Film project amplifies loss and hope in death of jazz great, husband Brecker


“To see Michael on the screen and hear his voice over and over again was an extremely painful task …”

The documentary More to Live For screens at the Gig Harbor Film Festival this Saturday. People from the Pacific Northwest will finally get an opportunity to view the story of three men affected by Leukemia seeking out a bone marrow transplant, including the late tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker.

In anticipation of the screening, I spoke with Susan Brecker, Michael Brecker’s widow and the producer of the film by phone. In this interview, Susan told me what the film was all about, how she decided to spread the word about the bone marrow registry through film and the response received from viewers so far.

About the film

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More to Live For is a film about three men, all of whom have developed Leukemia. The film chronicles their lives, with the cure for each of them being a bone marrow transplant. It shares the story of each of them searching for a transplant, which would ultimately save their lives.

Using a film to spread the word

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Following the death of her husband, Susan Brecker wanted to get the word out about how easy it was to donate stem cells to save a persons life.

Initially she thought that a benefit concert would be the way to go, but wanted to make it something continuous that could be easily spread around the country. After meeting James Chippendale (one of the other men in the film and someone who survived after receiving a successful bone marrow transplant), the two decided that the best way to get the word out was by making a film and bringing it around the country.

“It has been our mission every time the film has been screened to test people afterwords. We’ve found that the film and the story is so compelling that nearly 100 percent of the eligible audience members get tested.” – Susan Brecker

Choosing Noah Hutton as the director of the film

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During Michael Brecker’s illness, Noah Hutton, also a musician and neighbor to the Brecker’s, became Michael’s arms and legs in the studio when Michael was too sick to move around. Hutton would help with technical aspects, and when Michael passed away it was a huge loss for him. Susan had seen Hutton’s first film, Crude Independence, and was blown away by his ability to respect each person in the film.

A painful process creating the film

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Making this documentary was not without heartache for Susan Brecker. Being married to a Grammy Award winning recording artist naturally resulted in having thousands of hours of archival video footage to sort through. To see Michael on the screen and hear his voice over and over again was an extremely painful task for Susan as she grieved for him. Even after watching the finished product hundreds of times, Susan still finds it just as painful.

“To balance this feeling however, I have this wondrous gift to test people and perhaps save lives with the film, so it becomes a little bit easier.” – Susan Brecker

Response from Michael’s fans

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While Michael was sick and since the film has started screening, Susan has received an overwhelming amount of support and love from people who want to help in any capacity. During his illness along, tens of thousands of people, many of whom were fans, were tested in an attempt to try to save his life. She continues to receive constant support from fans worldwide.

Screenings continue around the world

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In addition to the Gig Harbor Film Festival, More to Live For will be screened in the near future at the First Glance Film Festival in Philadelphia, the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, in Denver, and internationally at the London Jazz Festival.


1,000 Jazz Albums You Should Hear Before You Die (781-790)

Here is another 10 to add to the list.

Remember that there is no ranking system here, and if you don’t see your favorite jazz album yet, it doesn’t mean it won’t show up.

Hopefully these lists will inspire you to seek some of these albums out that perhaps you haven’t heard before, or revisit an old favorite. And as always, we want your thoughts on any or all of these albums. Either way, let’s get started with this week, and in no particular order, albums 781 through 790.

781. The Survivor’s Suite – Keith Jarrett (ECM, 1976) CLICK HERE TO BUY

782. A New Perspective – Donald Byrd (EMI Music Distribution, 1963) CLICK HERE TO BUY

783. Liberation Music Orchestra – Charlie Haden (Impulse!, 1969) CLICK HERE TO BUY

784. Change of the Century – Ornette Coleman (Atlantic, 1959) CLICK HERE TO BUY

785. Two Blocks From the Edge – Michael Brecker (Impulse!, 1997) CLICK HERE TO BUY

786. Sonny Rollins Plus 4 – Sonny Rollins (Original Jazz Classics, 1964) CLICK HERE TO BUY

787. The Second John Handy Album – John Handy (Koch Jazz, 1967) CLICK HERE TO BUY

788. The Kicker – Joe Henderson (Milestone/OJC, 1967) CLICK HERE TO BUY

789. Morning Fun – Zoot Sims/Bob Brookmeyer (Black Lyon, 1956) CLICK HERE TO BUY

790. Blossom Dearie – Blossom Dearie (Verve, 1956-1959) CLICK HERE TO BUY

1,000 Jazz Albums You Should Hear Before You Die (771-780)

1,000 Jazz Albums You Should Hear Before You Die (761-770)

1,000 Jazz Albums You Should Hear Before You Die (751-760)

1,000 Jazz Albums You Should Hear Before You Die – The First 750

Four Years Since Brecker

Four years ago today we lost a truly remarkable musician and a very special man. 15-time Grammy winner Michael Brecker passed away January 13, 2007 after a difficult myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a cancer of the blood marrow. Brecker was one of the most talented tenor saxophonists of the last 30 years, and the most influential since Wayne Shorter.

Here are a few videos of  Michael:


More to Live For – A Documentary

Admittedly, I have made it clear on a handful of posts on this blog that the late tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker is one of my jazz heroes, and personal heroes.

Whether you are a Brecker fan or not, there is a very interesting new documentary coming out in June of this year called More to Live For that I came across that features Brecker, as well as two other lives shaken by cancer.

As the documentary website describes:

““More to Live For” (Director Noah Hutton) is the story of three lives, all shaken by cancer and dependent upon the one vital bone marrow match that could save them. These individuals are similar only in their fate and prolific accomplishments: Michael Brecker-15-time Grammy winner, one of the greatest tenor saxophonists of all time; James Chippendale entertainment executive and founder of Love Hope Strength Foundation, the largest music centric cancer charity in the world and Seun Adebiyi, a young Nigerian training to become the first ever Nigerian Winter Olympic athlete in any sport.

Their unrelated paths become connected in a desperate fight for survival and a singular mission: to bring awareness about bone marrow donation to the millions of people who could save a life today. A film of tragedy and loss, strength and hope. “More to Live For” presents the stories of three individuals facing life and death, and their commitment to making a difference. These deeply personal accounts of confronting illness will inspire hope and action, leaving the viewer empowered to become part of the cure.”

Funds raised by the film will go to organizing bone marrow drives around the world (over 100 are already set for 2010), will set up the first ever bone marrow registry in Nigeria, and will Spread the awareness that becoming a donor is as easy as a cotton swab in the cheek and to donate is like giving platelets or plasma.

To find out more information about the film, check out, and you can receive updates about the film via Twitter at

A Fly on the Studio Wall

One of the great things about being in my job is having the opportunity to interview world-class musicians, or introduce them on stage at concerts. Of course the chance to hear them play live right in front of me, or learn interesting things about them during an interview is amazing, but for me the most entertaining part is the discussions that happen before the tape is rolling or before the show begins.

This is the time where, even if it is only a sentence or two, I feel you can really get the coolest story of the event.

I have yet to run into sax man Joshua Redman in a bad mood backstage. He remembers names, asks about other people at the radio station by name and tells me to say hello to them for him.

While walking on stage to introduce Wynton Marsalis, one of his band members told me to wait a second because he wanted to know where the best place to eat after the show was.

The late Michael Brecker made it clear to me multiple times in one interview, after complimenting his recordings, that if I really wanted to enjoy his music, “you need to hear that **** live.”

And the great Clark Terry, after a wonderful interview and performance, was kind enough to join some of the staff and listeners for a sandwich. God bless him, as he fell asleep while I was in the middle of a sentence. In his defense, most people start falling asleep when I talk too much.

Thinking about this made me start wondering about all of the great conversations and interactions that took place “off-mic” in recording sessions that we never got to hear.

For example, to be a fly on the wall, Christmas Eve, 1954. Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk are in a recording session that reportedly almost came to blows because Miles didn’t want Monk playing during his solos. Give their recording of The Man I Love a listen, and you can almost hear the animosity. I would have loved to hear that conversation take place.

Or perhaps some studio sessions with slightly less violent interactions. How about Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington (or any recording session with either of those two guys)? I can only imagine the conversations that took place when the tape wasn’t rolling.

Certainly there are many sessions that would have been great to be a fly on the wall for, and no doubt that with all of the ones that are racing through my mind right now, I am probably forgetting some that would have been the best.

I invite you to share who you would have liked to overhear in the studio when the microphones were off.