He's won seven Grammys, appeared on over 500 recordings--from his own albums to cameos on projects with Frank Sinatra and hundreds of others--and he's influenced scores of tenor saxophonists. And while he is decidedly one of jazz's unique voices, a man capable of stone-cold thrilling improvisations balanced by deep emotional moments, Michael Brecker remains remarkably modest about his place in jazz.
"It makes me feel good that people are moved by my playing, but I've never considered myself an innovator or a major jazz figure," said Philadelphia native Brecker, 49, speaking from his home in Westchester County, N.Y.
"When I listen to (John) Coltrane or Stan Getz, these guys are unbelievable. I don't see myself as anywhere near that level. So I'm flattered that I can at least go out and make a living doing it."
Brecker appears Sunday at the Alex Theatre, on a program that also features the Bobby Hutcherson/Cedar Walton Quartet. Throughout his career, the saxophonist has worked hard, both putting in long practice sessions and playing with other musicians as often as possible. Finally, he feels, his musical personality is emerging.
"I'm coming into my own," said Brecker, whose latest album, "Tales From the Hudson," includes some of his most memorable playing. "I have more of an idea of the direction I want to go in. It seems to get more clear the older I get."
At the Alex, Brecker will present state of the art contemporary acoustic jazz, leading his outstanding quintet composed of Joey Calderazzo (piano), James Genus (bass), Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums) and Don Alias (congas and percussion).
The leader has been making music with these fellows for substantial lengths of time--with Alias for 25 years, with Calderazzo a decade. That camaraderie allows for performances that are artistic, exhilarating and personal.
"This is really a band. I enjoy it immensely," said Brecker, who will play his originals and those by group members at the Alex.
"It's kind of a dream band, with the musicianship mixed with the simpatico. We can read each other really well, and there's a strong chemistry that happens. The music's on a high level, and we take a lot of chances, stretching the limits. That's what makes it interesting for the person in the audience. They can obviously see we're really improvising. Joey is great at coming up with spontaneous things, and the rest of rhythm section is right with him. The same with Jeff Watts: He's continually feeding new ideas into the pot and we jump on them."
After Brecker's associations with his brother Randy in the Brecker Brothers, with Steps Ahead, with Herbie Hancock (on the pianist's recent "The New Standards" album), Horace Silver (both in the early '70s and on Silver's latest recordings) and countless others, Brecker is happy to be putting most of his energy into his own, expanding art.
"I just like to play," he said. "I like trying to improve. I'm really in it for the enjoyment of music and for the growth."
* Michael Brecker's quintet, along with the Bobby Hutcherson/Cedar Walton Quartet, plays Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. $25-$35, from Tele-Charge (800-233-3123) or at the Alex box office (818-243-2539).
Grand Openers: I'm a longtime fan of both vibist Bobby Hutcherson and pianist Cedar Walton, who are two of mainstream jazz's most inventive, and enthralling, improvisers. Walton has a glorious piano touch, and possesses an approach that is at once invigorating and accessible. Hutcherson, a superbly expressive musician, is an ideal foil for the pianist.
* Facile, modern mainstream-minded valve trombonist Mike Fahn, a former Valleyite but now a resident of Manhattan, drops in on his former climes tonight to play from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Chadney's (3000 W. Olive St., Burbank; no cover, one drink minimum per show;  843-5333) . . .*
* The Estrada Brothers (Ruben and Henry) lead a very solid Latin/jazz band that plays in the style of the late Cal Tjader. Hear the Oxnard-based outfit on Friday, 9:30 and 11:30 p.m., at La Ve Lee (12514 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; cover charge, $5, two drink minimum;  980-8158) . . .
* Trumpeter Jonathan Dane, who has a sweet-toned warmth that recalls the sublime Chet Baker, appears tonight, 7:30 to 11 p.m., at Papashon (15910 Ventura Blvd., Encino; no cover, no minimum;  783-6664).