The Art of Imitation-Michael Brecker on Peep

Someone on SOTW (Sax on the Web) posted a video this morning of Michael Brecker soloing over his tune Peep from the early 90’s. Peep was a Brecker tune from the album “Now You See It… (Now You Don’t) that blew my mind when it was released in 1990.   I was a young Brecker head and bought everything with Michael Brecker on it the minute it was released.  Sometimes, I’d be at Tower Records on Mass Ave in Boston before they even opened just to be the first to get the new release!  Here is the video of the live version of Peep that was posted:

As I was watching it this morning,  I remembered that I recorded this tune in the early 90’s also. I was in my 20’s and fresh out of Berklee. I remember that summer playing over Peep relentlessly for hours just trying to catch glimpses and pieces of what Brecker was doing on his solo. (My neighbors probably hated my guts by the end of the summer!)

I never really liked my playing on this recording but I think it is a good example of a young player trying to copy a musical idol.  I posted a sample of one of my lessons about “The Style of Michael Brecker” on Youtube years ago and someone commented “You Sir, are no Michael Brecker!” I wasn’t bothered or threatened by this at all and immediately responded “You’re very right. There will never be another Michael Brecker!!”

Although there is a lot in this recording that I am not happy with,  I think it is a good demonstration of what a young player can try to work on when imitating his idols.  I repeat many of the same licks over and over again and my 16th notes are rushing all over the place but it is what it is.  I was young and doing the best I could.  Here’s the recording:

My Early 90’s version of Peep

When I first heard Michael Brecker I was blown away! I was an alto sax major at college and the first thing I did after hearing Brecker on the tenor sax is go out and buy a tenor saxophone.

I started buying every album with Michael Brecker on it that I could. I had no idea what he was playing but I would put on the album and just play along trying to catch something, anything that I could. Many times it wasn’t even the notes (the notes were going by too fast) but just the energy and vibe I was trying to imitate or grasp.

Modern Times, Straphangin’, Cityscape, Don’t Try This at Home, any and every Steps Ahead album I could get, Getting There with Abercrombie, That killin’ Mike Nock album “In Out and Around”, Three Quartets, Cameo, etc……..

I played to them all.  I had very little idea of what was going on or the lines being played, but that didn’t stop me from playing along and trying to figure it out by ear. Sometimes I would figure one little pieces of the puzzle and jump up and down with joy. Other times, I would stop the recording and feel like smashing my saxophone against the wall. That is the process, joy, pain, improvement, frustration, etc…… You keep going, you keep working at it. You keep striving towards it! No pain, no gain!

I’m now in my 50’s and Michael Brecker has been gone for many years now. I am still no Michael Brecker that is for sure! But as I watch this video above, I get the same feeling I had as a college kid at 18-19 years of age.  The same excitement and wonder. That same feeling of wanting to get my sax out and play along trying to catch a glimpse of Michael’s mastery……..  I suspect that these feelings will never go away.  We miss you Michael!

Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 30 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site


  1. Nice playing there Steve. BTW, I have a BRAND NEW JB 101. It was found in a music store, Sugal sent me a ligature for it. So, a matched set. Just in case you’re interested in having another one. LOL.
    Best regards,

  2. Avatar JOHN R ZANGRANDO says

    Pretty damn good . Wish I had played that well in my 20’s Your one of the Saxophone communities treasures. Thanks

  3. Steve – awesome version of Brecker’s “Peep”. I feel ya! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Avatar Angelo Yodice says

    Hi Steve, it is wonderful to hear and see that at that young age how your creativity was launched and that you went for the brass ring all that many times with his records. Of coarse you feel the same now 30 + years, your dream hasn’t fizzled out at all, is as fresh as it was than. Kudos to you after all these years, Michael would be proud of you. All the best from me and all of the other sax cyber heads in Internet sax land with the surgery. Continue to put your hand in the hands of the man from Galilee and you will be find my friend!

  5. Avatar Bob Rockwell says

    Sound absolutely killing Steve!

  6. Avatar fernando dieguez says

    Michael is unique I am his fan and I do not play the tenor, he is one of the best musicians I always listen to

    forever Michael!

  7. Sounds great to me. Good job Steve in your 20s amazing your control I still can’t play that fast K

  8. Sounds pretty damn awesome to me Steve. Bravo!

  9. I remember the 18 year old with the Couf alto who couldn’t wait to get to Berklee and was excited to get the tenor too. You sound great on this and thanks for sharing the live video of his quartet. I remember hearing this band several times and walking the line between intimidation and divine inspiration. (So tell us the band members with you!?) Thanks for sharing my friend, you too are an inspiration.

    • Thanks Dan! I bought the Couf Superba 1 tenor I played on this clip from Ken Gioffre at Ithaca. Unfortunately, I don’t remember everyone in the band and don’t have it written down anywhere. I know Neal Itzler played guitar and Dave Buda played bass. For the life of me I can’t remember the drummer and keyboard players names. No offense to those guys as they were awesome. Steve

  10. Avatar Howard Brown says

    Pretty awesome, Steve!

  11. Great playing, Steve! I wish I could play half as well as you. Thanks for sharing!
    Do you have any advise for getting my speed and technique up for playing double time licks and double time improv?

  12. Steve, Great! You sound like the people you admire. Peace.

  13. I remember when I was a very little kid, my dad listening to some Dire Straits while driving, hearing that incredible sound coming from an unknown instrument to me at the time. I was hooked for life. I learnt many years later that it was in fact Michael Brecker. <3

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