Brecker’s Battle

Grammy-winning saxophonis Michael Brecker‘s world turned upside down last summer following his performance at the Mt. Fuji Jazz Festival in Japan. A doctor gave him the frightening news that the back pain he was suffering was the result of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).

“Mike was in a great deal of pain and we were trying to figure out what it was,” Brecker’s manager, Darryl Pitt, told Pollstar. “It turned out he had a small break in one of the vertebra. Typically, when there’s a break in a bone that cannot be ascribed to a traumatic event, the underlying cause is a blood or bone marrow problem.”

Brecker’s illness — a cancer in which the bone marrow stops producing enough healthy blood cells — forced the 11-time Grammy winner to cancel his August 14th performance at the Newport Jazz Festival and the rest of his schedule. Chemotherapy and a search for a bone marrow donor of the same Eastern European Jewish descent began.

When a compatible donor wasn’t found among the saxophonist’s siblings or children, the next step was to contact the National Marrow Donor Program. That process has been an eye-opener, Pitt said.

“About 97 percent of the folks on the bone marrow registry could not be a match for Mike because they don’t come from the same ethnic background,” he explained. “Overall, we were shocked that the representation is as little as it is on the international registry. It is a needle-in-a-haystack kind of thing.”

That realization, along with learning that about 9,000 people die a year waiting for a bone marrow donor, inspired 56-year-old Brecker, wife Susan and Pitt to launch a campaign to encourage people of all ethnic backgrounds to sign up as potential donors.

“Mike has always been the kind of guy that put other’s people interests first, not only in a musical sense, but in the matter of relationships and human need as well,” Pitt said. “It’s really clear to him that if he can’t be saved, he wants to make sure that everyone understands this issue so [they’ll] step up to the plate and do the right thing.”

Brecker has completed one course of chemotherapy and was expected to begin another round at press time. Pitt added that his long-time friend is handling the situation as best as he can.

“It’s very, very frustrating,” he said. “He just wants to get back to his life, his family and making music.”

Susan Brecker’s letter to the public along with information about the bone marrow donation process is posted on Additional information can be found at The National Marrow Donor Program Web site ,

Anyone interested in planning a donor awareness event is asked to call Pitt at 212-302-9200.

— Tina Amendola