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Sax Great Michael Brecker Dies

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The Cheltenham native and Grammy winner, 57, had been fighting disease.

Michael Brecker, 57, the Grammy-winning saxophonist from Cheltenham who was one of the most highly regarded jazz players of his time and an in-demand session man who contributed to recordings by Bruce Springsteen and Parliament-Funkadelic, died yesterday in New York.

In May 2005, Mr. Brecker learned he had myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood and bone-marrow disease formerly known as pre-leukemia. A worldwide search for a near-exact match needed for a bone-marrow transplant failed, and last May he received an experimental half-matching transplant from his daughter, Jessica.

Mr. Brecker's wide-ranging musical appetite and talents as a world-class improviser kept him at the pinnacle of his profession for nearly four decades, and made him arguably the most influential sax player of the post-John Coltrane era.

The son of a lawyer and an amateur jazz pianist (and brother of trumpeter Randy Brecker, with whom he formed the jazz-funk ensemble the Brecker Brothers), Mr. Brecker considered studying medicine while at Indiana University in the late 1960s. His music was marked by an unsurpassed technical proficiency, and a flair for making the most challenging musical passages sound effortless.

“He's so inventive and creative, and he's so smart and quick," frequent Brecker collaborator Herbie Hancock said last year. “He never runs out of ideas." And producer Phil Ramone told Jazztimes that Mr. Brecker was “a monstrous improviser. But at heart, he's a song man... He respects that there is a melody, and yet he goes all over the place with it."

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