Reviews by Randy Hunter
The Practice Notebooks of Michael Brecker
Review by Randy Hunter
I occasionally review jazz books and products. When I discovered that Sher Music had released a new publication called The Practice Notebooks of Michael Brecker, I immediately knew it would be a top pick for a review. I hope you enjoy my take on the book!
I found myself in a bit of a dilemma when I set out to review The Practice Notebooks of Michael Brecker. On one hand, I felt a deep sense of personal obligation and reverence toward Brecker to completely assimilate this collection of exercises and ideas. On the other hand, I discovered that every time I got started, I would read through two or three of the excerpts and start practicing. I couldn’t take the horn out of my mouth!
What I came to realize over the course of a couple of weeks is that if I wanted to review this book anytime in the next decade, I would need to accept the material for what it is. These are notes and exercises Brecker assembled for himself over the course of 35 years. They are personal notes of not only a master, but a genius. My approach changed!
I immediately referred to an interview with Brecker (linked in the book) where he discusses his practice approach. I had seen this interview before, but seeing it after examining the book provided insight as to how I might proceed in practicing and interpreting many of the exercises. Chuck Sher, the publisher, also offers insight in the book from a number of Brecker’s compatriots on how Michael practiced.
Of significance is the consistency with which he noted small bits and pieces of ideas that he developed extensively in his practice. As Brecker himself mentions in the referred video, he would take these pieces of language and practice them in all keys, work with inversions of the ideas, and practice them through all ranges of the saxophone. It is only natural that the musical ideas grew in harmonic complexity as the manuscripts progress through the decades.
In addition to generating exercises through his own creativity, Brecker also included pieces of vocabulary and even fingerings that he attributed to other great players. There are a number of ideas that refer to Sonny (Rollins), Trane, McCoy, and the like, scattered throughout the notebooks.
Larry Dunlap (editor), has included lists of tunes and transcriptions that Brecker studied in his earlier years. Of particular value to saxophonists are six pages of saxophone specific fingerings from the notebooks. We all wonder how he achieved many of the alternate sounds and multiphonics we hear in his playing.
The preface by David Demsey, who was a close personal friend of Michael Brecker and is the Coordinator of Jazz Studies and Curator of the Michael Brecker Archive at William Paterson University, places a spotlight on the very humble and personable human that he was. He also offers credit to Susan Brecker, Michael’s wife, for making this material available through the Michael Brecker Archive and ultimately Sher Music as an inspiration for all jazz musicians on the lifelong journey to betterment.
As jazz musicians, we are naturally students of our own personal learning processes. Having this intimate glimpse into the mind and genius of Michael Brecker provides an invaluable resource for us to study and emulate as we work to develop a better understanding of the ways we learn. Michael’s brother, Randy, suggests in the book’s Introduction that you will be surprised at how your own ideas will begin to formulate as you study this book. I am only a couple of weeks in as I begin my study of “The Notebooks,” but I am already delighted with the twists and turns I’m finding in my personal practice.
This book provides a goldmine of practice ideas and insight into the creative journey of one of the greatest jazz musicians ever. My congratulations to Chuck Sher, Larry Dunlap, David Demsey, and Sher Music for making The Practice Notebooks of Michael Brecker available to me and all the other lifelong students of this great music and the saxophone.
Editor and Publisher – Chuck Sher
Musical Editor and Engraving – Larry Dunlap
Cover Graphics and Book Design – Attila Nagy
Cover Photo – Michael Putlan, Hulton Archives
Editorial Assistants – David Demsey, Art Khu, Tim Armacost
©2023 Sher Music Co., P.O. Box 445, Petaluma, CA 94953
ISBN – 978-0-9910773-5-9
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