Randy Brecker & Bandzilla

I need to start by saying I have loved Randy Brecker’s music since I heard his first album Score. I continued to love the group Dreams (1970-71) with Randy & Michael Brecker, Don Grolnick, Billy Cobham and Will Lee. I especially liked the track Imagine My Surprise, a hip, comedy track with Randy on lead vocals. Of course The Brecker Brothers Band (1975) with Randy, Michael and Dave Sanborn hit me so hard it made me feel like a duck being run over by the 20th Century Limited going from New York to Chicago.

I was just graduating from The Berklee College of Music. I remember loving this record so much, I bought it the moment it was released and rushed back to the house I was staying in and played it excitedly for Pat Metheny. (I had been studying with Pat and we lived in the same house for a few months.) I especially loved the track Sneaking Up Behind You. Like Imagine My Surprise, it seemed to bring together my interest in a pan-stylistic approach to music. I loved jazz and I loved soul and I loved pop and I loved comedy. (Tom Lehrer was a big favorite.) And this guy Randy Brecker had reconciled all these styles. If he didn’t give a damn about labels, why should I?

Randy started calling himself ‘Randroid’ for his vocal performances on albums such as Hangin’ In The City (2001) and 34th N Lex (2003). I love these records.

So as the idea of a new BANDZILLA album was brewing, I got an idea for a song about the 1%, the mega-rich who rule the world and control our lives. And I imagined a very hip voice reading the riot act to these heartless illuminati, giving them the uptown lowdown. I wanted to tell them, you only THINK you have all the power, but You Can’t Get There From Here. And I wrote the song imagining street-smart Randroid singing it.

I used to write and host radio documentaries for BBC Radio 2 and I had interviewed Randy for two of my shows. I had also met Randy at Ronnie Scott’s when he was playing there with one of my Berklee friends, Mike Stern. So I had Randy’s email address and thought I’d just throw caution to the wind and ask him to sing the song, and play a little funky trumpet while he was at it.

Imagine my surprise when he said he liked the song and would do it! I sent him the track and he recorded it at his home studio in New York. It’s hard to describe the elation of having a dream come true. I had felt it twice before when I heard 4 songs I wrote with the talented Phil Spalding recorded by another big hero, Ray Charles. But for me, this was more special. Randy represents everything I aspire to be – an influential composer, a clever lyricist and a voice that epitomizes the hip jazz musician.

Yesterday, Randy was kind enough to let me invade his hotel room at 11 am (he was performing at the Monterey Jazz Festival) to video him lip-synching the track. My wife Aylin is, lucky me, a great photographer and videographer. We set up a green screen and lighting in his hotel room, aided by our son Alex. Randy of course knew exactly what to do, as you will see when the video is edited. He is proof that when you’re hip, you’re hip.

This whole album has been a ‘dream come true’, but this experience is a ‘dream come TRUER’! Thanks, Randy.

Richard Niles (Monterey, September 2016)

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