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Hal McKusick, 87, big band saxophonist

Hal McKusick of Sag Harbor - legendary saxaphonist,

Hal McKusick of Sag Harbor - legendary saxaphonist, master woodworker, photographer, airplane pilot and teacher. Died April 10 of natural causes at age 87. Photo Credit: Handout

Hal McKusick of Sag Harbor, a prominent saxophonist who toured with big bands of the 1940s and 1950s, died April 10 at age 87, his family said.

The cause of death was complications from a recent fall, his widow, Jan McKusick, said.

Born Harold Wilfred McKusick in Medford, Mass., he moved to Sag Harbor in 1972 and became a local fixture as a music instructor, put on fundraising concerts for local churches and crafted Shaker-style furniture in his own woodworking shop.

"He was kind of a renaissance man, a very talented woodworker. He made the most remarkable furniture," Michele Claeys, head of the Ross School in East Hampton said. "He had yearlong waiting list of customers. He also flew an airplane. He was just crazy talented."

She said the school approached McKusick about 15 years ago to create a jazz program. "He was beloved, beloved, beloved," Claeys said. "The students recognized this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be immersed in jazz with a living, breathing jazz legend."

His mother bought him a clarinet as a Christmas gift when he was 8 years old after he promised to practice every day. "When she gave me that instrument, I wouldn't let it go," McKusick said in a 2007 interview on jazzwax.com, the website of music writer Marc Myers.

He formed his own band when he was 15 and went on to play with the likes of Les Brown, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich and other big bands. He was in the CBS Orchestra from 1958 to 1972, but continued to compose, record and tour -- on his own and with other artists.

He got his commercial pilot's license in the 1970s and flew charters on the East Coast and the Caribbean. He also had an exhibit of his photographs at Nikon House in Rockefeller Center in the 1970s.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three children from a previous marriage: Richard McKusick of Pasadena, Calif., Jim McKusick of Henderson, Nev., and Leslie Ballard of Las Vegas; two brothers, Kenneth McKusick of Orleans, Mass., and Charles McKusick of Satellite Beach, Fla.; seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A public memorial is to be scheduled. The family suggests contributions to the McKusick Scholarship Fund at the Ross School, 18 Goodfriend Drive, East Hampton, N.Y. 11937.

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