There is something about jazz that can speak to everyone. Maybe it’s the improvisation—the ease of getting lost in the tune, as the musical notes chase each other across a melody. It’s not difficult to fall in love with its spontaneity, and jazz has captured Randy Brecker, an East Hampton resident, jazz musician and five-time Grammy award winner.
“The very nature of jazz is freedom… 80% of what we do is improvising,” noted Brecker.
With his world-renowned talents, Brecker is a mainstay in the jazz conversation. But his work, particularly his recent endeavors, have garnered more attention than he could have imagined.
Brecker was nominated for a career-high four Grammys this year for his trumpet performance with the Danish Radio Big Band, an honor he admits he was surprised to receive because of the speed and casualness with witch the album was recorded.
“I went over to Denmark about a year ago to record with the Danish Big Band. We recorded it really quickly, and I kind of promptly forgot about it,” said Brecker. “Weeks later, they sent me some mixes and I thought it sounded good.”
Brecker sent samples to Jeff Levenson, a music executive with Half Note Records. The musicians’ community all quickly agreed that it was worthy of the main stage.
“It’s a warm feeling to be nominated, especially because you’re nominated by your peers,” says Brecker. “This year’s four Grammys is the most I’ve ever been nominated for (in one year).”
Though Brecker didn’t receive a coveted Gramophone trophy this year, he was honored to be invited to perform at the Los Angeles show. He spent the weekend catching up with friends and fellow musicians in the jazz community.
This isn’t Brecker’s first encounter with music’s biggest stage. He also performed at the Grammys in 1992, when they were held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Though the ceremony was smaller, Brecker commented that jazz was better represented.
But, Brecker happily noted that “Jazz in New York—and everywhere—is going up.”
And, wanting to reconnect with his peers at the Grammys is understandable, as the in-demand artist has steadily stayed busy throughout his career. He has toured the world to perform, and his most recent venture was a jazz cruise that left Florida and sailed through the Caribbean.
“My favorite venue is Le Club in Moscow,” said Brecker. “But I love going to Eastern European countries because that’s where my ancestors are from. They welcome me with open arms.”
Born in 1945 in Philadelphia, Brecker developed an appreciation for music at an early age. His father, a lawyer, played piano and fostered his love for music in his three children. Brecker immediately took to the trumpet, and he has since collaborated with some of the most famous names in the music industry.
Brecker’s career is as diverse as it is acclaimed. He is foremost a musician in the most classical sense of the term, but he also composes, produces and arranges music. His talent has earned him five Grammys—in 1994, 1997, 2003, 2006 and 2008.
“In the 70s and 80s, I was heavily involved in studio work,” said Brecker. He would receive music and play the accompaniment on various musicians’ albums.
“At one point, I was doing so many (collaborations in the studio) that I’d be handed the lead sheets and when I asked who it was, I was told ‘Well it could be Aretha Franklin, Carly Simon, Ringo Starr or Bette Midler,’” Brecker laughed.
It was inevitable that music would become a family business, and Brecker and his brother Michael formed The Brecker Brothers in 1975. Their first album, which was released in 1975, received four Grammy nods, and the duo recorded six albums to a tune of seven total nominations between 1975 and 1981.
They reunited at various points in their duel careers, and Brecker earned his 1994 Grammy with his brother for their Out of the Loop album. Sadly, Michael Brecker passed away of MDS, a blood disorder, about five years ago.
Brecker met his wife, Ada Rovatti, 15 years ago while fronting for a 17-piece big band in Europe. He was a special guest, and she was the alto saxophone player. The two have been married for 10 years, and they have a three-year-old daughter, Stella.
In his brother’s honor, Brecker recorded “A Tribute to the Brecker Brothers” in 2008. Most recently, the tribute band got together in September, with Brecker’s wife playing the saxophone in Michael’s memory. The group performed at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York and completely sold out their one-week show. In light of their success, they will be touring Europe in the summer.
As music is obviously a family affair, Brecker also has a daughter, Amanda, from a previous marriage to Elaine Elias, a Brazilian pianist and singer. Amanda attended East Hampton High School, and Brecker notes with pride that she is also an accomplished musician.
Yet for all of his adventures, Brecker has recently decided to permanently settle in East Hampton. He is happy that Stella, who is also developing an appreciation for music, has more space than in their New York residence. And he has built a recording studio in his basement to allow him to continue to work.
“Because of technology, the studio system is gone in New York City,” says Brecker, on the viability of his move and maintaining his music career. “There’s a great little scene out here,” he added.
Brecker is now actively involved in the East End artist community. He has befriended many of the musicians who regularly jam at Bridgehampton’s Pizza Place and Sag Harbor’s Page 63 and Bay Burger.
With so many accomplishments, Brecker noted that it is his wife and children that matter to him the most. But he’s also both content and appreciative with the longevity of his career.
“I’ve been doing this for 50 years, and I still love every minute of it,” said Brecker.
Brecker will perform with the All That Jazz! Super Band on March 4 at Raphael Vineyard.