Tenor saxophonist and composer Michael Brecker is a multiple Grammy winner, and the first to win both the “Best Jazz Instrumental Performance” and “Best Jazz Instrumental Solo” awards two years in a row. As a result of his stylistic and harmonic innovations, Michael is among the most studied instrumentalists in music schools throughout the world today.
Born into a musical household in 1949 in Philadelphia, Michael’s father had played records by Dave Brubeck and Clifford Brown for his sons and took Michael and his older brother Randy to see Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington. While Randy took up trumpet, Michael launched his studies on clarinet and alto sax. When moved by the genius of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, among others, Michael switched to tenor in high school. After studying, as did his brother, at the University of Indiana, he moved to New York City, landing work with several bands before co-founding the pioneering jazz-rock group Dreams in 1970.
Randy Brecker has been shaping the sound of jazz, R&B and rock for more than three decades. His trumpet and flugelhorn performances have graced hundreds of albums by a wide range of artists from James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Chaka Khan, George Benson and Parliament-Funkadelics to Frank Sinatra, Steely Dan, David Sanborn, Horace Silver, Jaco Pastorius and Frank Zappa.
Randy Brecker’s history is as varied as it is distinguished. Born in Philadelphia to a piano-playing father, Randy spent summers in stage-band camps where he got his earliest experience in ensemble playing. He began playing R&B and funk in local bar bands while in his teens, but at the same time he had an ear for hard bop. “I’d listen to Sonny Rollins, Lee Morgan, Miles’ Quintets, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, the Clifford Brown/Max Roach group,” explains Brecker.
Clifford Brown was one of the 20th century’s greatest trumpet players. He represented the highest level of instrumental excellence and influenced a generation of jazz musicians. Dizzy Gillespie called him “the next major voice in the line of trumpeters.” As impressive and historically important as his musical accomplishments were, his personal impact on those who knew him is also quite extraordinary. His profound work ethic, personal integrity, kind-hearted nature, and commitment to excellence deeply affected his friends and fellow musicians. Jazz legend Sonny Rollins once remarked “Clifford was a profound influence on my personal life. He showed me that it was possible to live a good, clean life and still be a good jazz musician.”
While Solomon Burke never made a major impact upon the pop audience – he never, in fact, had a Top 20 hit – he was an important early soul pioneer. On his ’60s singles for Atlantic, he brought a country influence into R&B with emotional phrasing and intricately constructed, melodic ballads and mid-tempo songs. At the same time, he was surrounded with sophisticated “uptown” arrangements and provided with much of his material by his producers, particularly Bert Berns. The combination of gospel, pop, country, and production polish was basic to the recipe of early soul. While Burke wasn’t the only one pursuing this path, not many others did so as successfully. And he, like Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, was an important influence upon the Rolling Stones, who covered Burke’s “Cry to Me” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” on their early albums.
Burke came by his gospel roots even more deeply than most soul stars. He was preaching at his family’s Philadelphia church, and hosting his own gospel radio show, even before he’d reached his teens. He began recording gospel and R&B sides for Apollo in the mid- to late ’50s. Like several former gospel singers (Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett), he was molded into a more secular direction when he signed with Atlantic in the 1960s.
A brilliant player on both acoustic and electric basses, Stanley Clarke has spent much of his career outside of jazz, although he has the ability to play jazz with the very best. Clarke was born in 1951 in Philadelphia. Encouraged by his musically-inclined mother, he took up violin and cello at an early age, only to find his hands growing too big to comfortably play the violin and his legs much too long to easily accommodate the cello. Turning to the bass, he played in R&B and rock bands beginning in junior high school. After high school he enrolled in the prestigious Philadelphia Musical Academy.
John Coltrane was the son of John R. Coltrane, a tailor and amateur musician, and Alice (Blair) Coltrane. Two months after his birth, his maternal grandfather, the Reverend William Blair, was promoted to presiding elder in the A.M.E. Zion Church and moved his family, including his infant grandson, to High Point, NC, where Coltrane grew up. Shortly after he graduated from grammar school in 1939, his father, his grandparents, and his uncle died, leaving him to be raised in a family consisting of his mother, his aunt, and his cousin. His mother worked as a domestic to support the family. The same year, he joined a community band in which he played clarinet and E flat alto horn; he took up the alto saxophone in his high school band. During World War II, his mother, aunt, and cousin moved north to New Jersey to seek work, leaving him with family friends; in 1943, when he graduated from high school, he too headed north, settling in Philadelphia. Eventually, the family was reunited there.
Joey DeFrancesco’s emergence in the 1980s marked the onset of a musical renaissance. Organ jazz had been a form of music that literally went into hibernation from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties largely because of the introduction of high-tech, light-weight keyboards. It was Joey, however, that ignited the flame once again with the sound of his vintage Hammond organ and Leslie tone cabinet. He not only illuminated this once dormant music form but brought back the many proponents of jazz organ who had been shuffled by record producers and club owners to lesser roles within the music industry. Befriending and supporting those who preceded him, Joey became the new-age proponent of an instrument that had been pushed aside in favor of the growing technology.
Considered a child prodigy, Joey remembers as far back as age four, playing jazz tunes modeled by his father, Papa John DeFrancesco and memorizing music from the many jazz albums in their home. Papa John, a jazz organist himself, took young Joey under his wing and nurtured his rapidly developing skills, bringing Joey along with him to gigs, Joey would sit-in with as many seasoned Philadelphia musicians who were around. Legendary players like tenor saxophonist, Hank Mobley, or drummer, Philly Joe Jones, would soon become aware of young Joey DeFrancesco and acknowledge his enthusiasm. Joey’s grandfather and namesake, Joseph DeFrancesco, was the patriarch and, himself, a musician’s musician; able to pick up a new instrument and teach himself to play. This gift was passed down to young Joey and now manifests itself in Joey’s extraordinary keyboard skills; piano playing; and organ wizardry – not to mention his undeniable mastery of the trumpet