The 2015 release “RandyPOP!” is a live recording that is both a summation of a half-century-and-counting professional career and a birthday present to the artist who was an integral component to the selections within. Arrangements of songs by James Brown, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Donald Fagen, Todd Rundgren, and others, delivered by a first-rate ensemble, exemplify the jazz-rock fusion that developed in the fertile musical ground of the late 1960s and ’70s.
The common denominator is Randy Brecker, a sixtime Grammy Award-winning trumpeter who turns 70 on Nov. 27 and will celebrate the milestone with a gig at the B.B. King Blues Club and Grill in Manhattan. An original member of Blood, Sweat and Tears and a studio musician who has played on a seemingly impossible number and stylistic range of recordings, Mr. Brecker, who lives in East Hampton with his wife, Ada Rovatti, a saxophonist, and their 7-year-old daughter, maintains an active career, recording, performing, and educating music students around the world.
“We love it out here,” Mr. Brecker, seated in his downstairs music studio, said of East Hampton. He bought the house around 1990 and became a full-time resident about five years ago. “I wasn’t working in New York that much, like I used to, and it made sense. I wish I had discovered it earlier in life.”
Not that there would have been much time to enjoy it. The Philadelphia native was born into a musicalfamily and grew up inspired by jazz musicians including the trumpeter Clifford Brown and the drummer Max Roach. “My father was a semiprofessional and very good pianist, songwriter, and singer,” Mr. Brecker said. “He loved trumpet players, loved Miles Davis. But the main influence back then in Philly was the great Clifford Brown.”
His family, which included Mr. Brecker’s late brother, Michael Brecker, a saxophonist, lived one block outside the city limits. “The Philadelphia music schools had a pretty darn good music program, but the program where we were was not so great: They only had trumpets or clarinets available,” he said. “I took the trumpet.”
Michael Brecker, who was three years younger, chose the clarinet, moving to the alto saxophone after hearing Cannonball Adderly, “and then he fell in love with John Coltrane,” Mr. Brecker said. “We had adjoining bedrooms separated by a bathroom. We liked the echo in the bathroom, and would just play whatever we could think of,” likening their improvised jams to a proto-Ornette Coleman style. “We just grew up together playing.”
“I was always a jazz guy,” Mr. Brecker remembered. “Even at 8 years old, I kind of looked askance at Elvis and that whole phenomenon, like it was inferior music — later, I came to appreciate it. It was all because my dad was pretty opinionated about music. He loved jazz, and particularly trumpet players and bebop.” Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Shorty Rogers, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, and Kenny Dorham were also primary influences, he said.
Like other art forms, music was changing in the 1960s as accepted norms were subject to experimentation and new outlooks — the rock ’n’ roll guitarist Jimi Hendrix influenced even jazz giants like Davis, for example. Mr. Brecker moved to New York, and in 1967 performed on the debut album of the innovative jazz-rock band Blood, Sweat and Tears before leaving to join the Horace Silver Quintet. His first solo album, which featured his 19-year-old brother on tenor saxophone, came in 1968.
With his brother, Mr. Brecker formed the influential fusion group Dreams, which would later include, at his invitation, a 17-year-old bassist named Will Lee, known for his long stint on David Letterman’s latenight television show. He was also a founding member of the Eleventh House, a pioneering fusion group led by the guitarist Larry Coryell.
In 1975, the Brecker Brothers Band was formed, releasing six albums in as many years. (A rare live recording, made in 1976 at New York’s Bottom Line cabaret, is available on compact disc at bottomlinearchive.com and via download at Apple’s iTunes store.)
At the same time, Mr. Brecker was amassing a discography that few have equaled. “I look at it and I can’t believe we were doing all that,” he said of sessions for artists as diverse as James Taylor and James Brown, Bruce Springsteen and Judy Collins. “But that was a sign of the times. In the late ’60s when I came to New York, I was very lucky to catch the tail end of what you might call the traditional New York studiosystem, where guys like Clark Terry, Snooky Young, Ernie Royal, Phil Woods, Mel Lewis, Richard Davis, and Thad Jones were all active, and they were nice enough to invite me in and use me on some sessions. We worked our way into the studio scene. You had to wear a suit and tie to the session; it was very proper. It was an exciting time.”
“And then,” he continued, “I was, maybe, partially responsible for it kind of morphing over, because I also had a foot in so-called jazz-rock and had grown up with a lot of that stuff from Philly.” With his brother and the saxophonist David Sanborn, whom he had met at a music clinic at age 15, “we were a product of that generation, when it was hip to show up to sessions in jeans and everybody had long hair. Some of the older guys wanted to be part of it, too, and let their hair grow. Slowly but surely, the studio scene also moved toward rock ’n’ roll and pop music as the two idioms kind of melted together. It was interesting, seeing that transition.”
On the South Fork, those attending the weekly jam sessions at Bay Burger in Sag Harbor may be fortunate to find Mr. Brecker performing there. In September, he performed during the Sag Harbor American Music Festival, as he does every year. The Nov. 27 gig at B.B. King’s — a tribute to Hendrix, with whom he shares a birthday — will reunite Mr. Brecker with Mr. Coryell and other original members of the Eleventh House.
Sixty-two years after selecting the trumpet from his school’s limited choices, “I’m still trying to figure it out,” Mr. Brecker said. It may sound like false modesty, but the setting — his studio, outfitted with a piano, a computer flanked by speakers and other recording equipment, hundreds of compact discs, and a microphone mounted at trumpet height — demonstrated an enduring commitment to his craft. “Trumpet is a challenging instrument,” he said. “I spend two or three hours playing here after my wife and our 7year-old go to bed. You have to put in daily work. It’s a very physical instrument, so you’ve got to keep at it or you sink fast.”
Is he still improving? “Yeah, I think I am, though there are days when it just doesn’t feel right. But throughout the years, I think I’ve seen some improvement.”