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Nick Brignola: Between A Rock And The Jazz Place

Rob Rosenblum By

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I went through years of playing very good music and I starved. I feel this way I'm going to be able to play all kinds of music and still make a living and maintain a very unique group that nobody else has. A lot of other musicians can't do this. —Nick Brignola
This interview was originally published in 1969 in an Albany, New York area arts publication called Transition. It documents a time when saxophonist Nick Brignola was in the process of trying to break out of the confines of bebop and incorporate some of the elements of fusion that was beginning to dominate the jazz market.

There are many references to a recording he was in the process of making. It was never formally released, although it has been available as a bootleg on line.

Brignola did experiment with fusion, both with his group that he had at the time of this interview and with a group called Petrus, which included Phil Markowitz, Gordon Johnson and Ted Moore a few years later. But his career took a sharp upward turn when he was re-discovered by Bee Hive Records, that placed him in the company of Pepper Adams and Cecil Payne, focusing on his baritone sax. That lead to a variety of highly regarded bebop albums on other labels, often with great jazz veterans like Roy Haynes and Kenny Barron.

Brignola died prematurely in 2002 at the age of 66 and is known primarily for his baritone saxophone playing. However, he was also accomplished on alto, soprano and clarinet, which he included on most of his later recordings.

Below is the text of the original interview:

Nick Brignola is probably the most familiar local musical name in the Albany, New York area. He has achieved this by virtue of his ability to pour out music that is always quite good and occasionally reaches prodigious heights.

Brignola has toured the world, as well as most of the U.S. with the big band of Woody Herman and a small group with trumpeter Ted Curson. As a result of this trip and an album called this Is It! his name jumped to the top of the Down Beat critic poll. Unfortunately, and through no musical fault of his own, Nick has never been very well known outside the capital district. Now that he has formed a jazz unit with many rock over tones and now that he has a record due out in a couple of months, it seems inevitable that his group will become one of the most highly respected in the country. Meanwhile, he continues to pack them in anywhere he goes and adding to a near fanatical following that have been sprouting from the seeds of Nick's genius.

Rob Rosenblum: How did you get in a rock-jazz bag?

Nick Brignola: About four years ago, after a successful tour of Europe. I returned to the states and found that jazz was still in the background—still in the minority—and there were a lot of rock things happening (much of which was bad). So, I felt I could do something in that direction. I have a group that I keep in mind that would be the best in the world, with or without the present company, because they would be able to do everything and be able to do it well; must be able to go in any direction. I feel I have those makings right now.

RR: What about the old saying, "Jack of all trades, master of none?"

NB: I don't think that will apply here because I think we will be able to do all those things and do them well.

RR: You say all things -does that include classical music?

NB: Yeah. Like our bassist plays cello and bass. Just the instrumentation I have and the classical training Don York (piano) has, we can get into those things. The only thing is... you're looking at me kind of weird. You're looking at me like a die-hard jazz fan.

But music is getting so big that you can't be limited to one thing and any one who does is cutting their head off. That's why people like Dizzy Gillespie and James Moody aren't making it today even though they are great musicians. They refuse to join other forms of music.

RR: If it is good music...?

NB: But that doesn't mean a thing. I went through years of playing very good music and I starved. I feel this way I'm going to be able to play all kinds of music and still make a living and maintain a very unique group that nobody else has. A lot of other musicians can't do this. I can't picture Elvin Jones even thinking this way—or even Miles.

RR: Is Elvin Jones where it's at?

NB: No, but he is a great jazz musician.

RR: Is he playing dynamic music now?

NB: I think Elvin has stopped growing musically about a year and a half ago. Now, if Elvin surrounded himself with some creative younger people he would probably go in another direction. Jazz musicians love to inhibit themselves. they're so concerned with playing their music. they feel that if they play long enough people will start to like them. That's a lot of baloney. You got to make certain changes because the world changes, and you have to constantly build new audiences. You can't depend on the older audience because they don't support music any more. You have to go to younger people. They have better taste. Whether it's phony or not I don't know, but they are more receptive to digging new music.

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