Since its publication in 1988, The New Real Book has sold over 100,000 copies, making it the best-selling legal fake book of all time. The man behind that venture, publisher and founder of Sher Music Co. Chuck Sher, has since gone on to release a library’s worth of jazz education literature, from transcriptions to method books and several further real book volumes. His latest release is The Practice Notebooks of Michael Brecker.
Brecker, a notoriously methodical practitioner and perhaps the most revered saxophonist in the post-Coltrane era, documented his years of behind-the-scenes work in a series of notebooks. These notebooks have been housed at William Paterson University since Brecker’s passing in 2007 and are now available to the general public in Sher’s new book for the first time.
The Idea to Publish Michael Brecker’s Practice Notebooks
In an interview with LondonJazz News, Chuck Sher shares that he came across Michael Brecker’s practice notebooks while reading a random jazz article. After obtaining permission from Susan Brecker, Michael Brecker’s widow, Chuck Sher decided to publish the notebooks, even though they contained 800 pages of material.
The Importance of Publishing Michael Brecker’s Practice Notes
According to Sher, there are several reasons for publishing Brecker’s practice notes. First, Brecker is considered one of the most technically accomplished saxophonists in jazz history, alongside John Coltrane. This makes the question of what he practiced to reach that level of mastery particularly important. Additionally, Brecker’s emotional impact on many musicians has sparked interest in understanding his practice methods and the creation of his distinctive phrases.
Editing the Original Notes
The original notebooks contained about 800 pages of material. Sher and his team combed through the material and extracted everything of musical value, discarding transcriptions of other musicians’ solos or songs, and irrelevant items such as phone numbers. The entries in the notebooks are presented exactly as Michael wrote them, with only some introductory pages added. David Dempsey, the curator of the Michael Brecker Archives at William Paterson University, played a significant role in preserving the material and helping to create the final product.
Insights and First-Hand Accounts
The book takes a look behind the finished products of Brecker’s solos to see the building blocks of his musical mind and the source material from which his solos were created. To better understand how Brecker practiced this material, Sher sought first-hand accounts from Brecker’s bandmates and practicing partners.
Publishing in Concert Pitch
The book is only published in concert pitch because Brecker often wrote “Practice in all keys” in his notes. This advice was part of the practice routine he learned from Gary Campbell, who will contribute an appendix to the next printing of the book.
The Potential Impact of the Book
Sher believes that The Practice Notebooks of Michael Brecker could be one of the most important jazz books published in decades. He envisions the building blocks of Brecker’s musicianship being used in many ways, not only to incorporate some of Brecker’s playing into one’s own vocabulary but also to inspire new approaches and styles.