born on 17/7/1936 in Troy, NY, United States
died on 8/2/2002 in Albany, NY, United States
Nick Brignola (July 17, 1936 – February 8, 2002) was an American jazz baritone saxophonist.
Nick was born on July 17, 1936 in Troy, New York. He was born into a musical family in which his father played the tuba and his uncle played the banjo. As a mostly self-taught musician, he developed his facility on all of his instruments using unconventional techniques, which gave his playing an unmatched fluidity. At the age of 11 he began playing the clarinet and in years to come he picked up the alto and tenor saxophones as well as the flute. At the age of 20 he dropped his alto saxophone off to be repaired, and the only horn the shop had to loan him was the baritone sax. After that, the baritone sax became his main, but not only instrument.
While studying education at Ithaca College in New York, Brignola and some of his fellow students made a recording, which won a Down Beat Magazine award for the best college group of the year. The award afforded the group of young musicians many opportunities including the recording of an album as well as performance at various festivals, and a performance at the Café Bohemia in Greenwich Village. In the Down Beat critics poll he was labeled a “new star.” The newfound fame landed him with the Benny Goodman Scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. During his time at Berklee he did a recording with legendary professor and musician Herb Pomeroy and forged relationships with lifelong musical friends including Dick Berk. Nick did not have a long stay at Berklee though. His popularity launched him into the music scene and lead him to gig with many well established musicians.
In the 1960s Nick toured with trumpeter Ted Curson, which gave him his initial international exposure. Nick and Ted remained friends for the rest of Nick's life. They reunited in the mid 1970s and played several gigs at the Tin Palace in New York City where the group recorded their only album.
Also, in the mid 1970s, Nick heard a group called Petrus at the Last Chance Saloon in Albany, N.Y. It was led by pianist Phil Markowitz with Gordon Johnson on bass, and Ted Moore on drums. The trio began at the Eastman School of music in Rochester, NY. They were a fusion oriented group greatly influenced by Chick Corea. Nick joined the group, which became known as Nick Brignola and Petrus and while they never recorded, found a great deal of both popular and critical acclaim for their work together.
During this time, Nick also played at the regular Sunday evening sessions that were held at the Ramada Inn in Schenectady. It was there that he got to play with many of his favorite musicians such as Cecil Payne, Woody Shaw, Jon Faddis, Chet Baker and Bill Watrous. His connection with Watrous was especially fortuitous and they maintained contact for many years. He also played with dixieland/swing trumpet player Doc Cheatham and the two became a mutual admiration society. There are several bootleg recordings of Nick's performances available on the internet.
Another highlight in Nick's career was the Many Styles of Nick Brignola series, which had Nick playing three distinctly different styles of jazz. The first set was a swing/dixie with such stars as Doc Cheatham, Jimmy McPartland and Helen Humes. The second set was dedicated to bebop, with Chet Baker, Thad Jones and Jack Wilkins. His final set was with Petrus - his working group at the time, where they played both fusion and avant garde jazz. Two such performances were held at the Cohoes Music Hall in Cohoes, NY and the final one at Page Hall in Albany, N.Y.
Nick was a musician that could play any style and was comfortable while doing it. Though the albums he released as a leader were mostly hard bop played by quartets, he played as a sideman in many big bands including those led by Woody Herman and Buddy Rich. During his rise to popularity he connected with Duke Ellington’s baritone player Harry Carney, who took him under his wing as his protégé and urged Nick to take the baritone sax to the next level.
Though Nick was mostly known as a bandleader, he performed and released albums with many famous and well-established musicians. He recorded the album Baritone Madness with one of his idols, bebop heavyweight Pepper Adams. He released several tribute albums with an equally stunning cast of musicians paying respect to Gerry Mulligan and Lee Morgan. He played an integral role in the three-baritone sax band, which also played tribute to Gerry Mulligan. He recorded two incredible sets at the Sweet-Basil Lounge in New York city with Randy Brecker and Claudio Roditi, and played alongside fellow baritone sax player Ronnie Cuber on the album Baritone Explosion with Rein DeGraff.
Nick Brignola died of cancer on February 8, 2002.
- Bee Hive Records
- Discovery Records
- 1983: Signals… In From Somewhere
- 1984: Northern Lights
- 1992: Triste
- 1989: Raincheck
- 1989: On a Different Level (with Kenny Barron, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette)
- 1990: What it Takes
- 1991: It’s Time
- 1992: Live at Sweet Basil, First Set
- 1994: Like Old Times (with Claudio Roditi)
- 1996: Flight of the Eagle (with Kenny Barron)
- 1998: Poinciana
- 1999: All Business
- 2002: Tour de Force
- 2003: Things Ain't What They Used To Be
- 1967: This Is It!
- 1978: New York Bound
- 1979: L.A. Bound (received a Grammy nomination, with Bill Watrous, Dick Berk)
- 1993: Tribute to Mulligan
- 1998: Spring is Here
- 2000: D.E.W Meets Nick Brignola
With Ted Curson
- Quicksand (Atlantic, 1974)
- Jubilant Power (Inner City, 1976)
- Snake Johnson (Chiaroscuro, 1981)
With Mingus Dynasty
- Live at the Theatre Boulogne-Billancourt/Paris, Vol. 1 (Soul Note, 1988)
- Live at the Theatre Boulogne-Billancourt/Paris, Vol. 2 (Soul Note, 1988)
With Tisziji Munoz
- Live Again! At Page Hall with Nick Brignola (Anami Music, 1994)
With Sal Nistico
- Neo/Nistico (Bee Hive, 1978)
With Sal Salvador
- Starfingers (Bee Hive, 1978)
- Allmusic biography
- New York Times obituary
- See Nick Brignola play on YouTube
- Berklee.edu (Final Cadence)
- Nick Brignola Interview NAMM Oral History Library (2000)