Sal Nistico - Heavyweights

Sal Nistico Heavyweights (Jazzland 1962)

It may not have had widespread coverage, but Heavyweights was a thoroughly convincing declaration of independence by tenor saxophonist Sal Nistico.

Sal Nistico - Heavyweights


Sal Nistico (tenor saxophone), Nat Adderley (cornet), Barry Harris (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Walter Perkins (drums)


on December 20, 1961 at Plaza Sound Studio, New York City


as JLP 66 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Seconds, Anyone
My Old Flame
Side B:
Just Friends
Au Privave

During a conversation with fellow tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes in 1966, Sal Nistico said: “A lot of cats put down bebop, and they say it’s old and it’s dated, but that music’s not easy – It’s a challenge to play.”

The debut album of Nistico, 1962’s Heavyweights, made it sound easy, always a feat of accomplished players. When Heavyweights was recorded on December 20, 1961, Nistico, born in Syracuse, New York in 1941, had just left the Jazz Brothers Band of Chuck and Gap Mangione, which he had been part of since 1959. Nistico would come into prominence in Woody Herman’s Herd from 1962 to 1965. Nistico, who would furthermore play and record with Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Curtis Fuller, Dusko Goykovich, Hod ‘O Brien, Stan Tracey, Frank Strazzeri, Rein de Graaff and Chet Baker, enjoyed regular stints with Herman throughout his career, that came to an end with his passing in 1991 in Bern, Switzerland.

The strong line-up of Heavyweights furthermore consists of cornetist Nat Adderley, pianist Barry Harris, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Walter Perkins. The ensembles of Nistico and Adderley are fresh drops of water from the Spa source. Nistico is a hot, strong player, meanwhile keeping clarity of line, keeping the beat at a slightly laid-back pace, fiery and emotional yet convinced too of the power of understatement. Nat Adderley, very successful with the funky soul jazz work of the Cannonball Adderley Quintet in 1961, knows his bop, adding a delightful tad of sleaze to it with the muted sound of his cornet. Barry Harris, as always, is both magnificent as accompanist and soloist, contributing a number of masterful, Monk-ish statements.

Kickstarted by a fantastic mambo tune – Mamblue by Barry Harris – Heavyweights gracefully carries on the tradition of bebop, particularly Charlie Parker. The group performs Parker’s blues Au Privave, as well as My Old Flame and Just Friends, standards that are immortalized by Parker. Nistico’s Second’s, Anyone is a catchy bop line and Tommy Turrentine’s Shoutin’ a solid uptempo bebop performance. The unusual structure of the title tune, Heavyweights, penned by Frank Pullara, is reminiscent of Gerry Mulligan’s unique work. It’s a beautiful melody.

Straight-ahead excellence.

Sal Nistico


In the early sixties the line-up of The Herd, Woody Herman’s big band that had spawned such groundbreaking editions as the First Herd with Bill Harris, Pete Candoli and Flip Philips and The Second Herd with the famous Four Brothers section of Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, Serge Chaloff and Stan Getz, was one of the most exciting to date. It included trumpeter Bill Chase, trombonist Phil Wilson and drummer Jake Hanna. As well as a thickset fellow from Italian ancestry who regularly jumped off the blocks to deliver a hot explosive story. That was Sal Nistico.

See some of Nistico’s lively playing on The Herd’s rendition of Horace Silver’s Sister Sadie on YouTube here.

Nistico was an outstanding straightforward tenor saxophonist who was born in Syracuse, New York on April 2, 1941. He played in the Jazz Brothers band of Chuck and Gap Mangione from 1959 to 1961 and came into prominence in the big band of Woody Herman. He was part of The Herd from 1962 to 1965 and would have regular stints with the bandleader throughout his career. Nistico also played and recorded with Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Curtis Fuller, Dusko Goykovich, Stan Tracey and Chet Baker, spending a big part of his career in Europe.

Fiery in the big band context, Nistico had no shortage of fire as a leader of small group dates, yet leaned towards a more balanced, bop-oriented approach, most likely the environment he enjoyed most. With his strong tone, fluency and slightly-behind-the-beat timing, Nistico fronted straight ahead groups on records with Nat Adderley, Barry Harris, Benny Bailey, Roy Haynes, Frank Strazzeri and Hod ‘O Brien.

From left to right: Heavyweights, Jazzland 1962; Neo/Nistico, Beehive 1978; Hod ‘O Brien & Sal Nistico, Live In The Netherlands, Porgy & Bess, Terneuzen 1986, HodStef Music 2017

Nistico sheds a light on his approach and feelings about modern jazz in a conversation with English saxophonist Tubby Hayes that was published in Cresendo Magazine’s Anglo-American Exchange in 1966 by Les Tompkins. See here.

Tubby Hayes: “there seem to be a lot of younger musicians here (in New York, FM) who are trying to be different for the sake of being different, without actually knowing the roots.”

Sal Nistico: “It’s like — I talked to Coltrane. He used to dig Arnette Cobb, Illinois Jacquet. Those guys have a firm foundation for what they’re doing. A lot of cats put down bebop, and they say it’s old and it’s dated, but that music’s not easy — it’s a challenge to play.”

Nistico was married to singer Rachel Gould. One of five children, their daughter Miriam – theatre maker and musician – shares memories of her background and artistic goals here.

She says: “Sal (…) looked like a gladiator, with a stocky Southern Italian physique, thick curly black hair and a crumpled forehead. People judge books by their covers and most people assumed that Sal was a man with a thick skin, a tough guy. In fact, as is so often the case, he was incredibly sensitive. He had a child’s hatred of cruelty and injustice (…) and he struggled with the machismo and bravado of men on tour.”

Sal Nistico passed away on March 3, 1991 in Bern, Switzerland.