Amazon.com Widgets

Phil Woods: Philology

By Published: | 8,324 views
When pianist Jim McNeely
Jim McNeely
Jim McNeely
b.1949
composer/conductor
replaced Hal Galper
Hal Galper
Hal Galper
b.1938
piano
in the Phil Woods Quintet in 1990 it was the current winner—repeating in 1991—of the Downbeat Readers Poll as top jazz small group. But, as McNeely remembers, his first days with the alto saxophonist's band included a benefit concert for the local volunteer fire department in Delaware Water Gap, Penn. (where Woods has lived since 1974), a cancelled jazz club gig and playing at the wedding of Woods' friend.

"Well," Woods told McNeely afterwards, "we've had a freebie, a cancelled gig and a wedding. Welcome to the Number One jazz band."

When Woods brings his Quintet into Dizzy's Club this month the band, a quartet in its earliest incarnations and a quintet, first in 1976-77 and permanently since 1983, will be entering its 36th year with original members Woods, bassist Steve Gilmore and drummer Bill Goodwin. On trumpet will be Brian Lynch
Brian Lynch
Brian Lynch
b.1956
trumpet
, a 17-year veteran of the band and filling the piano spot vacated recently by Bill Charlap
Bill Charlap
Bill Charlap
b.1966
piano
after 14 years will be the fifth occupier of that chair, Bill Mays
Bill Mays
Bill Mays
b.1944
piano
.

"Our three original members will soon pass the Modern Jazz Quartet in terms of jazz band tenure," says Goodwin, who also produces most of the band's recordings. "I've surpassed Connie Kay
Connie Kay
Connie Kay
1927 - 1994
drums
[MJQ, 34 years] and Sonny Greer
Sonny Greer
Sonny Greer
1895 - 1982
drums
[Duke Ellington Orchestra, 23 years] as the longest running drummer in one group."

Woods' own career (he'll turn 78 later this year) predates the formation of the Quartet/Quintet by over two decades. He was an established star by the late '50s and right through the following decade, working with big bands led by Charlie Barnet
Charlie Barnet
Charlie Barnet
1913 - 1991
composer/conductor
, Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich
1917 - 1987
drums
, Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
, Michel Legrand
Michel Legrand
Michel Legrand
b.1932
piano
and Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
b.1933
producer
and appearing and touring with the Thelonious Monk Orchestra and Benny Goodman Orchestra, as well as sideman, studio and film soundtrack work and leading his own bands. Music fans beyond jazz have heard his solos on recordings by Steely Dan, Carly Simon and, most famously, Billy Joel's hit, "Just the Way You Are." Among his many honors are numerous readers and critics poll wins as the top alto saxophonist, a Kennedy Center Living Legends in Jazz Award, four Grammys and having a jazz label, Philology (in Italy), named for him.

Early in his career, Encyclopedia of Jazz author Leonard Feather said Woods "has inherited the Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
style and modified it to his own ends more successfully than almost any other alto man except Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
Julian
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
1928 - 1975
saxophone
." But Woods is no Bird clone, in fact he has a distinctive and immediately recognizable alto sax sound marked by a sumptuous tone, superb technique and exceptional lyricism.

"What really knocked me out about Phil," recalled McNeely, "was that he could play a line and every note had a different inflection to it and a little different articulation. He never just ran out a string of eighth notes, he always was sculpting the line in certain ways with his melodic sense. He's got wonderful technique but the great thing there too is he doesn't hit you over the head with it; the technique is a means to a greater end, so it's not like you're hearing a guy with a lot of chops, you're hearing a great musician expressing himself fully. And Phil is such a strong player, especially with time, something we could really feel since we usually played acoustically, so it was like a chamber group except very high energy."

Catching up with Woods on the phone from his home at the Gap, he was busy adding arrangements from a trove of Al Cohn
Al Cohn
Al Cohn
1925 - 1988
sax, tenor
charts rescued from a dumpster—he's a member of the board of the Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection housed at East Stroudsburg University—to his computer as well as finishing up a commission from the (classical) New Jersey Saxophone Quartet which he is dedicating to his clarinet teacher at Juilliard, Jimmy Abate. And being home doesn't necessarily mean being inactive as a player, as Woods still helms a Pocono area big band that plays local gigs. He is preparing to record solos for a Philology album of his own songs and lyrics by singer Michelle Lombardi that was recorded in Italy. He's also looking forward to the imminent release on Jazzed Media of another project, one 40 years in the making, his The Children's Suite, inspired by the poems of A. A. Milne.

"Yeah," said Woods, "we finally got it recorded by my [8-piece] Little Big Band plus a string quartet, with singers Bob Dorough
Bob Dorough
Bob Dorough
b.1923
piano
and Vicki Doney and readings by actor Peter Dennis. A local PBS station also videotaped it a couple of years ago and it should eventually come out on DVD too."

A suggestion that some new young alto saxophonists appearing on the jazz scene are today hailed as "the new Phil Woods," just like he was once hailed as the "new Charlie Parker," prompted this response from Woods:

comments powered by Disqus
Search
Support All About Jazz Through Amazon

Weekly Giveaways

Mark Elf

Mark Elf

About | Enter

Stefano Bollani

Stefano Bollani

About | Enter

Carmen Lundy

Carmen Lundy

About | Enter

Wadada Leo Smith

Wadada Leo Smith

About | Enter

Bandzoogle: GET STARTED TODAY - FREE TRIAL

Enter it twice.
To the weekly jazz events calendar

Enter the numbers in the graphic
Enter the code in this picture

Log in

One moment, you will be redirected shortly.

Article Search