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Jay Migliori, 70; Key Member of Supersax

Obituaries

September 07, 2001|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jay Migliori, a charter member of the Grammy-winning group Supersax who played with everyone from Woody Herman to Frank Zappa in a career that spanned more than five decades, has died. He was 70.

Migliori, a Mission Viejo resident, died Sunday of colon cancer.

Migliori, a saxophonist who described his style of playing as "modern acoustic jazz with roots in bebop," was a working musician who seldom lacked for work.

Over the years, he performed with more than two dozen bands, including those led by Miles Davis, Stan Kenton, Terry Gibbs, Louie Bellson, Si Zentner and Maynard Ferguson.

As a studio musician, he played on about 4,000 commercial recordings, including singles and albums by Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, Glen Campbell, the Four Seasons, Dean Martin, the Righteous Brothers, the Ronettes, Ray Charles and Celine Dion.

But jazz was his passion.

Born in Erie, Pa., Migliori received an alto sax for his 12th birthday and fell in love with jazz as a teenager.

"You have to compose at the same time you're playing," he told The Times in 1997. "The music goes by and it's like you're watching it, but you can't stop it. You have to fill in as much as possible. That still fascinates me."

A major influence was jazz alto sax legend Charlie Parker.

Migliori, who attended the St. Louis Institute of Music and played in the 571st Air Force Band during the Korean War, met Parker at an afternoon jam session in 1954 while Migliori was attending the Berklee School of Music in Boston and Parker was appearing at the Hi-Hat Club.

Parker invited Migliori to join in on several of his tunes at the Hi-Hat the next evening, a performance that was broadcast by disc jockey "Symphony Sid" Torin and that is preserved on "Bird in Boston: Live at the Hi-Hat, Vol. 2."

Migliori later included Parker's music in his own performances. He enjoyed the challenge of trying to play the complex chord structure and unique melody of Parker's "Confirmation," for example.

"It's like running the rapids," he said.

In 1971, Migliori joined Supersax, an ensemble built around a five-saxophone section that specializes in orchestrated Parker solos.

"It's the most difficult concerted saxophone music that there is," said leader Med Flory. "We played not just Charlie Parker's lines but his choruses in harmony and we looked for the hardest choruses that we could find. It was a group effort and [Jay] was terrific."

Migliori recorded four albums of his own, including "Jazz in Transition" and "Smile."

Although he underwent surgery for cancer six years ago, Migliori continued working clubs and casuals a minimum of five nights a week until six weeks ago.

Migliori is survived by his wife, Patti; four children, Fable, Jay Jay, Francesca and John-Michael; and two grandchildren.

A funeral service that is being called a celebration of Migliori's life--with live music provided by his friends--will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Pacific View Memorial Park, 3500 Pacific View Drive, Newport Beach.

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