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Interview with Randy Brecker

July 2, 2013 1 comment

Jazz Music in a nutshell has become globalized with all the attendant influences that brings to the table..it’s not just ‘American’ music anymore.

Brecker 1The next interview is a very special one. How to introduce Randy Brecker? He has done it all. His discography is too large to publish, also is the list of tremendous people he played with. Nowadays he is one of our finests trumpetplayers. A short biography:

“Born (1945) in Philadelphia to a piano-playing father, Randy’s musical talent was nurtured and encouraged from an early age. He began playing R&B and funk in local bar bands while in his teens, and developed an ear for Hard Bop through his father’s record collection.

Randy attended Indiana University from 1963-66. Randy began his foray into jazz-rock by joining Blood, Sweat and Tears. He worked with BS&T for a year and played on their Innovative 1968 debut, ‘Child is Father to the Man.’

Randy left BS&T to join the Horace Silver Quintet. ” In 1968, Randy recorded his first album as a leader, ‘Score’, which also featured a young and then unknown 19 year-old tenor saxophonist named Michael Brecker.  In ’74, the brothers joined Billy Cobham’s group, Spectrum, with whom they recorded several albums, and by 1975 they were ready to front their own band.

The Brecker Brothers were to become a band of immeasurable influence and impact. Hailed by pop and jazz critics alike, their first album ‘The Brecker Brothers’ (Arista), which Randy produced, wrote, and arranged, was nominated for four Grammys. The Brecker Brothers went on to record a total of six albums and garner seven Grammy nominations between 1975 and 1981.

After the Brecker Brothers parted in 1982. Randy recorded and toured extensively with Jaco Pastorius, recording the famous ‘Word of Mouth’ album, a live concert in Japan. In 1986, Randy produced, composed and arranged his first acoustic jazz album, ‘In the Idiom’, for Denon Records, with Joe Henderson, Dave Kikoski, Ron Carter, and Al Foster.

In the summer of 2001, Randy reunited with his brother Michael for a Europe tour with an acoustic version of the Brecker Brothers. In 2004 Michael took ill with a rare form of leukemia known as MDS.

The following years Randy found a balance between touring the world with his own bands and guesting onstage and in the studio with a wide array of artists.

Randy’s newest CD, ‘Randy in Brasil,’ was recorded in Sao Paulo with a full complement of great Brazilian musicians and released in 2008.”

(read further at Randy’s website:http://www.randybrecker.com/)

Mr.Brecker, you’re active in music for more than  5 decades. How has jazz music evolved since you started performing? Is jazz the right label for your music?

My own music has become more refined, more world influences have crept into the picture, and my vocabulary I like to think, has grown a bit.

Call it whatever you want, it’s all ‘jazz’ to me….never liked or thought of labels, I just think ‘music’ good or bad.

Jazz Music in a nutshell has become globalized with all the attendant influences that brings to the table..it’s not just ‘American’ music anymore.

Also technology comes into play now in the recording process, practicing and writing and that has a resulting effect upon the music.

 Your father took an active role in your music education. Heplayed the piano. Do you recognize his influence in the way you look at (your style of) jazzmusic today?

Sure, he will always be my biggest influence since I have his genes…he is in everything I do. His own music/lyrics was steeped in the traditions of the 40s and 50s. He loved Brubeck , Clifford Brown, and the trumpet as “the greatest jazz instrument”- he told me that many times. Clifford and Max’s home base was a club in Philly and Dad heard them many times. I remember the day Clifford and Richie Powell was killed in the auto accident.

If you want to hear a song Dad (Bobby Brecker) wrote for me when I was 2 weeks old (!) check out the ‘suite’ on my CD “Into the Sun”…he plays and sings: “The Hottest Man in Town” where he prophesies not only that I’ll be the ‘hottest man in town’ but also that that I’m going to be a musician, play a “horn or maybe hot fife, and  love that music even more than your wife!”

You first gained recognition playing with pianists Duke Pearson and Horace Silver from between 1967 and 1972. What have you learned from playing with them?Brecker 2

Bandleading technique, especially from Horace, who gave us some latitude, but when he wanted a funky solo he meant it, and if we were recording and you played too many notes he would stop the take. Duke was also a great and under-rated composer and arranger who signed me to Solid State Records and produced my first record ‘Score’. I like to think I taught him something about funk on that record, but he sure taught me about voicings, harmony and composition, as did Horace and both also taught me how to construct a concise solo. Also both of these great musicians knew their job as bandleaders and recording artists were to sell records to the public (high quality music) but structured to communicate to people at large, and not just other musicians, so I learned that early on in my career.

Both were great composers who had the ability to translate the events and feelings of their lives into music, so I took that to heart when I started to lead and write for my own bands. Also  Horace in particular was not afraid to go outside the genre and fuse elements of folk, gospel,funk and soul into his compositions, every one of which had that particular ‘Horace’ harmonic and melodic touch, no matter how complicated or simple the tunes were!

Your first album (as a leader) was Score (1969). How do you look back at this album?

brecker 4I think it was a formative period for all of us, but with that consideration in mind, I think it’s a pretty good first record. Mike Brecker at age 19! Some nice Randy Brecker and Hal Galper tunes….Larry Coryell, Eddie Gomez, and Mickey Roker then “Pretty” Purdie and Chuck Rainey on some tunes-pretty cool!… and some new ground broken.

You played with great bassist-bandleaders like Charles Mingus and Jaco Pastorius. How do you look at the bass as a leading instrument?

If the bass player has as  strong a voice on and off-stage as those 2 did, they can be as out- front as anyone else.

They were also of course great composers so their instruments also fit like a glove into the larger picture.

Charlie Parker. This year it’s fifty-eight years ago he has died . Sheila Jordan said last month to me in an interview: “people don’t talk about him anymore,The younger generation of jazzmusicians say they are inspired by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Parker is a forgotten part of jazzmusic. That’s a pity, because he is an inportant part of the jazztradition.” Do you agree with her?

Not really-he’ll always be deeply ‘embedded’ in the music especially the way he played eighth notes and swung, although Miles and Trane had a more ‘modern’ take on things, (whatever that means 60 years later)…modal playing and in Miles’ case electricity and his mental flexibility put him/them more in the forefront of today’s conceptions. Pure ’bebop’ is kind of locked into a time period, but it’s still a thing of beauty, and I always strive to play it better….it’s my roots and it’s what I practice, since strictly speaking in that context there are right and wrong notes. Then in performance the idea is to interact and ‘take it out’!brecker 5

Miles Davis, has been a great example for you. What did you learn from the music of Miles?

How to tell a story in as few notes as possible. Sound comes first. Take chances. Fuck whatever anyone else thinks. Rehearse as little as possible since as he said :’ You can’t rehearse the future!”

Which musicians are you inspired by nowadays?

You got me on that one…there are too many or none at the same time.Everyone has a CD in their pocket and we’re inundated with web-sites, you-tube, and social networking – which I don’t do as a matter of principle…so it’s hard to focus on one or two people let alone several musicians. Mostly I listen to the old guys-they had that special charisma….they were anti-establishment, usually as high as a kite, crazy in many ways, but it was all about  Music and Swinging and not about networking…but having said that, there are thousands of up and coming musicians,from all over the world who are great players, but finding that  individual ‘voice’ seems to be a harder proposition these days, maybe because there are so many jazz programs in schools that churn out students who know and can play the history from Louis Armstrong on, and have a lot of technique, which I respect, but haven’t thought that much about original new conceptions or directions. Now having said thatthat’s where the ‘world music’ element creeps in, and I do find inspiration from young musicians from other far flung countries who bring their own indigenous music into the mix.

For instance younger cats play the shit out of odd time signatures and have the all current technological advances in their fingertips! Also I must mention that the best of the younger crop who stay in bebop mode, play so well and so musically that the fact that you’ve kind of heard it all before is transcended by the excellence and pure musicality of their improvisations…brecker 3

You played a lot with pop musicians, like Todd Rundgren, Stevie Wonder, Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen. Carla Bley said once “I think rock and roll is jazz. And jazz is classical music. And classical music has become rock and roll. They’ve all gone round one turn on the clock” (1972) Has the clock turned again since then?

It’s always turning, that’s what keeps everything interesting….it’s all a continuum as Jaco’s tune suggests..I think what Carla was saying is that catagories are useless.

In 2012 you wan a Grammy Award (again!), this year (b.o.) Chick Corea is a Grammy winner, which jazzmusicians would you propose for the Grammy Awards in 2014?

Not following or concerned with things like that any more, especially since a couple of years ago NARAS decided to pull the plug on some of the lesser so-called catagories and also put ‘contempory’ jazz and  ‘real’ jazz in the same catagory which makes the whole thing even more ridiculous than it was in the first place….but I’m sure Chick and Pat will win a few more since it’s mostly a popularity contest….not that they don’t always deserve something for their outstanding contributions to music. The Grammys makes for a nice TV show if you keep the sound off!

Your musical activities span a wide range of styles and combinations. Which projects do you have in store for us?

1.  ‘Brecker Brothers Band Reunion’ features all members who played in the band at one time or another, like  Dave Sanborn , Mike Stern,Dave Weckl, Will Lee, Adam Rogers,Rodney Holmes, Chris Minh Doky, Mitch Stein etc..studio CD and accompanying ‘live’ at the Blue Note NYC, DVD…

My wife Ada Rovatti featured on saxophone..keeping it in the family, and newcomer Oli Rockberger who co-wrote  2 of the tunes and sings on a couple of tracks.

Produced by George Whitty who also played keyboards…all new tunes in that style. My man Randroid also makes a couple of appearances….will be out SOON

2.  ‘RandyPOP!’ ‘Hits’ I played on as de-ranged by Kenny Werner..w/Amanda Brecker (daughter) vocals..will be out next year sometime.

Adam Rogers,David Sanchez, John Patitucci and Nate Smith.

Kenny Werner piano…recorded live at the Blue Note NYC….interesting charts and a lot of inventive live interactive playing.

3.’Night in Calisia’… Collaboration with my friend Polish composer and pianist Wlodek Pawlik…his wonderful Suite featuring The Kalisz Philharmonic,the Wlodek PawlickTrio and me as soloist. Should be out in August.

Is there jazz in the future? Jazz  has been for the most part well documented by now, but do you think jazz will reach our youth?

There will always be jazz music but only for intelligent minds, young,old, or in between.

And that’s the way it should be!

Interview with Peter Erskine

Improvisation is the highest form of pure music-making I can think of.

Last month I interviewed Peter Erskine, one of the most gifted drummers in jazzmusic.

Erskine was born in Somers Point, New Jersey, U.S. He began playing the drums at the age of four. He graduated from the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, then studied percussion at Indiana University.

Peter Erskine

His professional career started in 1972 when he joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra. After three years with Kenton he joined Maynard Ferguson for two years. In 1978 he joined Weather Report, joining the legendary Jaco Pastorius to form a formidable rhythm section. After four years and five albums with Weather Report and the Jaco Pastorius big band Word of Mouth, he joined Steps Ahead. His big band recordings with the Bob Mintzer Big Band are excellent modern big band jazz/funk performances studied by many students of drums and drumming.

His music-style spanning talent also features on Kate Bush’s 2005 album Aerial, where Erskine teams with bass player Eberhard Weber. Diana Krall, Eliane Elias, Queen Latifah and Linda Ronstadt among many more still choose Peter for his multifaceted musicality. Even Scottish and Finnish Classical Orchestras have had him as a featured musician.
Today, Erskine splits his time as a musician and that of a professor at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California.
In 1983, he performed on the Antilles Records release Swingrass ’83.
In 2011 he appeared on stage at the Royal Opera House, London in the new opera Anna Nicole. (wikipedia.org)

Mr. Erskine, you started playing drums at the unusual young age of 4. What made you decide to play this instrument? Did you ever afterwards consider to change your instrument?

I’ve wanted to play the drums for as long as I can remember. I was also drawn to the trumpet, the piano, and classical percussion instruments … also wanted to play the cello and the electric bass for a while…I love music and the sounds that instruments make. It seems that I can make the most useful sounds on the drums, however…so this is what I do.

You’re active in music for more than  5 decades. How has jazz music evolved since you started performing? Is Jazz the right label for your music?

“Jazz” is a good label if we must have labels. But I love to listen to many different kinds of music: “classical,” “ethnic,” “pop,” “folk” … I like to play them, too … but my favorite music to play swings.

The first music that you can remember listening to included recordings your father had (Mike Brannon, jazzreview.com: http://www.jazzreview.com/index.php/reviews/jazz-artist-interviews/item/12870-): (ao) Art Blakey, Henry Mancini, Tito Puente, Julie London, Les Baxter, and the Stan Kenton Orchestra and later on he introduced you to Philly Joe Jones, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Gene Krupa, Elvin Jones and Charlie Persip. Nowadays their music still inspires you?peter and louis hayes

Yes. My favorite music to listen to comes from these early experiences, from my childhood up through my teenage years. But I’ve added some names to the list in the years since…

The piano trio has become one of your favorite formats. “A trio is a very conversational medium; you can easily think of a triangle, where each point of the triangle is as important as the other. I really learned how to play in a trio setting working with John Abercrombie and Marc Johnson, and particularly working with Marc.” you say in an interview in 1994 (http://davecatney.org/interviews/dc02_erskine.pdf).

 Is the piano trio still your favorite format? And, if so, which piano trio today do you like best?

I like trios — horn trios, guitar trios, and piano trios —but my favorite trio is usually the one I am playing with at that moment!

Charlie Parker. This year it’s fifty-eight years ago he has died . Sheila Jordan said to me in an interview: “people don’t talk about him anymore,The younger generation of jazzmusicians say they are inspired by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Parker is a forgotten part of jazzmusic. That’s a pity, because he is an important part of the jazztradition.” Do you agree with her?

Sheila Jordan is a very wise woman.

You’ve been working with so many beautiful jazz musicians, among many others, Gary Burton, the Brecker Brothers, Bobbie Hutcherson, Jan Garbarek, Jaco Pastorius, Stan Kenton, Weather Report, Joe Zawinul. Do you still learn from your youthful colleagues and what should they learn from you? Are you inspired by them as you were by the colleagues you played with in the seventies?

I hope that I am able to continue to learn from my students and young colleagues, while they learn from me. People the world over have something to teach (to) AND learn (from) one another. LISTENING is the key, to music and to life.

In an interview, last year with  Michalis Limnios (BLUES @ GREECE) you say: “Every style of music informs the next, so I learn not only from jazz music but also from classical music, folk music, popular music, and so on. But jazz has the highest and most rigorous standards when it comes to improvisation, or the art of composing while playing.”  Some musicians, like Ran Blake and Misha Alperin use the term improvising music (Third Stream) for their music. How would you regard this term? Fits this heading in to your music?

Joe Zawinul gave me the best advice when he said (to) “always compose when you play.” Improvising is instant composition. Impovisation is the highest form of pure music-making I can think of … but I love the challenge, discipline and excitement of well-played ensemble music, too. When you combine the two elements (written and improvised), the results can be spectacular. The secret, I think, is to play what you as a musician would most like to hear next.

You conduct clinics, classes and seminars worldwide. You are a Professor of Practice and Director of Drumset Studies at the USC Thornton School of Music, and you are the Jazz Drumming Consultant to the Royal Academy of Music in London. You are a writer. And of course there is the Music. It appears you work night and day. What is your secret?

No secret. But I don’t have so many hobbies outside of music and my work … and, to be honest, I really should learn to relax a bit more. But I love to work at what I do. Maybe the secret is having such a wonderful wife and family (2 children): with their love and support, everything seems possible. I was also very fortunate to have had the love and support of my parents and siblings as I was growing up. Plus some very special mentors and friends over the years. Okay, that’s the secret: love.

Is there jazz in the future? Jazz is the most recorded music style by now, but do you think jazz will reach our youth? According to saxophonist and flautist Dave Liebman the future of jazz lies with how it will be absorbed and transformed by parts of the world where it is new to the people. Do you agree with him?no beethoven

This same question is asked every year and every decade. I hear plenty of jazz being played by young musicians. The business is changing very much. And jazz might not be what it used to be in terms of playing opportunities…but it’s my assertion that jazz music will be with us for as long as there’s music. Part of the challenge is in learning how to coexist or flourish with technology as it keeps on changing. But as long as people love a style of music, it will never go away.

Your musical activities span a wide range of styles and combinations. Which projects do you have in store for us?

Let’s see: I will be premiering a concerto for drumset & orchestra in November (“Erskine, a Concerto for Drumset & Orchestra” by Mark-Anthony Turnage) with the Beethovenhalle Orchester in Bonn, Germany… and I am overseeing the publication of my autobiography and chronicle of Weather Report titled “No Beethoven” … releasing 3 more play-along apps for iOS devices as well as Mac and PC … working on a new book … I’d like to make a funk album … will be playing the music of MIles Davis and Gil Evans once again with Terence Blanchard and Vince Mendoza w/ the Detroit Symphony … accompanying singer Mary Chapin Carpenter on her new album and tour with orchestra …working free-lance in Los Angeles, making recording sand doing gigs with different trios (I play in at least three trios at the moment: one with Alan Pasqua and Darek Oles — our recording “The Interlochen Concert” is one of my favorites — one with Chuck Berghofer and Terry Trotter — and one with Bb Sheppard and Darek Oles … oh! Plus one with Bob Mintzer and Larry Goldings.

And new albums by Tierney Sutton, Seth MacFarlane, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Janek Gwizdala (did that whole album in less than 4 hours), plus others (played on about twenty album recordings this year) … designing a new portable drumset for DW … producing a compilation of unreleased Weather Report recordings … oh yeah, and playing with the Buddy Rich Alumni All-Star big band in Japan next month! I love challenges, and I hope to do justice to the music. And, I almost forgot, playing drums in the opera “Anna Nicole” at BAM that’s being produced by the NYC Opera … thankfully, my university has granted me a sabbatical leave to do all of these upcoming things. I’m a very lucky man! And busy, too!

Please read Peter’s (Weather Report)  Biography, No Beethoven: http://www.weatherreportdiscography.org/peter-erskines-new-book-no-beethoven/

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