After John Coltrane, there was no more revered and profoundly influential saxophonist on the planet than Michael Brecker. For those coming of age in the 1970s, during that transitional decade when the boundaries between rock and jazz had begun to blur, Brecker stood as a transcendent figure. He was their Trane.
Ode to a Tenor Titan follows Michael's story from growing up in Philadelphia, finding his tenor sax voice during his brief stint at Indiana University, making his move to New York City in 1969 and taking the Big Apple by storm through the sheer power of his monstrous chops on the instrument. A commanding voice in jazz for four decades, Brecker possessed peerless technique (a byproduct of his remarkable work ethic and relentless woodshedding) and an uncanny ability to fit into every musical situation he encountered, whether it was as a ubiquitous studio musician (more than nine hundred sessions) for such pop stars as Paul Simon, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Todd Rundgren, Chaka Khan, and Steely Dan; playing with seminal fusion bands like Dreams, Billy Cobham, and the Brecker Brothers; or collaborating with the likes of Frank Zappa, Charles Mingus, Pat Metheny, and Herbie Hancock. But his biggest triumphs came as a bandleader during the last twenty years of his career, when he produced some of the most challenging, inspired, and visionary modern jazz recordings of his time.
A preternaturally gifted player whose facility seemed almost superhuman, he was also modest to a fault and universally beloved by fellow musicians. After coming through a dark decade of heroin addiction, he turned his life around and became a beacon for countless others to lead clean and sober lives. At the peak of his powers, he was struck down by a rare preleukemic blood disease that sidelined him for two and a half years. He got off a sick bed to make a heroic comeback with his swan song, Pilgrimage, which Pat Metheny called "one of the great codas in modern music history" and which earned him a posthumous Grammy Award in 2007. Michael Brecker was a player of tremendous heart and conviction as well a person of rare humility and kindness, and his story is one for the ages.
Bill Milkowski is a longtime contributor to such music magazines as Downbeat, Jazziz, Guitar Player, Absolute Sound, and Germany's Jazzthing. His work has also appeared in Jazz Times, Interview, Musician, Mix, Modern Drummer, Bass Player, Guitar Club (Italy), Guitar (Japan), and the New York Daily News. He is also the author of Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius (Backbeat Books), Swing It! An Annotated History of Jive (Billboard Books), Rockers, Jazzbos & Visionaries (Billboard Books), Legends of Jazz (White Star) and Keith Richards: A Rock 'n'Roll Life (White Star). He also co-authored Here and Now: The Autobiography of Pat Martino (Backbeat Books). After covering jazz and guitar-oriented music in New York City for forty years, he moved to West Hartford, Connecticut, in 2018.
“Veteran jazz journalist Milkowski (Legends of Jazz; Keith Richards: A Rock ’n’ Roll Life) has written an enthusiastic, definitive biography of the self-effacing, pace-setting saxophonist Michael Brecker (1949–2007) . . . Milkowski’s book is an entertaining, balanced, thoroughly researched, and informative study of the even-tempered saxophone great Michael Brecker; will engage fans of popular music and jazz.”—David P. Szatmary, Library Journal
“[I]t is high time that Brecker is recognized as one of the giants of jazz.
A good start to that goal is Bill Milkowski’s excellent new Brecker biography, “Ode to a Tenor Titan” (Backbeat). Milkowski has a unique vantage point: he knew Brecker for many years and was one of the rare jazz critics who recognized the value of Brecker’s playing at the time. One of the book’s most valuable assets is the detailed history of the fusion movement—specifically the music being created outside of Miles Davis’ leadership . . . Bill Milkowski’s book offers a gateway to exploring Michael Brecker’s phenomenal talent and his jaw-dropping innovations.”—Thomas Cunniffe, Jazzhistoryonline.com
“Bill Milkowski, paired with a parade of Michael’s bandmates, friends and colleagues has painted a graphic image of Michael Brecker the human within all his triumphs and insecurities.”—Skip Spratt, Saxshed.com
“There are so very few truly great jazz authors out there, meaning those who really 'get' their subjects and can tell their story warts and all – in all empathy. And Bill Milkowski is one of these.An excellent book. I spent happy hours and more than that in dreaming, thinking and listening time with the book breaking off to listen to Brecker on numerous records and examples. Because listening is what it's all about and Milkowski sends you there right to the heart of it all.”—Stephen Graham, Marlbank Jazz Blog
“I cannot imagine how much work writer Bill Milkowski must have done for his new book Ode to a Tenor Titan (Backbeat Books). He comprehensively and definitively covers every aspect of Brecker’s life and career. Unlike with most jazz journalists, Milkowski is as familiar with Michael Brecker’s career outside of his jazz projects as he is with his jazz sessions, writing with great understanding about his contributions to the recordings of pop stars and about his two years touring with Paul Simon. But more than that, Milkowski captures Brecker’s modest personality, his constant curiosity about other types of music, the full story of his drug addiction of the 1970s which he beat, his dedication to helping others, and his musical genius.”—Scott Yanow, Jazz Around Town, part of LA Jazz Scene
“[Brecker] was a true jazz mensch, and Milkowski writes about him with the level of engagement that an artist of Brecker’s caliber deserves. This book deserves all the attention it’s going to get.”—Jeff Wilson, Absolute Sound
“How can Michael Brecker be the jazz sax hero among other hornplayers, but get so little respect from the critical establishment?
A fascinating new book on Michael Brecker by Bill Milkowski, Ode to a Tenor Titan, goes a long way toward answering that question, but even better, this star tenorist is finally treated at length with the kind of discerning analysis he deserves—and has long received, but only in the practice rooms of his acolytes. Their numbers are many.”—jazz critic, historian, and author Ted Gioia for his blog, The Honest Broker