By Rebecca Goodman
Enquirer staff writer
SPRINGFIELD TWP. - Musician Gordon I. Brisker, who played with or composed for Woody Herman, Anita O'Day, the Tonight Show Orchestra, Rosemary Clooney, Artie Shaw, Tony Bennett and Lionel Hampton, died Sunday of pancreatic cancer at Hospice of Cincinnati in Blue Ash. He was 66.
A Cincinnati native, Mr. Brisker played tenor saxophone, piano, flute and clarinet. He presented an interesting dichotomy, according to Cliff Radel, the Enquirer's former pop music critic. Soft spoken and gentle in demeanor, Mr. Brisker played the flute with great sensitivity. But he seemed to explode with energy on stage while playing the sax.
Mr. Brisker played with local bands - including the Clyde Trask Orchestra - whilea student at Walnut Hills High School. His first professional job was with Ralph Marterie when he was about 17, he told musician Ron Simmonds, a jazz trumpet player, in an interview last year.
"An older friend who was joining the band recommended me and so we went off to Chicago," Mr. Brisker said in the interview. "I was quite excited to be going out of town to play with a name band, but my enthusiasm was short lived as the lead saxist, Jack Gaylo, who was also the band manager, didn't think I had enough experience playing with sax sections. It was a long train ride back to Cincinnati."
After high school, Mr. Brisker went to the Berklee School of Music in Boston, where he also studied privately with Herb Pomeroy and Ray Santisi. After college he came home to Cincinnati and performed at a bar called Mother's with Dee Felice's quintet, which included Bill Berry, Hal Galper, Billy Bean and Gene Roland.
Mr. Brisker next went on the road playing piano with the Al Belletto sextet. He joined Woody Herman in 1960 and remained with him for more than two years. During that time he wrote several arrangements recorded by Herman, including "Blues for JP," "Lonesome Town," and "Free Again." Mr. Brisker performed a solo on the band's album Woody '63 released under the Phillips Label.
He next headed to New York, where he worked with Sol Yaged and played behind Tony Bennett.
In 1965, Mr. Brisker was back in Cincinnati working as musical director for the Nick Clooney Show and playing local clubs.
He moved to Los Angeles in 1977 where he made recordings with the Bobby Shew Quintet and made a few of his own recordings for the Discovery label.
He started traveling with Anita O'Day in the late 1980s and received a master's degree in composition from the University of California in Los Angeles in 1989.
In 1995, Mr. Brisker moved to Australia to teach jazz studies at the University of Sydney.
"After being in Sydney for a couple of weeks and getting over the culture shock, I thought I had died and gone to heaven," he said in the Simmonds interview. "The city is so gloriously beautiful and the people are warm and friendly."
During his six years in Sydney, Mr. Brisker recorded two CDs for the label Naxos Jazz - "The Gift" and "My Son John." He held dual citizenship in the United States and Australia.
He continued to play and write music after he returned to Cincinnati in 2001.
Mr. Brisker presented master classes at Berklee College, San Francisco State University and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He also taught at the University of Hawaii, San Diego State University, Mana College of Wellington, New Zealand, and Fullerton College.
Survivors include his wife, Cindy Abercrombie Brisker; two sons, John Brisker of Downey, Calif., and Gerald Waskom of Chino Hill, Calif.; a daughter, Julie Jennings of Hermosa Beach, Calif.; four grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
A memorial service is 11 a.m. Monday at Mount Healthy United Methodist Church, 7612 Perry St. A celebration of his life is 7 p.m. Tuesday at Drees Pavilion, Devou Memorial Overlook, 790 Park Lane, Covington.
Memorials: Walnut Hills High School Alumni Foundation, Gordon Brisker Fund, 3250 Victory Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45207, Jazz Alive, 3901 Winding Way, Cincinnati, OH 45229 or Hospice of Cincinnati, 4310 Cooper Road, Cincinnati, OH 45242.
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