Remembering a Tokyo master class with Michael Brecker
(Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series in which our webmaster, Jason Crane, shares his jazz-related memories of Japan.)
The second time I lived in Japan, from 1996-1998, I got a rare opportunity to take a group lesson with Michael Brecker. I had been working professionally as a saxophonist at that point for a couple years, and I was feeling pretty good about my powers on the horn.
Well, ol’ Mike took care of that right quick. About 20 of us gathered at the Blue Note in Tokyo with our horns to sit at the feet of one of the masters and see what we could learn.
The first thing he did was just warm up. And his warm-up was more musical and more technically demanding than anything I had ever played or will ever play. I remember just sitting there about 10 feet from him with my jaw reaching toward the floor, thinking, “Hmmmm, maybe it’s not too late to learn to play chess.”
The cool thing was that Brecker wasn’t in any way arrogant. He knew what he could do on the horn, but during the course of the class he genuinely tried to show us some things he felt would help us become more interesting soloists. I think he was hampered in his teaching a bit by his technical facility, though. Playing the horn had become so effortless to him that he’d long ago forgotten how easy he made near-impossible things look.
I’m not sure the master class helped me all that much as a player, but it sure was a thrill to spend an hour that close to a complete master of my instrument.
Michael Brecker was a great jazz player, but I also really loved him as a rock and pop player. Here’s one of my favorite examples, from the Joni Mitchell album Shadows And Light: