My favorite bandleader in the world passed away on July 23rd–Dutch saxophonist and composer Willem Breuker, whose “Kollektief” graced the world’s music stages for decades. He was 65.
It’s hard to describe the experience of a live performance by the Willem Breuker Kollektief–part jazz, part music hall, part comedy, classical, avant garde, and performance art. Breuker composed or arranged all the music for the band, which usually numbered around 10 players (mostly unknown to American audiences, but musicians of the highest order).
I last spoke to Breuker about a year and a half ago, when he last played a series of concerts that Rochester’s Bop Shop has sponsored for over a quarter century; I first saw them in the early ’80s. He had missed their second-last Rochester appearance due to a liver transplant, but was back and feeling well at that time.
One high point from all my viewings was at the Rochester International Jazz Fest, when I requested he play the Hoagie Carmichael song, “My Resistance is Low”. He not only sang it, but pulled my friend Cathy Chou out of her seat for an impromptu waltz.
Here is one of their crowd pleasers: his arrangement of Kurt Weill’s “Song of Mandelay”, with Breuker’s characteristically lunatic excursions on the soprano sax and the band clowning around when they get tired of playing the endless afterbeats (This video won’t embed, but you can search it on YouTube under Breuker and Musicians Unite!):
And here is one of my favorite numbers–his 1994 composition, “Hap Sap”, as performed recently. Unfortunately, Andy Altenfelder’s trumpet solo is edited out of this shortened version, but you can still see much of the piece in all its manic, polyrhythmic glory. See if you can count the meters (Clue: it starts in 4/4 and there’s a 13/8 in there eventually):
Breuker had a stellar array of side players, including the incomparable Henk de Jonge, who always seemed ageless in the way he literally attacked the piano. Another is sax player Hermine Deurloo, who told me she was originally a cellist, but in her late teens “picked up” the sax, and then a couple years later, decided to “try the harmonica”. What do you think?
No word yet on the status of the band. We’ll miss you Willem!!