Born in Oklahoma on March 13, 1940, he spent some time in Texas before moving to California in 1956. He studied piano and violin before permanently settling upon the saxophones as his chosen family of instruments. After working with vibraphonist Dave Pike and trumpeters Art Farmer and Joe Gordon, he began sitting in with more progressive improvisers like pocket cornetist Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Billy Higgins. He also met, made music with, and married pianist Joanne Grogan. The Brackeens produced four children, moved to New York in 1965, and eventually divorced. By the time he made his first album in 1968, Brackeen had grown into a strong-toned tenor and alto player who in time would display remarkable dexterity on the soprano saxophone as well, sounding very much like Pharoah Sanders on that horn. Released on the Strata East label, Rhythm X was a reunion of sorts as Brackeen interacted with Cherry, Haden, and Ed Blackwell on a collectively improvised set worthy of that trio's mentor, Ornette Coleman.
Brackeen reappeared in 1973 on Cherry's Relativity Suite, alongside Dewey Redman, Frank Lowe, and Carlos Ward; Brackeen had elements in common with each of these formidably expressive reedmen. His next opportunity to record occurred in 1975 when violinist Leroy Jenkins (a participant in the Relativity Suite) invited him to join 17 other instrumentalists (mostly members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) to record the album For Players Only. Like Relativity Suite a production of the Jazz Composer's Orchestra Association, Jenkins' first album as a leader included such brilliant minds as Anthony Braxton, Dewey Redman, Leo Smith, and Jerome Cooper. Brackeen's presence in an ensemble of this caliber was most significant and reaffirmed his irreversible commitment to music of an uncompromisingly creative nature.
In May 1976 Brackeen was recorded in live performance as a member of a sextet led by trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah. A marvelous excerpt from their set was included on Volume 3 of the legendary Wildflowers: New York Loft Sessions, released on LP in 1977 by Douglas/Casablanca records. During this time period, Abdullah and Brackeen, along with drummer Roger Blank and bassist Ronnie Boykins, were members of a collective ensemble known as the Melodic Art-tet. Brackeen was the featured soloist on Paul Motian's 1977 ECM album Dance, the product of a trio session that was greatly enhanced by the bass viol of David Izenzon. In 1979, Motian invited Brackeen back to record a second, spacier album for ECM (Le Voyage), this time in the company of bassist Jean-François Jenny-Clark. Also in 1979 Brackeen joined an ensemble led by bassist William Parker on the wild and wooly free jazz album Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace. In February 1980 Charles Brackeen and Ed Blackwell performed as a duo at Soundscape on 52nd St. in New York City. Two examples from their collaboration there and then were made available to the public in 1999 on the DIW compilation Live from Soundscape: Hell's Kitchen.
The next chapter in the saga of Charles Brackeen found him blowing his horns next to Byard Lancaster in Ronald Shannon Jackson's newly formed Decoding Society. Brackeen contributed his best energies to that group's first two albums, Eye on You (1980) and Nasty (1981). His next opportunity to make records occurred in 1987 when he enjoyed a brief but productive business relationship with the Silkheart record label. In addition to three albums released under his own name, Brackeen sat in with Texas trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez and His New Dallas Sextet, involving additional trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah, reedman Douglas Ewart, bassist Malachi Favors, and drummer Alvin Fielder, Jr. Several members of this group were involved in the first of Brackeen's three Silkheart albums, Bannar. Two other albums, Attainment and Worshippers Come Nigh were recorded during one day's work and teamed Brackeen with cornetist Olu Dara, bassist Fred Hopkins, and drummer Andrew Cyrille. As Charles Brackeen's overall recorded output is unusually small, it is not unreasonable to hope that eventually a thorough reissuing of his complete works as both leader and sideman will encourage and facilitate a respectful and open-minded reappraisal of this artist's entire career. ~ arwulf arwulf, Rovi
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