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Work in Progress

Saxophonist says his jazz teaching regimen in Australia and his students enhance his creativity as a musician.


In his self-published 1993 book, "Jazz Improvisation and the Inner Person," saxophonist-composer Gordon Brisker offered some ideas to younger players on how to make a living at music outside of performance.

"Stay in school and get your degree," he wrote. "Teaching keeps a lot of jazzers in reeds and valve oil."

Brisker, a moving improviser with a warm, round sound and vibrant sense of swing, knew the truth of that statement.

The former Woody Herman tenor saxophone soloist and one-time musical director for singer Anita O'Day has a master's in music composition from Cal State L.A. and has long been involved in jazz education.

Initially this was at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he received his bachelor's degree.

For the last three years, Brisker has taught at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, which is part of the University of Sydney (Australia). There, his classes range from jazz ensemble and improvisation to jazz history.

A Cincinnati native, Brisker, 59, gets a lot of satisfaction from teaching.

Still, he admitted he's always thinking about playing. And being the solid professor that he is, he gleans things from both his teaching regimen and his students that help advance his own art.

"A lot of times kids will transcribe solos that I haven't heard, and these solos open up my head," said Brisker, in a phone interview from Cincinnati, where he was performing recently. "Or my suggesting to a student that a solo [should] make sense, have a form, that goes into my head and I think, 'Maybe I should be more aware of that.' It's kind of like giving yourself a lesson."

Brisker, who lived in the Valley with his wife, Cindy, for more than 20 years before moving to Australia, appears tonight at Chadney's in Burbank with pianist Jon Mayer's trio, featuring bassist Jeff DeAngelo and drummer Sherman Ferguson.

There, the artist, whose latest album is "The Gift," hopes to reveal some of the growth he's had as a player while in Sydney.

"Listeners might be more aware of that than I am," he said.

"I'm a work in progress. I think most of us are. But I'm trying to stretch as a soloist, hoping to play seamlessly, where the method is hidden and the music is what's important. I just want to play and be continually inventing."

Originally based in the post-bop style of tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, Brisker later discovered the looser-structured music of alto saxophonist and avant-garde leader Ornette Coleman.

Brisker still listens to both of them.

"I like Ornette's freedom, his flow, and I like the way Sonny, on his older records, loved to paint himself into a corner, then paint himself out," he said. "He never played it safe. That's what I try to do: throw myself into places I haven't been."

At Chadney's, Brisker will be reunited with Mayer, with whom he made an album for Denon that has been released only in Japan.

The two plan to rehearse and will offer anything from tunes by the great pianist Kenny Barron to Brisker's originals from "The Gift."

The saxophonist said Mayer will provide the kind of interaction that makes a performance come to life.

"Jon always catches fire," Brisker said. "He's got a great rhythmic feeling, great jazz roots out of that Wynton Kelly bag. And when I stretch, it doesn't throw him. He just keeps swinging."

* Gordon Brisker plays with Jon Mayer's trio tonight, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., at Chadney's, 3000 W. Olive St., Burbank. No cover, one-drink minimum per show. (818) 843-5333.

Quick Hits: Dan Weinstein is a musician with a wide range of interests--he might be heard in a big band, an R&B outfit or a Klezmer group.

He also fronts a group called Viva, in which he plays both trombone and violin in delivering a unique, and certainly appealing, brand of Latin jazz. Viva plays tonight, 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., at Jax, 339 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. No cover, no minimum. Call: (818) 500-1604.

Another musician who brings tons of zest to his work is jazz fusion guitarist Frank Gambale. Hear him tonight, 9:30 and 11:30 p.m., at La Ve Lee, 12514 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City. Cover charge, $5, two-drink minimum. Information: (818) 980-8158.

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