of Japan with tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine.

In the 1990s, Randy continued his association with Charles Mingus's music as a member of the Mingus Big Band and orchestra. In 1994, a volume of his solos was released by Hal Leonard publishing entitled Randy Brecker: Artist Transcriptions. In 1996, he performed with organist Barbara Dennerlein and tenor saxophonist/flautist Lew Tabackin.

1996 also saw the release of the Brazilian-inspired album Into the Sun. The album was critically praised and was awarded the Grammy Award for "Best Contemporary Jazz Performance" in 1997. Randy closed 1996 with a tour of the United States and South American with the Mingus Big Band and with the Carnegie Hall Big Band in Europe.

The following year, Randy performed with guitarist Hiram Bullock. In 1998, he toured with Cobham throughout England as a featured guest. Randy spent the summer performing with Coryell and as a special guest with the Vanguard Orchestra’s tribute to Thad Jones.

Following his signing with ESC Records in 2001, Brecker released the album Hangin in the City, which featured the inclusion of more contemporary funk and hip-hop styles. The album sold well in international markets and provided Randy the opportunity to perform abroad with his own group on a more frequent basis.

In 2008, Brecker released the album Randy in Brasil. Recorded in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the record was chosen by the website All About Jazz as one of the top releases of 2008 and in the following year won the “Best Contemporary Jazz Album” Grammy Award.

Brecker lives in New York with his second wife, tenor saxophonist Ada Rovatti.

Select Discography

As a leader

Score (1969)

Amanda (1985)

In the Idiom (1986)

Live at Sweet Basil (1988)

Toe to Toe (1990)

Into the Sun (1995)

Hangin in the City (2001)

34th N Lex (2003)

Randy in Brasil (2008)

With Blood, Sweat and Tears

Child Is Father to the Man (1968)

With The Brecker Brothers

The Brecker Bros. (1975)

Don’t Stop the Music (1977)

Détente (1980)

Return of the Brecker Brothers (1992)

Out of the Loop (1994)

With Dreams

Dreams (1970)

Imagine My Surprise (1972)

With Charles Mingus

Me, Myself an Eye (1978)

With Jaco Pastorius

Invitation (1983)

With Horace Silver

In Pursuit of the 27th Man (1972)

A Prescription for the Blues (1997)


THE DOZENS: Randy Brecker Selects 12 Essential Freddie Hubbard Tracks by Ted Panken

Contributor: Eric Wendell