Travelin’ Man Plays From Heart at Home : Lanny Morgan, saxophonist for Natalie Cole, brings his be-bop-based jazz to Monty’s in Woodland Hills.


Like many jazz musicians, alto saxophonist Lanny Morgan doesn’t work steadily as a leader, as he did when he fronted a quartet for six weeks last year in England, or even as a guest artist, as he will tonight through Saturday with Danny Pucillo’s trio at Monty’s Steakhouse in Woodland Hills.

No, Morgan is usually a hired gun, a fine player who enlivens another’s ensemble. For the past 3 1/2 years, he’s been the featured saxophonist with singer Natalie Cole, working with her as much as 20 weeks a year.

Back in the ‘60s, he was spotlighted with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson’s aggressive outfit. In between, Morgan, who lives in Van Nuys, has done studio work, had a slot in Merv Griffin’s TV show band, and played gigs with the large ensembles of Bill Holman, Frank Capp and Bob Florence.


Morgan’s experiences on the road with Cole today and Ferguson in the past offer an interesting glimpse into the life of a traveling musician.

With Cole, everything is first class, from arrangements by Holman, Johnny Mandel and Michel Legrand to salary, hotels and the state-of-the-art tour buses the band uses.

“And the music is wonderful,” said Morgan, “though, as with any big organization, it’s restrictive in that anything the accompanying people play is incidental to the star.”

Morgan says that while he was with Ferguson from 1960 to 1966, things were decidedly more austere: The band traveled by station wagon and stayed in less-than-plush hotels. “But it was music that everybody wanted to play,” he said.

The altoist, whose second album, “The Lanny Morgan Quartet,” came out last year on V.S.O.P. Records, takes advantage of an intermittent schedule with Cole to get back to music that’s in his heart, a distinctive brand of melodically charged, be-bop-based jazz that he delivers with a rich, robust tone.

Citing such influences as Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Lee Konitz and John Coltrane, Morgan said he hopes he has “assimilated these into a style that through osmosis took a form and came out sounding like me.”


Knowing that pianist Claude Williamson, a member of Pucillo’s trio, has a deep interest in the be-bop piano giant Bud Powell, Morgan is trying to dust off a few Powell classics like “Parisian Thoroughfare” for this weekend’s engagement. “Then we’ll have a little common ground,” he said.

* Lanny Morgan appears with Danny Pucillo’s trio tonight through Saturday, 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., at Monty’s Steakhouse, 5371 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills. No cover, no minimum. (818-716-9736).


Tenor saxophonist Gordon Brisker may have come up as a be-bopper, but he’s darned if that’s where he’s going to stay.

“Music has to progress,” said the veteran musician, who has toured with the likes of Woody Herman and Anita O’Day and who holds a master’s degree in composition from Cal State L.A. On Saturday he will be performing at Chadney’s in Burbank.

“I would call myself a neo-bopper. Sometimes I play music that’s more angular and abstract, less melodic, where the harmonies are less predictable. It’s not repertoire music, where I’m going back and trying to recreate the be-bop past. I think that’s ill-considered.”

Brisker just returned from New York, where he made an adventurous album with such acclaimed modernists as trumpeter Tim Hagans and pianist Marc Copeland. The recording will be out later this year on the Naxos Jazz label. And he’ll bring some of that Manhattan fire to Chadney’s.


“I’ll try to do my usual stretch, fuse the modern playing with things that are more melodic,” said Brisker, a Valley resident who is presently teaching at the University of Sydney and is home for the holidays.

“I’ll play tunes like Joe Henderson’s ‘Inner Urge’ or Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps,’ trying to reach for something new, something that hasn’t been said before.”

Brisker was heard recently at Bjlauzezs in Sherman Oaks, where his presentation was warm and evocative, delving into tough standards like Benny Golson’s “Stablemates” and Jerome Kern’s “The Song Is You.” He also tackled the Leonard Bernstein evergreen, “Some Other Time.”

“I like the tingle I get when I play a ballad,” he said. “My forte is subtlety, and I think by the way I play a vibrato, I let the audience know what’s in my heart. Sometimes a ballad will break me up, like when I think about my wife, Cindy, and I’m far away from her.”

* Gordon Brisker’s quartet plays Saturday, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., at Chadney’s, 3000 W. Olive St., Burbank. No cover, no minimum. (818) 843-5333.