Artistic Director Don Lucoff conducted this interview with Gil Goldstein recognizing the music of Michael Brecker.
Q: Take us back to the time when you transitioned from Berklee to NYC and soon after found yourself working with Gil Evans in his Monday Night Orchestra at Sweet Basil and then meeting Randy and Michael Brecker during the Seventh Avenue South era?
My life changed quickly in l981 while working with Billy Cobham in a quartet format. We did a series of concerts in Lugano Switzerland that also included Gil Evans as well as Mike and Randy Brecker. It was there that my connection to Gil’s work and my first experience with Mike and Randy started. I also met my wife on that trip and moved to Switzerland about a month after. We moved back to the States in ’82 and I began working in Gil’s Monday Night Orchestra and began developing working relationships with both Breckers. My first was producing and arranging Randy’s record for Concord, “Into the Sun” which won a Grammy that year for best jazz album. Mike’s connection came a little after that as we toured with Don Alias in England, and it was the first live concert tour with both Mike and Randy.
Q: Can you recall the time when the Quindectet was conceived which later resulted in Wide Angles?
It was actually on the Alias tour at our first rehearsal that Mike asked me to arrange “African Skies” for a concert with orchestra he was doing in Bologna Italy later that year. It worked out very well and soon after he was asked by the same group that organized Don’s tour to do one of his own with a large ensemble. That was where the seed for the Quindectet was planted. I arranged songs from Mike’s catalogue for that concert including “Itsbynne Reel” “Syzygy” and about 10 more. The shape of the ensemble with, at that time, 3 strings: violin, viola, cello, three woodwinds, flute, bass clarinet, english horn and two brass, trumpet and trombone came into being and seemed very agile and yet had a very big sound. Shortly thereafter, Michael wanted to compose and record new music for this size ensemble and the Wide Angles project started to form. We had a great deal of genuine collaboration on all the creative decisions. Mike gave me remarkable freedom and respect to orchestrate and bring his midi demos and sketches to life and also to develop solo sections for him. When he questioned something I did, I immediately understood the reason why, and was able to find another solution and there was very little ego involved, only a desire to find the correct solutions that best suited this music and Mike as a composer and soloist.
Q: Is there a moment of personal reflection you can share on your working relationship?
How one meets and develops the opportunity to work with someone in the real world is very interesting. I met Mike many times and probed for connections and ways to find a common thread that would connect us, and I had to wait for the concert with Don Alias to make those things occur. He began to think of me as the arranger for his music, and he appreciated the way that I comped for his solos, which is basically another form of real time arranging. I remember in the first concert we did in London he was standing right in front of my keyboard and he turned around during his solo and said “Wow, you’re comping your ass off!” and that was another a big start in our musical connection that he recognized something in the way I could accompany his incredible solo voice and inferred that I could also then arrange in a way that was the best “foil” for his unfolding stories.
Q: Articulate Michael’s personal voice as a tenor player.
The ability of Mike to play any melody, but particularly his own, and his ability to create solo lines is so remarkable, has and will continue to touch, amaze and inspire. Every note he plays has the perfect dynamic, rhythmic placement, intonation, and the notes themselves are pure gold. There is an overall simplicity in even his most complex solo statements; a line which connects the solo from the first note to the last and takes the listener along the entire journey with him. To have been surrounded by that for so many years, two records, Wide Angles and Pilgrimage, several years of live concerts is a never-ending source of joy and pride for me. And aside from his remarkable musicianship was his equally remarkable humor, ease, humility, and kindness as a person and friend.
Q: There seems to be a certain mystique around this music that was so different from anything Michael ever composed and recorded.
I think no one knows how much traction any given project, composition, arrangement or solo will have at the moment of inception. I know, not to compare it with Miles and Gil, that the music for the Birth of the Cool session was left on the music stands after the recording session, and had it not been for Gunther Schuller going back in to get something and picking up the handwritten parts from the stands, it would have been left there and maybe never recreated. When we recorded Wide Angles there was a certain excitement but one never knows the impact it will have and it is rewarding to see and hear how many people were touched by that music and how it goes on to find new performance possibilities with other groups and saxophonists.