Nearly 8 years ago I posted the following as part of a forum thread entitled ‘What concerts have you seen?’:
– Nick Brignola (this one is a club show, but I enjoyed getting to see this jazz giant of the baritone sax playing ‘at home’ many Thursday nights at the Italia restaurant in Troy NY)
Nick Brignola is no stranger to fans of the music generally called ‘hard bop’, straight-ahead jazz form that took the core of bebop and brought in blues and soul and other elements to form a fusion made popular by the recordings of Miles Davis’ first classic quintet amongst many others. He won the Down Beat polls for ‘best baritone saxophone player several times in the late 50s and through the 60s, and had a great resurgence in the 1990s with a string of excellent recordings before he passed away in 2002.
He heralded from Troy, NY, which is about 15 minutes north of Albany, and frequently spent time playing in his hometown and throughout the Capital Region. When I was at school at RPI in the mid 1980s he had set up a regular Thursday night gig at a small Italian restaurant called ‘The Italia’ (not original, but hey – I remember it 25 years later!)
Then last fall I got an email with the simple title ‘Nick Brignola’. It was from a fellow graduate of RPI who happened upon Brignola while listening to Pandora radio, and … well, here is the initial email (with permission, of course):
I don’t believe we know each other, but I was just listening to a Nick Brignola tune on Pandora, and was recalling fond memories of hearing him on Thursday night’s at the Italia Restaurant in Troy NY. Did a Google search on this, and found exactly one reference on the internet – a post you made to a discussion group several years ago. Got your email address from a link to your blog.
I used to listen to Nick at the Italia every week, accompanied by several Bass Ale’s and meatball pizza. This was during the mid 1980s. He was a great musician. He was also funny – I remember him often making fun of an odd fellow who frequently attended Nick’s shows – referring to him as “Harold Square”. The Italia ended up being one of my wife and my favorite restaurants, though I believe it has been closed now for several years. At least it was the last time we passed by that way. Did you happen to go to RPI? I went there, class of 1986.
Anyway, it tickled me that someone else experienced that same great combination of music and food.
It was simply stunning to me to be contacted about Brignola, and it began a wonderful series of exchanges and reminiscences which have been a blast to share.
All of that was cool enough, but then I was just contacted by ANOTHER RPI alumnus – this one a good friend and one of my ‘little brothers’ from my fraternity, who also happens to live fairly close to Troy. He asked if I had heard that the city of Troy had honored Brignola? He had never heard of Brignola specifically that he could remember, but even in college I was well known as the resident ‘jazz and weird music guy’, so he had figured perhaps I knew about him. Here is a bit from the tribute article:
Troy’s Little Italy will present “A Tribute to Nick Brignola: Troy’s Internationally Acclaimed Jazz Saxophonist” as a quartet of musicians with ties to Brignola will perform in a jazz concert from 5 to 7 p.m. at the market place.
“We’re paying tribute to not only a great musician, but to wonderful man,” said Rocco DeFazio, the co-organizer of the tribute with Charles Carletta. “It’s fitting that we hold this year’s tribute in the Market Place in the neighborhood where Nick grew up and spent time with his family and friends.”
“He was always a family guy, who was always reliable and loyal to his parents — and a world famous saxophonist,” Carletta said.
The gathering included family members, including his wife Yvonne and son Nicholas F. Brignola, as well friends and students of Brignola Sr., who passed away in February 2002.
“What it means to me is the fact that the city of Troy is honoring him,” said his son, Nick Brignola Jr. “I think he’s a hometown hero. He’s always been my hero and I think it’s a really kind gesture for the city to do that.”
It really is amazing just how small the world can become through the internet. Because of a musician who has been dead for a decade and whose greatest fame came before I was even born, I got a new ‘kindred spirit’ friend with many of the same college era memories, and I reconnected to an old and dear friend I hadn’t spoked to in several years as our paths never crossed at alumni events. To me, THIS is one example of the great power of the internet.
And here is a video of Nick Brignola playing the title song from his essential recording ‘Like Old Times’: