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Michael Brecker In Late-1960s Bloomington, Indiana

A late-1960s publicity photo for Mrs. Seaman’s Sound Band. Michael Brecker is second on the right. The bust of Indiana University chancellor Herman B. Wells has received a festive countercultural makeover. (Photo courtesy of William Paterson University’s Brecker Archive, donated by Randy Sandke, who is pictured third on the left.)

Michael Brecker became a saxophone star in the musically-wide-open 1970s, playing not just in the company of his brother, trumpeter Randy Brecker, as well as hardbop icon Horace Silver, but with numerous pop-rock artists such as James Taylor, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, and many others. Though he didn’t make any jazz albums as a leader until 1987, Brecker put together an impressive run of recordings in the last 20 years of his life that added to what prematurely became a legacy when he died at the age of 57 in 2007.

William Paterson University jazz curator David Demsey has been sorting through an archive of Brecker materials, including recordings and photographs, that was donated to the college after Brecker’s death. In the process he has uncovered some documentation of the saxophonist’s time at Indiana University in 1967-68, a period of Brecker’s life that has been little researched. Brecker left IU after a year and a half to move to New York City, where he quickly became an ascending force in one of the world’s most vital music scenes.

Demsey and Bloomington-based trumpeter and promoter David Miller, who was also at Indiana University in the late 1960s and saw some of Brecker’s performances around town, joined me for this segment from WFIU’s weekday afternoon jazz program Just You And Me to talk about the saxophonist’s IU years, when the campus, like so many others, was experiencing countercultural and political tumult. We’ll hear Brecker’s trio in the autumn of 1968 performing “A Night In Tunisia” and part of John Coltrane’s “Resolution” at The Owl, a club in a downtown Bloomington church’s basement; “Name Game” from Randy Brecker’s 1969 leader debut Score, featuring Michael as well; Horace Silver’s “Gregory Is Here” from his 1972 album In Pursuit Of The 27th Man, featuring both Brecker brothers; and finally, a performance of the Randy Sandke combo at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival in March 1968 with Michael Brecker on tenor saxophone, with the band seguing from Duke Ellington’s “Warm Valley” into a jam on the Doors’ “Light My Fire.”

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