A Labor of Love
I remember being in sixth grade and asking my sax teacher the inevitable question: “Who’s the best saxophone player in the world?” Of course, there can never be a definitive answer to a question like that, but my teacher didn’t miss a beat when he replied, “Michael Brecker.” And he wasn’t alone in that opinion – not by a long shot.
Today, January 13, 2011 marks exactly four years since the beloved saxophone legend passed away from complications of leukemia. Considered by many to be the most influential voice on the tenor saxophone since John Coltrane, his untimely passing dealt a major blow to all of jazz music.
Thankfully, much of Brecker’s legacy has been documented in Louis Gerrits’ online labor of love, MichaelBreckerLiveRecordings.com. Interestingly enough, the site actually contains no audio recordings, but instead is jam-packed with an unprecedented assortment of information such as an exhaustive discography of both live and studio albums, a listing of DVDs, rare photos, and even a list of what seems to be nearly all of Brecker’s live performances from 1973 onwards.
But most notable of all is the incredible collection of over 100 Michael Brecker solo transcriptions transcribed by folks like Rick Margitza, Charles McNeal, and many others. In a nutshell, the website serves as your one-stop shopping destination for soaking up as much of Brecker’s genius as possible.
What’s clear is that someone put an outrageous amount of work into this amazing storehouse of Michael Brecker information. Someone had to love the man and his music enough to spend countless hours digging up everything under the sun with the name “Michael Brecker” on it. Someone had to be smart and resourceful enough to gather information that 99.9% of the world’s music aficionados wouldn’t even have a clue how to collect.
That someone is Louis Gerrits.
Doron Orenstein: Can you talk a little bit about who you are and what you do outside of MichaelBreckerLiveRecordings.com?
Louis Gerrits: I’m 43 years old and a saxophonist as well as doubler on flute, clarinet, and EWI. I was born in a small village in The Netherlands. Ever since I can remember, my mother has sung in a choir. On top of that, my father played trumpet and clarinet, so I guess music was a natural thing in our home.
One of my older brothers started to play euphonium, and after a few years my father asked me if I also wanted to play an instrument. I chose the saxophone. The orchestra only had room for a soprano and I was was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get one of those great curved instruments, I didn’t think a soprano was cool, but in the end it turned out great as the soprano was hard to play in terms of tuning, so I ended up learning a lot of basics by playing that instrument.
I went to the conservatory at 17 and had a classical education. However, my interest in jazz was always there. I played in big bands, and while attending the conservatory I started to play gigs – and that’s how I started to make a living and still do.
DO: It’s one thing to be a fan of Michael Brecker, but how did it that you decided to create an entire website devoted to the man?
LG: My brother bought a Steps record which I liked very very much, and my teacher had a tape of Jack Wilkins’ “You Can’t Live Without It”, with Invitation, Freight Train etc. That was too hard to understand, let alone play for me, but I liked the energy and sound of his playing very much.
From that moment on I started to buy albums where he played on, not knowing that he did a lot of playing on many different kinds of sessions. This started in 1982, I think. I taped everything I could from radio and TV, so the collection started to grow slowly from that point.
Of course the website was created years after that. In 1998 I found some guys from Japan on the internet who had audio and video material that I didn’t have, so I contacted them. We exchanged live material on CD and VHS and that started the idea of creating my own website, which is basically a database of what I’d already collected. So this was in 2001.
After that things happened fast. People started to find my site which, was easy to find. Google was so kind as to put me right under the official Mike Brecker page when doing a search. I received live material on VHS (later DVD) and CD from all over the world. I would send several recordings in return. Some guys really helped me a lot in finding great stuff.
The site developed into an overview of Mike’s work and people seem to like it although there are no actual audio downloads – which will not be the case in the future, I guess. It’s too much material, and there’s the problem of copyright.
During the collecting of audio and video, I also was trying to find interviews, articles etc. I first started looking for interviews from Holland, but when Internet became popular, I also traded material for magazines. Later I bought a lot of stuff on eBay. Material from Japan is still being bought by my Japanese friends and sent to me.
That’s where a lot of pictures come from, along with collecting them from the internet through the years. Also people send me pictures which they took during and after concerts. I also took photos during concerts myself which are on the site, by the way.
The transcriptions came later. I did some myself and put them on the site. People started me to send transcriptions and still do.
DO: Were you able to learn anything about how Michael Brecker achieved the level of mastery that he did?
LG: I think the way he achieved the level he had wasn’t so different from the other great players. He had a great talent to begin with, but he worked very, very hard. He was obsessed at times, so that’s how he became that good, I guess. His special talent, in my opinon, was his flexibilty. He always found a way to fit in perfectly in every setting. That can not be said about every great jazz player.
The way he practiced is, I guess, not that different from others although he had his own routines. He wrote ideas down in his scrapbooks which he kept. (lots of scrapbooks, according to him) and practiced in every key, but that’s also very common in studying jazz. There’s a clinic recorded on video which I have where he explains a bit about certain routines. It’s on YouTube split up in a few parts:
DO: Did Michael Brecker know about the site? If so, did he communicate with you about it?
LG: One night in 2005 I returned home from a gig and checked my email. There was an email from Mike Brecker. I had never tried to contact him before that, but it turned out he had already been checking out my site out for a long time. I must admit that it was kind of an emotional moment. He complimented me on the site and invited me to come over when he when he was cured. He had lots of tapes, DAT’s, videos, etc at home which he wanted me to have. As we all know, that never happened as he became very ill and died in January of 2007. We did email several times during the time he was ill. He was always so grateful for the stuff I published on the site. I was honored that he took the time to mail me although he was ill.
The last email I received was on December 30 2006, two weeks before he left us. I treasure those emails. A week after Mike died I got an email from the people who organised the memorial planned on February 20. During the memorial there was also a 10 minute video planned with clips, interviews etc. I was asked to deliver material. It was an honour to be able to contribute something to that memorial. I went there with my girlfriend and will never forget that day. Town Hall (NYC) was filled with the creme de la creme of Jazz.
DO: Why do you think that Michael Brecker has had such a massive impact on the saxophone as well as music as a whole?
LG: Mike Brecker really took the tenor saxophone in Jazz and pop music to another level. As I explained before he was able to put a very personal mark in every solo in regardless of the style. He could play with a lot of soul and had incredible technique. Of course he was open to everything as his use of the EWI proves. In my opinion he was a real innovator and pioneer on that instrument too. And of course he had a sound which you recognize in a split second. One note…
DO: What are some of your favorite Michael Brecker recordings?
- Cityscape with Claus Ogerman
- Mixed Roots – Al Foster
- The album Michael Brecker, Although the rest of his solo albums are also great, this one is special because it was his first.
- Pilgrimage – his last album, recorded 6 months before he died.
- Three Quartets – Chick Corea
- Many more…
DO: What have you gotten out of the process of creating this website? Would you recommend that fans of other musicians do the same thing?
LG: I have gotten to “meet” so many people all over the world. That is one of the geat side effects of this website beside the fact that I can listen to all this great music. As far as recommending that others do something like this, maybe, I don’t know. You have to make time to do it, but I like it and will continue to do it.