(from an interview before his death)
I’ve always said go back and listen to the amazing, listen to the great players. Go back and listen to the great masters. Again, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, on and on, Joe Henderson, Charlie Parker, Stanley Turrentine, Dexter Gordon, Prez, Wardell Gray, Don Bias, I’m leaving out so many. Go back and listen to them. As well as listen to the younger players today. Learn whatever you can. I’m a believer in transcribing things. Maybe not whole solos. But If you don’t know what something is harmonically, it’s wise to go in and listen carefully and try to sing it or write it out and figure out what it is so you know. I generally think if somebody plays enough, that your own personality is going to come through. If you are really trying to approach music creatively it’s very important to learn from the whole history and heritage of the instrument. And other instruments. But then approach it creatively. And it just takes care of itself. As far as the saxophone, we are all constructed differently. Nobody ever sounds exactly like anybody else. Just tone-wise it’s a remarkable instrument on that level because nobody ever sounds exactly like anyone else. You can hear influences. Obviously in me you can hear tremendous Coltrane, Joe Henderson influence, Sonny Rollins. Those influences are tremendously there. Stanley Turrentine. There’s a Johnny Griffin influence there, there’s a George Coleman influence, just to name a few, there’s so many, Steve Grossman, Bob Berg, Jerry Berconzi, of what used to be the younger players. Now there’s younger guys that I still listen to. But I also sit around and try to come up with my own ideas. The ideas occur to me naturally. When I’m just playing, just relationships of notes. If I’m just playing the saxophone in a room eventually I stumble onto a relationship that appeals to me. And I’ll work on it. If it’s an idea I’ll write it out. And eventually I’ll get to it and try to put it in every key just for my own edification.
Q: Why the every key necessity?
A: Not everything sounds great in every key. But I just like to be able to have that facility. I still play better, still favor certain keys, but I like to have the facility on the horn, I like to be able to get around on the horn and not feel like I can only play this or that in a certain key. I like to know that I can, that it’s under my fingers, in every key. Obviously there’s certain ranges where certain things sound good. Certain notes, certain combinations of notes, certain cadences or melodic ideas will sound better maybe higher than lower. Or midrange. But I still like to be able to play things in every key. It’s just a personal thing I do. I also learn a lot playing live. I’ve learned a tremendous amount this year from playing a lot with McCoy Tyner, and that’s you know it’s back to school again. I’ve learned a lot by listening to him. Aside from the vast harmonic resources, aside from the fact I grew up listening to McCoy and ‘Trane, they are such an important influence for me. I’ve learned a lot from the way he, his sense of dynamics is just fantastic these days. And his presentation, his whole musical sensibility has been a thing to behold.
Michael Brecker – On Practicing
I am always trying to learn new things. I’m trying to learn new bits of language. So I work on to some degree on sound, and on equipment. I try different pieces of equipment. But beyond that, I make up exercises. If I have an idea, I put it in every key. Like for instance, right now, I am working on certain kind of relationships of triads, and then I, it’s hard to explain in a kind of quick moment, but I do things in different inversions. I try to get all over the horn. I have books and books of exercises that I’ve made up, but I don’t write the exercises out completely, I’ll write out just the idea, and then I try and do it in my head. That actually comes from an approach that I was taught by a gentleman by the name of Gary Campbell many years ago, a great saxophonist who lives in Miami. So I’m always working on new ideas. It takes me a long time. I’m very slow to get new things, new harmonic ideas to actually translate into my playing. It’s sometimes a period of months. Sometimes it takes learning something real well, and then forgetting about it. Eventually it comes out. I then also just play. Just play tunes, alone, or I have musicians over occasionally and we play. Or I end up just playing. And I’m always playing live, so..
But the practicing part of it is very important for me. It’s not just lip service. I have to practice, or I feel like I haven’t , I feel like I’ve shirked my responsibility.
Q: Is it a daily thing?
A: It’s pretty much a daily thing. There are periods when I’m doing it better than others. There’s some times where it’s just maintenance practicing. Where I’m doing the least I have to do just to keep everything well oiled. Then there’s periods of true growth. I still listen to other saxophone players tremendously. I listen to everybody I can. I listen to not just saxophone players, and I glean ideas from other people. It doesn’t all come from my brain. I hear things, I’ll put something on and figure it out. I’ll go back and still I’m amazed with McCoy Tyner still. I listen to Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins. These are all such great inspirations, particularly Joe Henderson, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, still tremendous influences.