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Update on Saxist MIKE BRIGNOLA

Accident hospitalizes 'Heart of the Herd'
News of saxophonist's injuries rocks jazz world...

By Kevin Taylor, Reporter, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, WA. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (800-789-0029 x5442)

Mike Brignola, long-time baritone saxophonist and road manager with the Woody Herman Thundering Herd, is in serious condition at Sacred Heart Medical Center, Spokane, WA, following a car accident Nov. 24, 2002. Mike was driving to the airport the morning after a Herd clinic and concert at Eastern Washington University when he was broadsided by a car traveling on the highway spur leading to the airport.

"He should have died at the scene, the state trooper said. They had to cut him out of the car," said John Nugent, a musician and booking agent for the Woody Herman Orchestra, reached Tuesday in New York City.

Despite only the sketchiest of stories here, news of the accident spread quickly across the Internet to all corners of the jazz world.

After 20 years with the Woody Herman Orchestra, the 45-year-old Brignola is seen as the keeper of the flame. He made a deathbed promise to Woody Herman to keep the music alive, has archived many of Herman's songs and, in addition to playing saxophone, is the road manager who makes sure the Thundering Herd, one of only a handful of world-class big-band jazz orchestras still playing, gets to gigs around the globe.

One Florida man wrote in an e-mail to The Spokesman-Review that Brignola "Is the Heart of the Herd."

"I have received 500 or 600 e-mails about Mike," Nugent said. "He is a very well-loved musician. Hundreds and hundreds of people -- good friends and colleagues -- are connected to him."

"He is much loved," said Terry Nazon, Brignola's fiancee, reached Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "It's very, very sad. It's extremely sad. Everything he needs to play the baritone saxophone has been affected. His lungs, his shoulder.". Brignola's injuries included broken ribs, a punctured lung, a broken scapula and fractured pelvis. His condition was upgraded to serious, a nursing supervisor said Tuesday night, and Nugent said earlier that Brignola was taken off a respirator Tuesday.

His parents, Michael and Dolores Brignola, from Bala Cynwyd, Pa., and a sister, Barbara Brignola, of Havertown, Pa., arrived in Spokane the night of the accident and have been at his side almost constantly. A brother, Guy, and a sister, Debra, are in Pennsylvania.

The Brignolas were informed of their son's accident by Rob Tapper, director of jazz studies at Eastern Washington University. Brignola, as road manager for the Woody Herman Orchestra, was the go-to guy for setting up appearances. The Thundering Herd has traveled to Eastern the last two years not only to perform at the jazz festival, but also to conduct clinics and master classes for hundreds of college, high school and middle school musicians. It's a ton of work every year and, after the festival-ending concert on Nov. 22, Tapper said he and members of the Herd met at an airport Denny's to decompress.

Not Brignola.

"He went right to bed," said Tapper, who was awakened the next morning by a phone call from the state patrol with news of the accident. Tapper and music students at Eastern have sent cards and pies to Brignola's family at the hospital. Tapper also had the strange task of breaking open Brignola's suitcase, still in the wrecked car in an impound lot, to retrieve music for the band's next gig in Ottawa, Ontario, on Saturday.

"It was strange to be there without Mike," Nugent said. "It's the first concert he's missed in 20 years."

"Michael prides himself on never being late, never missing a concert. He takes it very seriously," Nazon said. "He is a super, super guy."

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Mike Brignola
  • Event Date: 12/4/2002
  • Subtitle: Recovering from Serious Auto Accident
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