Born in 1949 and raised in Philadelphia, Brecker studied clarinet and alto saxophone before settling on tenor sax as his main instrument. Following a year of study at Indiana University, he moved to New York City in 1970 and began what became an extremely busy career. Known for bringing the influence of rock guitar to his playing, Brecker performed with an astonishing range of musicians, from jazz greats Chick Corea and Pat Metheny to Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell to James Taylor to James Brown to Lou Reed to Frank Zappa to comedian Eddie Murphy.
Beginning in 1969 with the album Score — made with a band headed by his brother, trumpeter Randy Brecker — Michael Brecker appeared on more than 900 recordings. New York Times critic Ben Ratliff cites as among the saxophonist's highest achievements the discs he made with his own combo, with the Brecker Brothers band, and with the early 1980s group Steps Ahead. In 2003 he created a 15-piece big band he called the Michael Brecker Quindectet; their CD Wide Angles won two Grammy Awards the following year.
In 2004 Michael Brecker was diagnosed with MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome), a bone-marrow disorder. He and his family searched hard for a compatible donor of marrow or blood stem cells; while thousands of prospects responded, according to the Times, the pursuit was ultimately unsuccessful and the disease progressed to fatal leukemia.
Brecker's final album, his manager told the newspaper, was completed two weeks ago.