James Taylor, Paul Simon Perform At Benefit For Jazz Great

James Taylor and Paul Simon paid tribute to late jazz great Michael Brecker with performances and kind words at a cancer benefit for their friend who died in 2007.

Taylor, who Brecker’s widow said had the flu, performed “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” – the first song he played with the jazz saxophonist – in New York City on Tuesday night. Taylor was on guitar as Brecker’s brother, Randy Brecker, played the trumpet.

“I miss him all the time,” Taylor said after the performance. “Michael saved my life and probably a lot of other people. He led me to freedom, really from addiction, and showed a number of us the way.”

He earned a large applause from the crowd of 400 at the event dubbed “The Nearness of You” concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room.

Photo: Scott Roth/Invision/AP
Bobby McFerrin, Paul Simon, Dianne Reeves and James Taylor at Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York.

Brecker, who died at age 57, won more than a dozen Grammy Awards and played with a number of iconic artists, including Elton John, Herbie Hancock, Joni Mitchell, Simon and Taylor. He struggled with myelodysplastic syndrome, a cancer in which the bone marrow stops producing enough healthy blood cells. Tuesday’s benefit for Brecker – the first – raised money to assist two doctors working at Columbia University Medical Center and fighting to cure MDS.

Simon performed “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “The Boxer,” songs he said he “closely associates” with Brecker. A riveting Dianne Reeves and Bobby McFerrin also sang, while Brecker’s 15-piece band – The Michael Brecker Quindectet – played throughout the night and in between the singers’ sets.

Brecker’s widow said she wanted to make the concert an annual event.

“We are family; family because we share a deep connection: We have all lost people we love to cancer,” she told the audience. “We have an opportunity tonight to make a difference. Let our family, everyone in this room join together with our hearts and with our wallets open to make cancer finally and forever a thing of the past.”

Other attendees included Robin Roberts, who told stories about her battles with cancer, and Meredith Vieira, who spoke of her family’s encounters with the disease.

Taylor joined forces with Simon, Reeves and McFerrin to close the 90-minute show with “Shower the People.”

“No one’s going to accuse us of being over rehearsed on this one,” Taylor said to laughs from the crowd.