Jazz interview with jazz legendary trumpeter and composer Randy Brecker. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Randy Brecker: – Grew up in Philadelphia and my father was a piano player, composer, singer, lyricist, who loved trumpet players…Clifford Brown was alive and well and playing in Philly a lot, as his home base with Max Roach and was the talk of the town! Once Dad grabbed me, overcome with emotion, when I was around 6 while listening to Clifford and said: “Randy! Trumpet is the greatest jazz instrument!” When I was 2 weeks old he composed a tune for me called the “Hottest Man in Town”…he forecast that while listening to his “corn”, I would play a “horn” or “maybe a hot fife and love music even more than my wife!” Well my wife is a great musician herself so I love her the same as the music! Yeah!
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the trumpet? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the trumpet?
RB: – Well I guess I answered that in the previous question haha, but listening to Clifford, Miles, Chet Baker, Dizzy ….. Sigmund Hering from the Philadelphia Orch … I started to study with him when I was 8 and later when I was 15, Tony Marchione who also taught Lee Morgan and are both great Philly trumpet players …Tony’s son Nick is a first call trumpet player in NYC now … then Bill Adam at Indiana U along with David Baker for theory … by the way at my little grade school they only had trumpets or clarinets, so I grabbed the trumpet, due to my father’s proclamation which I agreed with, and 3 years later my brother got confronted with the same choice, and didn’t want to play the same instrument as me, so he kind of got ‘stuck’ as he put it, with the clarinet! He studied for years with Leon Lester of the Philly Orchestra who gave him a great foundation for the saxophone when he eventually discovered Trane, (who also lived in Philly)…previous to that discovery, basketball and his chemistry set were his first loves …. he came to the music later, first Cannonball and alto, then Trane and tenor.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
RB: – Not consciously thinking about it too much, but I knew in my head subconsciously that I didn’t want to sound or write like anyone else, that’s where maybe the soul/rock/funk influences came in and changed my nuances and inflection. Listen to my solo on the original “Skunk Funk” on the Brecker Brothers first record. You ain’t heard nothing like that before! … complete with electronic effects!
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
RB: – Play every day without fail for hours off and on. Some Bill Adams routines, some classical etudes and a lot of just playing along with swingin’ records of any style … last nite the Sting and Shaggy record …. every tune is in a different key.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
RB: – I practice patterns out of books, like the Oliver Nelson or Slonimsky Pattern books, but don’t use them in my playing because it sounds too contrived on my trumpet … but it’s good ear training, and good for building trumpetistic flexibility. I do try to broaden my vocabulary by just playing alone free, and if something good comes out, I write it down and learn it.
JBN.S: – You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?
RB: – Good question it’s both … it’s tension and release and having a conversation with the other musicians, so a lot depends on the interaction. I try to play lyrically and melodically first of all … phrases, most of which you could sing along with.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
RB: – Don’t listen to music you don’t want to incorporate into your vocabularly!
JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2019: <Rocks>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
RB: – Well I did 2 tours with the NDR BigBand and they were very successful so the ‘higher up’s gave the OK to record everything…as far as what I like about it:
My compositions, and Jorg Achim Kellers arrangements…and the band is just killing as are all the soloists and Wolfgang Haffner on drums: swinging! The sound is great too, so I think it’s one of my best records ever. As far as even newer projects, I/we just recorded 10 of my wife saxophonist Ada Rovatti’s tunes for a new project we’ll call ‘Brecker Plays Rovatti’, with: Dave Kikoski, Alex Claffy, Rodney Holmes, Jim Beard, Adam Rogers and Café! … it’s great. Our 10 year old daughter Stella sings in octaves with Ada on her tune “Sacred Bond” which refers to the ‘Sacred Bond’ between mother and daughter.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
RB: – Good one! Hmmm Dunno! … for me maybe 60% soul 4O% intellect- one influences the other though so it’s an unanswerable question really.…wish we could ask my brother that one! Or Ray Charles or Milt Jackson. Might also depend on what tune you are playing: a ‘Blues in Bb’ or ‘Giant Step’s! Man, well Trane was unique: 100% Soul and 100% intellect.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
RB: – Yes … it’s a 2 way street, but you have to please yourself first, or it won’t work! Gotta’ play your own truth … that’s why Kenny G works … that’s his truth … (not mine!)
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
RB: – Man, too many it would take up the whole interview!…we used to do like 15 sessions a week and go on the road on weekends! But here’s a few: my formulative time with Horace Silver and later Art Blakey, touring with Stevie Wonder with Sanborn in the section, recording with Chaka and Diana Ross and doing charts for them and George Benson. Diana played the ‘Tonight Show with Johnny Carson’ and I had written the arrangement for the tune she performed ‘Mirror, Mirror’ so I conducted the band and got to play with Doc Severinson during the commercials! Recording with Frank and Quincy, Parlaiment-Funkadelic, Elton John, Aretha, Cameo, my long stint with Jaco, my quintet with the late Bob Berg, Dave Kikoski, Dieter Ilg and Joey Baron which last year had a DVD/CD package released on MVD VISUAL . “Randy Brecker Quintet Live at Sweet Basil in NYC 1988!” That was a great band and of course Brecker Bros …. Zappa live in NY….Paul Simon, James Taylor I could go on and on…opening the show with ‘Dreams’ at the Village gate for Richard Pryor! Steely Dan record dates …. on and on and on …. Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” session, James Brown Session where he kicked the young Steve Gadd off the drums to show him how to play “funky”! Of course some of my first record dates with the Duke Pearson Big Band. The band’s nickname for the trumpet section was “The White Knights”…. Oliver Nelson sessions with Johnny Hodges for what became his last record, Laura Nyro coming out of the booth saying she wanted my solo to be more “orange”(!) so I thought of a sunset, played another solo and she brought it! …. my year with the original Blood Sweat & Tears …. the many years with Billy Cobham…we’re going to play together quite a bit starting in June this year for his 75th Birthday … and ah yes playing at my daughter Amanda’s recent wedding!
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
RB: – They have to realize that true art is timeless…so are Stevie Wonder records 50 years old… Michael Jackson too, almost. Little Richard: even older, just start with Black Music, Blues, and ‘Jump Music’ from the 30s and and 40s and your life will be changed forever. That’s what youngsters need to know!
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
RB: – Spirit and Music are on the same plane and are the same thing – ‘otherworldly’ … they are God to me, That’s all I need in life, along with my family who are on that same plane. It’s all God/Spirituality but I don’t follow any organized major religion, as Sonny Rollins said: “those are just politics”! And he’s correct!
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
RB: – That everyone in the world would know the ‘mechanics’ of the music we call Jazz and the amazing history behind it, by far the most incredible art form in the world, one that now exists world-wide amd one which is followed only by intelligent evolved humans…you are either hip or you ain’t! There’s ‘us’ and there’s ‘them’. Sorry to be an elitist, but I am when it comes to that. You ever see that 3 panel cartoon: a man and a woman sitting across from each other at a table ‘speed dating’? Man: “Bud Powell?” Woman: “Who?” Man; “NEXT!!”
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
RB: – Well today Dexter Gordon among others…it was his birthday, but tomorrow who knows! I listen a LOT!. It’s all at the push of a button in my laptop or iTouch and my wireless BOSE headphones and most of all: portable! Hours each day. From one thing/idiom to another.
JBN.S: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
RB: – Love, Honesty and Joy! I do like the feeling of making people happy.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
RB: – New Orleans when ‘Pops’ (Louis Armstrong) was coming up!
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
RB: – Your favorite 5 records? Ahh that’s a terribly dumb question I asked and I know that’s a hard one and really meaningless there are too many great records, so don’t think I could answer that myself in a rational way, but I get asked that a lot …?? I just usually answer questions so I don’t have many myself … 🙂
JBN.S: – Thanks a lot for answers!!!
JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
RB: – Well not sure what you mean as far as harness ‘that’ (Music??) It’s all cumulative, so I’m playing my 65 years as a musician…I started when I was 8 and from the first note that was it! I was a musician. It’s forever a challenge, a bottomless pit of information, but a joy and mystery at the same time!!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan