Local jazz saxophone great Tony Campise, who was nominated for a Grammy in 1992 for his "Once In a Blue Moon" LP, died Sunday morning at University Medical Center Brackenridge a day after having a brain hemorrhage. Campise, 67, never fully recovered from an October fall outside a Corpus Christi hotel, where he hit the back of his head. He had shown signs of improvement, even playing the sax to the delight of his nurses at Texas Neuro Rehab Center, but after having a third brain surgery last month, he became unresponsive, said his close friend and booking agent, Mike Mordecai.
Campise was unable to attend a Feb. 21 benefit in his honor at Antone's.
A Houston native, Campise settled in Austin in 1984 after several years on the road with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Besides a five-nights-a-week gig on Sixth Street, he also backed such legends as Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan.
"There were six jazz clubs on Sixth Street at the time, but there wasn't a close-knit scene," Mordecai said Sunday.
"Tony was the needle that sewed us all together."
A great listener and natural mentor, Campise greatly influenced musicians including John Mills, Kris Kimura and Elias Haslanger. Even nationally known sax players, such as Michael Brecker , would seek out Campise when they were in Austin. "He had that blazing technique," Mordecai said. "We were all in awe of his musicianship, but what set Tony apart from, say, a Charlie Parker, was the humor and pure joy he brought to his playing."
Campise, also an accomplished flutist, began his musical career in the seventh grade, when he would often sneak out his bedroom window to jam with musicians in Houston jazz clubs.
Campise is survived by his mother, 99-year-old Pauline Campise, a brother, Joseph Campise, and a sister, Jo Ann Colca, all of Houston. Memorial services are being planned for Houston and Austin, but details are pending.
Published in Austin American-Statesman from March 7 to March 9, 2010