Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Brisker, Gordon (Ira)
Brisker, Gordon (Ira), tenor saxophonist, composer/arranger; b. Cincinnati, OH, 6 November 1937. His mother, Flora, was a piano instructor at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and his father, Jack, was a featured vocal soloist at local Jewish synagogs. Gordon started violin lessons at the tender age of four but discontinued due to the fact that he was unsuitably left-handed. He resumed studying at five but this time the lessons were on piano, which continued for four years. Brisker's musical studies were then dormant until his thirteenth year when, invited to a friends house, he was captivated by the look and sound of his buddy's alto saxophone. Shortly after that Gordon commenced clarinet lessons with Eugene Frey, then second clarinetist in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. It wasn't long after that that Brisker was given a baritone sax by his father, then switching to tenor about a year later. Gordon played saxophone and clarinet in the Walnut Hills High School concert and marching band, writing his first big band arrangement.
Brisker worked with some local Cincinnati bands while still in high school, including Clyde Trask and Gene Hessler. His first professional job was with Ralph Marterie when about 17. An older friend who was joining the band recommended him and so they went off to Chicago. Gordon was quite excited to be going out of town to play with a name band, but his enthusiasm was short-lived as the lead saxist, Jack Gaylo, who was also the band manager, didn't think he had enough experience playing with sax sections. It was a long train ride back to Cincinnati, Brisker's sorrow somewhat ameliorated by the fact that Marterie had fired the whole trombone section the same week. Years later he worked off and on with the band and Ralph had mellowed a bit. On one gig at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City Don Ellis was in the trumpet section. He and Marterie had a strange chemistry, to say the least.
Several of Gordon's good Cincinnati buddies, including Bill Berry and Alex Cirin, had decided to head for Boston and the Berklee School of Music and he joined them. He made lifelong friends there, especially with Jimmy Mosher, who became his band-boy, main cohort when out with Woody's band years later. Gordon also was at Berklee at a rich period of talented fellow classmates, including Bill Chase, Paul Fontaine, Phil Wilson and Jake Hanna. He didn't stay in school full-time very long but decided to study privately with Herb Pomeroy and Ray Santisi. Brisker wrote charts for Herb's big band and also worked with the band at the Apollo Theater in a sax section, which included Charlie Mariano. In the mid-eighties Gordon returned to teach at Berklee and wrote a good percentage of the arrangements for Herb's smaller edition big band. Herb was kind enough to allow him to photocopy Brisker's arrangements, many of which are still played when Gordon works with the latest version of the big band in Cincinnati.
He's had additional private instruction with Albert Harris, eminent Los Angeles film composer/teacher, Felix Labunski, Professor Emeritus, Cincinnati College of Music (Composition), Joseph Allard, Woodwind Dept., Julliard School of Music, Joseph Viola, Chair, Woodwinds, Berklee College of Music, and Diane Alancraig, former flutist, Philadelphia Orchestra.
Following his early Boston years Brisker returned to Cincinnati to work in a bar called Mother's. Bill Berry was in the quintet, which was led by drummer, Dee Felice. During the months at Mother's during various periods Hal Galper was on piano, Billy Bean on guitar and Gene Roland on a strange euphonium-type of instrument. It was during this time that Gordon left Cincinnati to go on the road with the Al Belletto sextet. At a later period Don Menza and Phil Wilson came on the band.
In 1960 Brisker joined Woody Herman. Also in the band at that time were Don Lanphere, Rolf Ericson, Jimmy Campbell and Jimmy Guinn. He stayed with Woody for 2 and a half years and wrote several arrangements he recorded, including Blues For JP, Lonesome Town, and Free Again. Although Gordon was on the band for that long a time, Woody only recorded one album during this period. He was fortunate to have a solo on the Bill Chase composition, Camel Walk.
After leaving Woody, Brisker moved to NYC with my first wife and two small children, John and Julie. New York was difficult at that time but he worked a bit with Sol Yaged, played behind Tony Bennett and did Gerry Mulligan's band at Birdland. He played with the Louie Bellson Orchestra and was on call with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1964. His first marriage hit the rocks and Gordon left NY for Cincinnati in 1965.
In Cincinnati Brisker met his present wife, Cindy. At that time he was Musical Director for the Nick Clooney television show. Gordon was also playing local clubs, sometimes on piano, and backing singers such as Jackie Paris, Anne Marie Moss and Mark Murphy.
In 1977 Gordon and his wife decided to move to Los Angeles. His first gig was with the LA Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. A short-lived musician's strike sounded the immanent death knoll for that industry. Brisker primarily wanted to be a composer, as woodwind doubling had never appealed to him, but found the local politics alien to his nature. He did play quite a few gigs in LA and learned a lot from the highly accomplished pros who live there. Gordon especially values his years with the Bobby Shew Quintet (1978-1982), playing with Bill Holman's band and working with Dave Pell's Prez Conference. From 1984-85, he was a member of the WUZ - Pop Ensemble of the Boston Orchestra. He also made recordings with Shew and Pell plus a few on his own for Albert Marx' Discovery label. In the late 80's Gordon started traveling with Anita O'Day (1987-1995) and later on became her MD when she parted ways with John Poole, her partner & drummer for thirty years. Brisker worked and traveled with Anita until he left for Sydney in 1995.
The lack of gigs and the political scene in LA caused Gordon to look in other career directions. He entered California State University, Los Angeles in 1989 to get his Master's degree in composition. After getting his degree Brisker started applying for teaching positions. A good friend, Kim Richmond, informed him of an opening at The University of Sydney in Jazz Studies. At first Australia seemed too remote but when things became even more sour in LA Gordon decided to apply for the position. He was accepted.
During the almost six years he spent in Sydney Gordon met a lot of excellent musicians, made some great friends and enjoyed the ambiance and beauty of the country. The great pianist/composer, Mike Nock, also taught at the school. Mike became his mentor and produced two CD's Brisker recorded for Naxos Jazz. Gordon has since become a dual citizen with the US and Australia.
In 2001, mainly due to my wife's need to become a caretaker for her aging parents, he relocated to Cincinnati. Gordon has been writing and playing, with tours to San Francisco (masterclasses at Hayward U. and San Francisco State) and gigs in New England. He will be in LA for work this week and have another East coast tour scheduled for April.
He's been a guest artist at many jazz festivals and clubs, including Dizzy's - Rotterdam, Holland - July 1999; Manly Jazz Festival - Sydney, Australia - October 1999; Bennett's Lane - Melbourne, Australia - June 2000; The SideOn Cafe (with the Mike Nock Trio) - Sydney, Australia - July 2000; Christchurch Jazz Festival - Christchurch, New Zealand - August 2000; The Brasserie - Hollywood, CA - September 2000; Naxos Jazz Party - New York, NY - September 2000; The Blue Wisp - Cincinnati, Ohio - September 2000; The Jazz Bakery - Culver City, California - October 2000; Harry's Quayside Bar - Singapore- December 2000; Melbourne Jazz Festival - January 2001; Press Room, Portsmouth, New Hampshire - August 2002; Barrelhouse Brewery, Cincinnati, Ohio - September 2002; Bennett's Lane - Melbourne, Australia - October 2002; Gilly's, Dayton, Ohio - November 2002 and the 501 Club, Columbus, Ohio - January 2003.
University of Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Sydney, Australia - 1995 - 2001: Teaching Responsibilities: Advanced Ensemble; Arranging/Composition; Jazz History; Ear Training; Improvisation Ensembles; Saxophone; Big Band Other Responsibilities: Recruitment, public awareness/community service, research, program development
Grove School of Music, Van Nuys, California 1988-90: Teaching Responsibilities: Jazz Performance; Ensemble Playing
Berklee College of Music, Boston, Massachusetts, 1983-86: Teaching Responsibilities: Arranging I, II; Ear Training Jingle Writing; Listening & Analysis; Count Basie Ensemble; Woody Herman Ensemble; Improvising Skills, Theory I, II
Guitar Institute of Technology (MI) - Los Angeles, California, 1983: Teaching Responsibilities: Arranging; Sight Reading; Ensemble Performance; Improvising Skills
Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Cincinnati, Ohio - 1977: Teaching Responsibilities: Jazz Arranging/ Composition
Clinician in Jazz Saxophone Performance, Improvisation Theory: San Francisco State, San Francisco, California - 2002, Hayward University, Hayward, California - 2002, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia - 2002, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana - 2002, Western Australian Conservatorium of Music, Perth, Australia - 2001, National University of Singapore- 2000, University of Cincinnati - Jazz/saxophone masterclasses - 2000, Walnut Hills High School, Cincinnati, Ohio - 2000, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand - 2000, Jazz School, Christchurch, New Zealand - 2000, Elder Conservatorium of Music, Adelaide, Australia - 1999, International Association of Schools of Jazz, Santiago de Compostella, Spain - 1999, Rotterdam Conservatorium, Rotterdam - 1999, Canberra School of Music, Canberra, Australia -1999, Christchurch Polytec, Christchurch, New Zealand - 1998, Fullerton College-Idylwild Summer Sessions - 1989-92
Collective Consciousness (1982); About Charlie (1986); New Beginning (1988); The Gift (1997); My Shining Hour (1999); My Son John (2000)
Woody Herman: Woody '63 (1963); Bobby Shew: Outstanding in His Field (Grammy Nominated, 1984), Play Song (1985); Anita O'Day: In a Mellow Tone (Grammy Nominated, 1989)
Television broadcasts and films:
Musical Director: The Nick Clooney Show, WCPO-TV, WLW-TV - Cincinnati, Ohio (1970-1974); The Bob Newhart Show (1979); The Buddy Holly Story (1980); Hunter (1989); Who Did That Music? - Music Library (1994); Killer Tracks - Music Library (1998); Music performed on Television Shows: "All My Children", "Earth Angel", "Family Matters", "Living Single", "One Life to Live", "Guiding Light", "New Attitudes", "House Beautiful", "Get Real", "Drew Carey"
Compositions and Arrangements
"Short Story", "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", US Air Force Band in Europe - 2002
"Farewell Princess", "Witness", "Wozzeck's Dilemma", "Here's Looking at You Kid",
"Impetus", "My Son John" (from sound recording "My Son John") - 2001
"Video-Xtra", "Let's Get Serious", "Catharsis", "These Are The Jokes" (from sound recording "The Gift") - 1998
"One For The Duke", Kendor Music, Delevan, NY - 1998
"Hangin' In", Kendor Music - 1998
"Gone, But Not Forgotten", Warner Bros. Music - 1996
"Off the Back Burner", Warner Bros. Music - 1996
"When I Close My Eyes", Kendor Music, Delevan, NY - 1993
"Two Way Split", (with Dave Black) C.P. Belwin, Miami, Florida - 1992
"Mucho Gusto", ibid
"Bud's Back Here", Neil Kjos Music, San Diego, California - 1990
"Easy Aces", Kendor Music, Delevan, NY - 1989
"Scat", ibid - 1988
"New Beginning", Advanced Music, Glendale, California - 1988
"Estas Fueron Los Noches", ibid
"Waltz For T"-The Rodger Fox Big Band (New Zealand)
The Tonight Show Orchestra - 1984 "Horse Trader", "Claptomania"
Paramount Films - 1979 "French Atlantic Affair". (underscore/orchestration), John Addison, composer
Woody Herman Orchestra - 1962,"Woody, '63, (Phillips Records),
"Blues for J.P.", "Lonesome Town" (arrangements)
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (Erich Kunzel)
"St Regis Affair" (Premier Performance) - 1970
Arrangements for James Brown, Rosemary Clooney, Artie Shaw Orchestra, Louie Bellson Orchestra, Herb Pomeroy Orchestra
"Warm-ups For Saxophone", NAJE Journal, Manhattan, KS - 1980
"Jazz Improvisation and the Inner Person", Sandra Kay Music,
Los Angeles - Jamie Aebersold, distributor - 1993