Everyone who knew Brecker would tell you how genuinely humble and down-to-earth he was, and you really get to see that in these remarkable clips.
I’ll point out a few of my favorite things from each.
Part 1: early influences, saxophone setup, and staying true to himself
1. How “taking any gig” lead to some of his most important career connections. (4:10)
2. On taking rock & roll and blues music seriously. (5:00)
3. He pre-empts the inevitable “What’s your setup?” question. (8:22)
4. “Go for what you hear…and, if possible, try not to let anyone sway you.” (8:54)
Part 2: listening to guitar players, transcribing and playing drums
5. Why he listened to guitar players: “Pretty much my playing is generally mimicking other things I’ve heard. I’m not tremendously original. I listen to things and then I learn them or I hear them enough and they get into my psyche and then I distort the hell out of them.” (1:30)
6. Like I mentioned before, he was really intrigued by the way guitar players bent notes; that sound in between the major and minor third. (2:24)
7. On transcribing and the utility of learning solos or parts of solos: “If I hear anyone play a phrase [that] gets my ear, I try and figure out what it is.” (2:56)
8. How long it took for what he was working on to show up in his playing. (4:06)
9. What he’s listening to/for when playing. (4:40)
10. Why time (rhythm) is the MOST important thing. This is likely one of the only videos of Michael Brecker playing drums. (5:16)
11. The importance of 3 against 2 and what makes music swing.
Part 3: studying 12-tone writing, playing in the SNL band, and why synths and sequencers excited him
12. On studying composition: He was trying to break away from chordal-only thinking and studying traditional composition challenged him to think in voicings created from melodies and 12-tone melodic matrices.
13. On playing in the Saturday Night Live band. (2:55)
14. Two things he was embarrassed to do in public (4:18)
15. His thoughts on the electronic technology emerging in the eighties, the word “fusion” and what made him feel like he was playing in “technicolor instead of black and white.” (5:10)
16. How he handled confusing chords on the Claus Ogerman orchestral album. (7:00)
Part 4: practice methodology, music/life balance and thoughts on Pat Metheny, James Taylor and David Sanborn (don’t sleep on this part)
17. On practicing, using metronomes, self-discipline and rushing
18. Creating mini-etudes from arpeggios and 4-note cells
19. Playing with records
20. Playing a lot with other people
21. No system (it’s OK to waste some time)
22. “Practice things that are going to be practical.” [!]
23. To learn in 12 keys or not?
24. Playing with other saxophone players
25. Keeping a practice notebook
26. On balancing practicing, playing and life…and staying healthy both physically and emotionally.
27. On phrasing with (brother) Randy.
28. On playing with Pat Metheny (if you haven’t seen it, GO CHECK OUT this amazing concert with Joni Mitchell, Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorious)
29. On playing with James Taylor and his thoughts on David Sanborn (Pay close attention to what he says here.)
You can also watch him play Oleo during this clinic.
In summary: what a legend. I just re-watched each clip twice to take these notes and I’m reminded of what an example this man was for all of us. And I’m not talking about the speed or amount of notes he could play.
If you know another musician who would benefit from this, please pass it along.