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

Matthew Herbert’s (Anti) Brexit Big Band Receive Government Export Funding

Matthew Herbert’s (Anti) Brexit Big Band…

Jazz-influenced experimental musician, composer, conceptualist and now political protester Matthew...

Read More.....
Courtney Pine announced for Jazz Directors series and tour

Courtney Pine announced for Jazz Directo…

Multi-award winning saxophonist and composer Courtney Pine has been announced...

Read More.....
Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet create acoustic alchemy at Ronnie Scott’s

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet create acoust…

Mark Guiliana is associated with a certain level of jazz-fusion...

Read More.....
Knower drop the knowledge at Scala

Knower drop the knowledge at Scala

"If you have to ask, you don't know by now...

Read More.....
Two Jazz Photography Exhibitions open up

Two Jazz Photography Exhibitions open up

This month sees two jazz photography exhibitions take place –...

Read More.....
Miles Mosley Melts Down The Funk At Islington Assembly Hall

Miles Mosley Melts Down The Funk At Isli…

Miles Mosley has already started making waves in the UK...

Read More.....
Evan Parker And John Russell Usher Forth The Fifth Man At Tampere Jazz Happening

Evan Parker And John Russell Usher Forth…

  A curious sight catches the keenest of eyes on the...

Read More.....
Surman and Warren Bolster Brass On Kings Place Retelling Of Their Traveller's Tale

Surman and Warren Bolster Brass On Kings…

It was during the late 1980s that John Surman (above)...

Read More.....
Pat Metheny Quartet epic and electric at Barbican

Pat Metheny Quartet epic and electric at…

In these turbulent times small things can provide a reassuring...

Read More.....
Watch a Live Stream of Jazz Voice from the EFG London Jazz Festival

Watch a Live Stream of Jazz Voice from t…

This year's 25th anniversary edition of the EFG London Jazz...

Read More.....
Muhal Richard Abrams 19/09/30 – 29/10/17

Muhal Richard Abrams 19/09/30 – 29/10/17

  Though it may have escaped many of the thousands of...

Read More.....
Empirical Among The Imperious At Jazzfest Berlin

Empirical Among The Imperious At Jazzfes…

  For his third and final edition of Jazzfest Berlin, the...

Read More.....
Whirlwind triple bill for Rich Mix and club programme highlights as 25th EFG London Jazz Festival gears up

Whirlwind triple bill for Rich Mix and c…

This year's EFG London Jazz Festival kicks off its milestone...

Read More.....
Tommy Smith goes it alone and together with Brian Kellock

Tommy Smith goes it alone and together w…

Saxophonist Tommy Smith takes his latest project home this month...

Read More.....
Richard Bona brings the boogie and Amok Amor unleash improv anarchy at Enjoy Jazz

Richard Bona brings the boogie and Amok …

Some festivals cram everything into a single weekend, but Enjoy...

Read More.....
Andy Sheppard, Native Dancer and Beats & Pieces line-up for Cambridge Jazz Fest

Andy Sheppard, Native Dancer and Beats …

The third edition of the Brewin Dolphin Cambridge International Jazz...

Read More.....
Christian McBride Big Band, Kamasi Washington and Randy Crawford for Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2018

Christian McBride Big Band, Kamasi Washi…

The first names have been announced for the 22nd edition...

Read More.....
Saxophonist Steve Coleman Sublimely Elemental At Paris Showcase

Saxophonist Steve Coleman Sublimely Elem…

  As Britain attempts what seems like an ungainly improvisation out...

Read More.....
Love Supreme Jazz Festival Rocks Up To The Roundhouse

Love Supreme Jazz Festival Rocks Up To T…

  With this year's annual event having drawn its biggest audience...

Read More.....
Oli Rockberger Rules The Multi-Genre Roost For Sovereign Launch

Oli Rockberger Rules The Multi-Genre Roo…

Whether exploring a gospel-tinged, hymnic solo introduction, which would have...

Read More.....
Atzmon & Orient House Ensemble Pay Tribute To Legends At Pizza Express

Atzmon & Orient House Ensemble Pay T…

Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble will be presenting...

Read More.....
Ronnie Scott’s Instrument Amnesty Returns

Ronnie Scott’s Instrument Amnesty Return…

Following the success of the inaugural Music Instrument Amnesty in...

Read More.....
Instant Composers Pool Orchestra goes Dutch with UK and Ireland dates

Instant Composers Pool Orchestra goes Du…

The unique, internationally renowned Instant Composers Pool Orchestra launches Going...

Read More.....
Martin Taylor and Jazz at The Philharmonic concert to save Swanage Jazz Festival

Martin Taylor and Jazz at The Philharmon…

News that this year's 28th edition of the Swanage Jazz...

Read More.....
Nérija, Dinosaur and Jim Mullen among Parliamentary Jazz Award winners

Nérija, Dinosaur and Jim Mullen among Pa…

The 13th annual Parliamentary Jazz Awards took place for the...

Read More.....
Hugh Masekela withdraws from Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya concert due to ill health

Hugh Masekela withdraws from Abdullah Ib…

Revered South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela has announced that, due...

Read More.....
Dee Byrne's Entropi Radiate Amid Rough And Tumble At Kings Place Album Launch

Dee Byrne's Entropi Radiate Amid Rough A…

  The most striking thing about Moment Frozen, the second release from British...

Read More.....
Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach fire-up new Eastside Jazz Club

Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach fire-up …

The opening night of Birmingham's new Eastside Jazz Club featured...

Read More.....
James Taylor And Soweto Kinch Among Poetic Masters Of Rhythm And Rhyme At 2017 Limerick Fest

James Taylor And Soweto Kinch Among Poet…

  The Limerick Jazz Festival continues to spring surprises, and to...

Read More.....
Dave Liebman/Richie Beirach, Christine & Ingrid Jensen and Mark Turner head to Birmingham’s Eastside Jazz Club

Dave Liebman/Richie Beirach, Christine …

Jazz in the Midlands got a huge boost with the...

Read More.....
Mike Gibbs' Dramatic Big Band Birthday Bash A Blast At Birmingham's CBSO Centre

Mike Gibbs' Dramatic Big Band Birthday B…

  In celebration of his 80th year, the composer and arranger...

Read More.....
Mike Carr – 1937-2017

Mike Carr – 1937-2017

Mike Carr, who died on 22 September aged 79, was...

Read More.....
Jazz FM's Sarah Ward, Chris Philips and Nigel Williams up for radio  awards

Jazz FM's Sarah Ward, Chris Philips and …

Two of Jazz FM's longest serving presenters, DJs Sarah Ward...

Read More.....
Joon Moon Exclusive stream of ‘Moonshine Corner’

Joon Moon Exclusive stream of ‘Moonshine…

This year's EFG London Jazz Festival features a performance by...

Read More.....
Westbrook and Wakeman line up with the Uncommon Orchestra for A Bigger Show

Westbrook and Wakeman line up with the U…

Although Mike and Kate Westbrook are based in the West...

Read More.....
Afro-Beat Icon Tony Allen Sups At The Jazz Source For Capital Sidewinding Summit

Afro-Beat Icon Tony Allen Sups At The Ja…

One of the distinguishing marks of the London Jazz Cafe's...

Read More.....

ABJazzWise


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

Tyshawn Sorey soundtracking Friday's dark-tidings again. Check out him on the youtube link and then grab a listen t… https://t.co/oebOEqxWRe
Follow Us - @Jazzwise
@MusicClerk @AbstractTruth @outandgonemusic @astspiritsrec @KirkdaleBooks @Shawn_Galvin @frozenreeds Sounds like the Brexit National Anthem
Follow Us - @Jazzwise

Newsletter

Sign up to the Jazzwise monthly E-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