Michael Leonard Brecker was born on March 29, 1949 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and raised in the suburb of Cheltenham Township. Exposed to jazz at an early age by his father, an amateur jazz pianist, he grew up as part of the generation of jazz musicians who saw rock music not as the enemy but as a viable musical option. He began studying clarinet then moved to alto saxophone in school, and eventually settling on the tenor as his instrument of choice.
Graduating high school he entered Indiana University for a year before moving to New York City in 1969. He carved out a niche for himself as a dynamic and exciting jazz soloist and first made his mark at age 21 as a member of the jazz-rock band Dreams that included his older brother, trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummer Billy Cobham. Though the band was short-lived it attracted Miles Davis to attend some of their gigs.
Brecker went on to work with Horace Silver and Billy Cobham before teaming with his brother to form the Brecker Brothers. Following the jazz-rock trends of the time, but with more attention to structured arrangements, a heavier backbeat, and a stronger rock influence, the band stayed together from 1975 to 1982, with consistent success and musicality.
Michael was in great demand as a soloist and sideman from mainstream jazz to mainstream rock and played on over 700 albums with James Taylor, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Lou Reed, Donald Fagen, Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, Frank Zappa, Parliament Funkadelic and Joni Mitchell as well as Frank Sinatra, Herbie hancock, Chick Corea, Chet Baker, George Benson, Quincy Jones, Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorious, McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones. And that is the short list.
During the early 1980s, he was a member of NBC’s Saturday Night Live Band, co-led the group Steps Ahead, he recorded a solo album ning him back towards more traditional jazz. As a leader throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Michael won multiple Grammy Awards of which one was for Directions In Music: Live At Massey Hall with Herbie Hancock and Roy Hargrove. He consistently sold out his solo and group tours in major cities worldwide.
While performing at the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival in 2004, Brecker experienced a sharp pain in his back. Shortly thereafter in 2005, he was diagnosed with the blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome or MDS. Unable to find a matching stem cell donor, and an experimental partial match that proved unsuccessful, he played his final public appearance with Herbie Hancock at Carnegie Hall in 2006.
On January 13, 2007, tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker passed away from complications of leukemia in New York City. He was awarded two posthumous Grammy awards for his involvement on his brother Randy’s 2005 album Some Skunk Funk, his final recording, Pilgrimage that same year, and again posthumously awarded two additional Grammy Awards for this album in the categories of Best Jazz Instrumental Solo and Best Jazz Instrumental Album, bringing his Grammy total to 15. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee College of Music and inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.
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Flip Phillips was born Joseph Edward Filipelli on March 26, 1915 in Brooklyn, New York. In the mid-1940s, he was one of the anchors of the Woody Herman band, and also played with the Woodchoppers, a small spin-off group that Herman led. After this period he went out on his own and joined Jazz at the Philharmonic. His deep, strong and articulate playing with a very full sound contrasted him to his successors such as Stan Getz in the subsequent Herman bands.
Phillips recorded extensively for Clef Records, now Verve, in the 1940s and 1950s, including a 1949 album of small-group tracks under his leadership, with Buddy Morrow, Tommy Turk, Kai Winding, Sonny Criss, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne. He accompanied Billie Holiday on her 1952 Billie Holiday Sings album. He became a frequent player at the Odessa Jazz Party in Odessa, Texas from 1971 to 1991.
Tenor saxophonist and clarinet player Flip Phillips, best known for his work with Jazz At The Philharmonic from 1946 to 1957, passed away in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on August 17, 2001 at the age of 86.
Harold Ashby was born on March 21, 1925 in Kansas City, Missouri. He began playing alto and clarinet as a teenager but gave up music while he was in the US Navy from 1943 to 1945. On return to his native Kansas City in 1946, he was soon playing again and backed the singer Walter Brown, making his first recording with Brown in 1949. He spent most of the Fifties in Chicago playing in blues bands before moving to New York in 1957 to work in the bands of Milt Larkin and Mercer Ellington.
He then found the fringes of Duke Ellington’s band and accepted as a friend and colleague by Ellington’s sidemen, he recorded with Webster (1958), Hodges (1960), Gonsalves (1961) and Lawrence Brown in 1965. Once he joined the band permanently he became a regular in all the small groups that came from the band to record. He was given more prominent roles as the band played across Europe and the Far East and won many fans across the world.
After Ellington’s death, Ashby worked with Sy Oliver in 1976 and made brief tours with Benny Goodman in 1977 and 1982. He toured there with the Ellington Alumni in 1978 and returned the following year with the Kansas City pianist Jay McShann Making another European tour paired him with the pianist Junior Mance, and he was also one of the stars of the 1985 Nice Festival.
He recorded often under his own name in the late Eighties and early Nineties, but illness curtailed his activities and he confined his work to the New York area. Ashby made an exception for one of his last appearances at the 2001 Duke Ellington Conference in Ottawa when Ashby played one of Ellington’s compositions written to feature him, “Chinoiserie”. Happily he was able to regain his top form, but it was his final appearance before an audience of any size. Tenor saxophonist Harold Ashby passed away in New York City on June 13, 2003.
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Wayne Escoffery was born on February 23, 1975 in London, England. He and his mother emigrated to the U.S. in 1986 and settled in New Haven, Connecticut. At age eleven he joined The New Haven Trinity Boys Choir and began taking saxophone lessons from Malcolm Dickinson. By sixteen, he had left the choir and engaged in a more intensive study of the saxophone in New York City at the Jazzmobile, the Neighborhood Music School and the ACES Educational Center for the Arts, both in New Haven.
During his senior year in high School, he attended the Artists Collective, Inc. in Hartford, Connecticut. While there he met Jackie McLean who founded the jazz program at The Hartt School, that Escoffery would ultimately attend under scholarship. He went on to matriculate through the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at the New England Conservatory in Boston. During this time, he toured with Herbie Hancock and performed and studied with several jazz greats. In 1999, he graduated with a Masters degree and moved to New York to begin his professional career.
Since 2000, Wayne has been working in New York City with Carl Allen, Eric Reed, Mingus Big Band, Ralph Peterson, Ben riley, Ron Carter, Rufus Reid, Bill Charlap, Bruce Barth, Jimmy Cobb, Eddie Henderson, Mary Stallings, Cynthia Scott, Nancie Banks, Laverne Butler and his wife, Carolyn Leonhart.
Tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery has released nine albums to date and in addition, he collaborates with his wife, continues to perform with his own quartet and quintet, the Tom Harrell Quintet, Abdullah Ibrahim’s Akaya and Jazz At Lincoln Center and others.
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Jeff Clayton was born February 16, 1954 in Venice, California and studied oboe at California State University and undertook a tour with Stevie Wonder. Following this he recorded with Gladys Knight, Kenny Rogers, Michael Jackson, Patti Labelle, Madonna B. B. King, Joe Cocker and Ray Charles.
No stranger to jazz, joining his brother, bassist John Clayton, they founded the Clayton Brothers in 1977 and later formed the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra with drummer Jeff Hamilton. Clayton has performed and recorded with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Ella Fitzgerald, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton, Ethan Smith, Lena Horne, Kurt Elling, Diana Krall, and the Count Basie Orchestra under the leadership of Thad Jones. From 1989 to 1991 he was a member of the Phillip Morris Superband, and has toured with Gene Harris and Dianne Reeves.
In 2009 Brother To Brother by The Clayton Brothers received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group. Alto saxophonist and flautist Jeff Clayton continues to perform, record and tour.