Nick Brignola, 65; Top Jazz Saxophone Player

From a Times Staff Writer

Nick Brignola, a baritone saxophonist who was one of the top players of his instrument in jazz, has died. He was 65.

Brignola died Friday at the Albany Medical Center in Albany, N.Y., after a long battle with cancer.

Born in Troy, N.Y., Brignola was largely self-taught, learning the clarinet at age 11 and then alto and tenor saxophones.

Brignola studied music at Ithaca College and won a music scholarship to the Berklee School of Music in Boston.

He picked up the burly baritone saxophone quite by accident, taking it as a loaner when his alto saxophone was being repaired.

Influenced by greats of the baritone saxophone such as Harry Carney, a mainstay of the great Duke Ellington orchestra, Brignola developed his own style and began playing in Greenwich Village in New York in the late 1950s. He next traveled to San Francisco, where he worked with Cal Tjader's group.

In the 1960s, he became a prominent member of Woody Herman's big band. He later began an association with trumpeter Ted Curson that was to last off and on through the next three decades.

In the late 1960s, Brignola formed an electronic jazz-rock group that opened for several rock acts, including Cat Stevens and Blood, Sweat and Tears.

But he returned to his jazz roots in the 1970s, teaming up again with Curson and performing with him throughout the United States and Europe into the 1980s. He also recorded a number of critically well-received albums for small labels. When Brignola recently appeared at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, critic Don Heckman noted that while he "has had an underappreciated career," he nevertheless "played solo after solo filled with virtuosic explorations of the horn."

Brignola is survived by his wife, Yvonne; three children; a granddaughter; and his mother.

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