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Randy Brecker: Plugged In to Electric, Acoustic Jazz

February 12, 1988|ZAN STEWART

As a youth, trumpeter Randy Brecker was initially exposed to hard-core jazz, but he was also interested in rock and R&B. Thus, in his 22-year career, he's played electric jazz/rock with the original Blood, Sweat and Tears and the Brecker Brothers Band, and acoustic jazz with Horace Silver in the 1970s, plus the recent CD Players that featured his wife, Eliane Elias, and his own quintet.

He says he's finally accepted the fact that he's part of two musical worlds.

"When I'm in an acoustic situation, I think, 'Well, this is really where it's at,' and then I play electric and I feel that's where it's at. So I finally realized that I really like doing both, and that I'm never going to do simply one or the other," he said from his home in New York City. "It's just a question of setting a particular goal, realizing it, and moving on."

Each musical arena has its benefits. "In acoustic music, there's more freedom, more finesse, you have more control over the sound when there's no amplifiers--and the intimacy is really special," he said. "Whereas electric gives you more excitement and a wealth of sound that you can deal with that obviously isn't available in an acoustic setting."

What Brecker has found is that the two styles don't mix in a single evening. "Switching back and forth is too hard on my ears," he said. "They're totally different kinds of blowing, but I haven't quite figured out how different."

The 42-year-old Brecker, who's in town tonight as part of the Jazz Explosion Superband at the Universal Amphitheatre, feels he's playing as well as he ever has and is working at playing better, and with more individualism, by taping himself and analyzing his solos.

"That way I can pick out things that I like that I do," he said, "and can get a lot of my own personality into my playing. By hanging on to what I think is original and letting go of what I think is borrowed, I can better establish myself as having an identifiable style."

Brecker, who said he makes his living "basically as a jazz musician these days," has talented players right in the family. Elias, a Brazilian, is a first-rate pianist, and his brother Michael is regarded as one of the finest tenor saxophonists in jazz. This kinship provides all concerned with "a healthy competitive environment," the trumpeter said. "and it spurs me, keeps me on my toes. We haven't allowed ourselves to sit back and rest on past accomplishments."

Elias and Brecker, whose Passport Jazz LP, "Amanda," is named after their 4-year-old daughter, only occasionally make music professionally.

Brecker, whose latest solo LP is "In the Idiom" (Passport Jazz), likes the concept of the Jazz Explosion Superband because 'it's got a lot elements that fit together, that you might not think would fit together," he said. The mostly contemporary group features drummer Steve Smith, percussionist Airto, keyboardist Bernard Wright, guitarist Allan Holdsworth and bassist Stanley Clarke.

The trumpeter is playing for an audience he'd usually never reach. "Allan and Stanley seem to be the main draws, and so not only have these audiences not been exposed to me, they haven't been exposed to jazz at all," he said. "So we try to throw some be-bop, at least one tune, into the proceedings. Stanley talks to kids beforehand, saying 'We'd like to play a standard, it's something you probably haven't heard, so check it out.' And invariably, they get into it."

Brecker, who said his father's interest in music as an amateur jazzman got him started as a player, had a very fortunate childhood. "At 8 or 9, I was listening to Coltrane and Miles in clubs," he said. "Then in high school, I played regularly with an amazing underground saxophonist named C Sharpe. That's where I first got some response from an audience and realized that maybe I had something that I could communicate to people."

Music means everything to Brecker, he said. "Except for family life, that's all we do around here," he said. "It's encompassing to the point that I have never developed any outside interests. I mean, I read, but other than that, nothing. It's my life. I just wake up every day and there it is. That's why it's great to be married to a musician."

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