Walter Becker 1950-2017

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen may have been two against nature, but even Becker's lancet wit and Tele skills couldn't sidestep the Grim Reaper and he has passed away leaving behind a Cadillac-sized musical legacy and two sons. At the time of writing the cause of death is unspecified, but maybe we should have picked up the hint when gigs in July went ahead without him. Either way, in an age of loss, the passing of Becker remains oddly unbelievable: the great survivor who came through the death by drugs of his partner Kim Stanley, who struggled with and largely overcame his own drug demons, who fought off Stanley's would be litigious mother, who himself survived a serious car smash, and divorce from his wife Elinor; Becker the man behind Aja and Pretzel Logic and Gaucho has gone. Surely not, surely it's one of Becker's slick cynical jokes, he's gas-lighting us, driving us a little mad, taking his renowned reclusiveness – he made a home for himself for years off Hawaii when he and Fagen first parted ways – just one step further. He'll be back won't he?

If that sounds irreverent, well, Becker would probably approve: his was the ultimate über cool, never the sentimentalist, always the gimlet-eyed outsider that underwrote Steely Dan's panache. Some, Fagen among them, attributed this acerbic but precise as the surgeon's scalpel worldview to Becker's apparently tough, often distressing childhood. Getting attached to anyone was too risky, better to go for the wisecrack, the hyper-polished lyric and lithe melody. And if you can't control relationships, and age does wither you, then look for control through the studio: and this in a way was Becker's gift to music, to use the studio to nail down the most perfect sonic experience possible (whatever the cost in dollars and burnt out synapses).

In taking ultimate control of the sound he sought, Becker left many a guitarist on the cutting room floor (how's it hanging, Mr Knopfler?), so it's no surprise that the soul and proficiency of jazz artists appealed to Becker. Fagen once shared with this correspondent how they'd wanted more 'old school' jazz artists on board, recording sessions with the likes of Al Cohn, which Fagen described dryly as a 'learning curve' for all involved. It's interesting that Becker as a producer, once the Dan split, worked with the likes of Michael Franks and Ricky Lee Jones who also lived and worked in that hinterland between jazz and the singer-songwriter, artists who likewise employed a wry rhyme to hide the hurt.

The house of jazz has many rooms and it would be a parlous view of the jazz tradition that it couldn't include Steely Dan, especially in the golden years between 1972 to 1980. This isn't just because Becker and Fagen were lucky enough to meet at college in the heady days of the late 1960s when the boundaries between rock, jazz and folk came tumbling down; nor was it because they insisted on using the best of musicians, many of whom had impeccable jazz credentials, like Joe Sample, Victor Feldman (a Steely stalwart) and Wayne Shorter. The Steely jazz thing was that they loved the great traditions – the insight and wit of the Great American Songbook, the passion and prowess of bop (Horace Silver is embedded in the first song on their third album) – but never let them be their masters: Becker took all that material, Tin Pan Alley, rock's 'stick it to the man' attitude, jazz's cool and love of the unique and used it to express his own and our own humanity.

In a decade, the 1970s, which produced so many ground-breaking records, Becker helped craft albums and songs that were themselves, unforgettable; at once simple, yet complex, Becker's paradox was that he was deeply affectionate of a world that seemed limitlessly cruel, whose sanity he questioned even as he barely hung on to his own.

– Andy Robson

– Photo by Tim Dickeson

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website

If you do not change browser settings, you consent to continue. Learn more

I understand

Breaking News

Szun Waves launch New Hymn To Freedom with live dates

Szun Waves launch New Hymn To Freedom wi…

Electronica jazz trio Szun Waves release their second album, New...

Read More.....
Donny McCaslin’s big Blow set for Scala

Donny McCaslin’s big Blow set for Scala

US saxophonist Donny McCaslin follows the breakthrough success of 2016's...

Read More.....
PRS Foundation Momentum Music Fund now open for applications

PRS Foundation Momentum Music Fund now o…

The PRS Foundation's Momentum Music Fund has helped the likes...

Read More.....
Beats & Pieces Big Band launch Ten with video and tour

Beats & Pieces Big Band launch Ten w…

Manchester's mighty Beats & Pieces Big Band continue their yearlong...

Read More.....
Robert Glasper leads R+R=NOW for stormy Celebrate Brooklyn blow-out

Robert Glasper leads R+R=NOW for stormy …

The history of collectives in jazz are nearly as old...

Read More.....
Are you ready for the Write Stuff? 2018 Applications Now Open

Are you ready for the Write Stuff? 2018 …

Budding music writers listen up! This year's Write Stuff music...

Read More.....
John Coltrane’s The Lost Album: Both Directions at Once hits Top 20 Albums

John Coltrane’s The Lost Album: Both Dir…

Last week's release of John Coltrane's The Lost Album: Both...

Read More.....
Boogie at the Bandstand - Love Supreme's festival within a festival

Boogie at the Bandstand - Love Supreme's…

With an abundance of big names on the larger stages...

Read More.....
Keyon Harrold, Vijay Iyer and EXPO Commissions for 40th Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Fest

Keyon Harrold, Vijay Iyer and EXPO Commi…

The 40th edition of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival...

Read More.....
Roy Carr 1945 – 2018

Roy Carr 1945 – 2018

Doyen of the music press for half a century and...

Read More.....
Pharoah's Prophecies Pave Way For New Wave Of Spiritual Sentinels At This Year's Love Supreme

Pharoah's Prophecies Pave Way For New Wa…

"I've already had my mind blown once today," a geezerish...

Read More.....
Meshell Ndegeocello and The Bad Plus for Innervisions Fest at Under The Bridge

Meshell Ndegeocello and The Bad Plus for…

Chelsea music venue, Under the Bridge, will play host to...

Read More.....
Brockley Beer & Improv Sessions Brew Up New Series

Brockley Beer & Improv Sessions Brew…

Connoisseurs of craft ales and well-crafted extemporisation, rejoice! Another series of...

Read More.....
Archie Shepp, Phronesis, Kandace Springs and Kit Downes added to EFG London Jazz Festival

Archie Shepp, Phronesis, Kandace Springs…

The line-up for this year's EFG London Jazz Festival, which...

Read More.....
Wynton Marsalis Quartet open up to the spirit of Ornette at Barbican

Wynton Marsalis Quartet open up to the s…

Wynton Marsalis is more forward-thinking than he gets credit for...

Read More.....
Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas step up with Sound Prints at the Village vanguard

Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas step up with…

Joe Lovano remarked that "it was the end of an...

Read More.....
Jazz Women celebrated at Jazz Centre UK exhibition

Jazz Women celebrated at Jazz Centre UK …

Southend-on-Sea's Jazz Centre UK presents a major exhibition, Jazz Women...

Read More.....
Boggamasta boogie on down at Brussels Jazz Weekend

Boggamasta boogie on down at Brussels Ja…

The UK equivalent to the Brussels Jazz Weekend would be...

Read More.....
Orphy Robinson gets Gibraltar rocking beyond Borders

Orphy Robinson gets Gibraltar rocking be…

British vibes virtuoso Orphy Robinson is artist-in-residence at the year's...

Read More.....
Vijay Iyer Sextet and Julian Lage jive to Jazz Cafe

Vijay Iyer Sextet and Julian Lage jive t…

Having reopened its doors in January 2016, following a multi-million-pound...

Read More.....
Jon Hiseman 1944-2018

Jon Hiseman 1944-2018

One of the UK's foremost drummers and bandleaders, Jon Hiseman...

Read More.....
Airto Moreira's Afro-Samba Anthems Raise Roof At Ronnie's

Airto Moreira's Afro-Samba Anthems Raise…

  No greater sign of changing times comes than in this...

Read More.....
Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Binker & Moses head to Harrogate

Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Binker & M…

The Harrogate International Festival, which has been running for over...

Read More.....
Voting Now Open for 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Awards

Voting Now Open for 2018 Parliamentary J…

Voting is now open for the 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Awards...

Read More.....
Lost John Coltrane Quartet Album surfaces on Impulse!

Lost John Coltrane Quartet Album surface…

A previously unreleased session by the classic John Coltrane Quartet...

Read More.....
Etienne Charles Triumphant At The Tabernacle With Timely Blend Of Defiance And Celebration

Etienne Charles Triumphant At The Tabern…

  This venue has deep historical resonance for black music in...

Read More.....
Jean Toussaint All-Star 6Tet Shine Bright At Ronnie Scott's

Jean Toussaint All-Star 6Tet Shine Brigh…

  'All-star' is a term mostly out of fashion these days...

Read More.....
Horn Doyenne Holsen Hones Minimalist Drones For Hubro Album Launch

Horn Doyenne Holsen Hones Minimalist Dro…

The Norwegian brass-band tradition, which first evolved in that country...

Read More.....
Vandermark and Nilssen-Love Blow Down Brighton's Green Door

Vandermark and Nilssen-Love Blow Down Br…

  The streets of Brighton have been overflowing with music fans...

Read More.....
Tully Takes The Prize To Ronnie's

Tully Takes The Prize To Ronnie's

  What better way to celebrate the conferring of an honour...

Read More.....
Rebirth Of The Cool: Shabaka Hutchings, Thundercat and Nubya Garcia lead a jazz takeover at Field Day

Rebirth Of The Cool: Shabaka Hutchings, …

  After years of going to jazz gigs and being the...

Read More.....
Anthony Braxton's ZIM Sextet go exploring at Cafe OTO

Anthony Braxton's ZIM Sextet go explorin…

  With the death of Cecil Taylor a few weeks ago...

Read More.....
New British Jazz Generation Blasts Bath With Spiritual Baptism

New British Jazz Generation Blasts Bath …

Bath Festival applied radical surgery to their roster of festivals in...

Read More.....
PYJAEN Prosper At Peckham's Ghost Notes

PYJAEN Prosper At Peckham's Ghost Notes

Catching bands at the beginning of their journeys is so often...

Read More.....
Sons of Kemet, Ashley Henry and Yussef Dayes groove at the Great Escape

Sons of Kemet, Ashley Henry and Yussef D…

Since its beginnings in 2006, Brighton's festival of new music...

Read More.....
Zara McFarlane and Jazzmeia Horn among highlights at St Lucia Jazz Fest

Zara McFarlane and Jazzmeia Horn among h…

In recent times this event has had a tenuous relationship...

Read More.....


Subcribe To Jazzwise

Advertisement

Call 0800 137201 to subscribe or click here to email the subscriptions team

Get in touch

Jazzwise Magazine,
St. Judes Church,
Dulwich Road, 
Herne Hill,
London, SE24 0PD.

0208 677 0012

Latest Tweets

Brighton Alt Fest returns with typically brilliant and eclectic line-up, ft Peter Brötzmann, Irreversible Entanglem… https://t.co/ChKZ97Eb0N
Follow Us - @Jazzwise
@slothracket @ripsawcatfish yeah, we were all getting a little flustered over how the grinding abrasiveness might h… https://t.co/JDa7TYAF5o
Follow Us - @Jazzwise

Newsletter

© 2016 MA Business & Leisure Ltd registered in England and Wales number 02923699 Registered office: Jesses Farm, Snow Hill, Dinton, Salisbury, SP3 5HN . Designed By SE24 MEDIA