Phil Woods: Philology
"They listen to me and they're getting it second hand. Always go to the masters, the guys that invented this stuff: Bird, Louis Jordan, Cannonball, Johnny Hodges, Willie Smith, Pete Brown from Staten Island, a favorite of mine not often remembered and of course the great Benny Carter, one of the first cats I ever heard. I always tell the young players 'don't be a one trick pony,' listen to everybody, not just the most fashionable and the most popular. If you find me as one of your ingredients fine, but don't be myopic. I didn't just copy Charlie Parker, I listened to the alto sax played by people who knew how to play and made an amalgam of it all."
Woods has fond memories of his early years, the '50s-60s, when all the major labels had subsidiaries that put out big band and orchestral projects. He's proud to have worked with such leaders/arrangers as Manny Albam, Oliver Nelson, Ralph Burns, Quincy Jones, Neal Hefti, Bill Potts and Johnny Richards.
"God bless Mosaic [the reissue label] for making Oliver's and Johnny Richards' wonderful stuff available," he says. "I remember subbing for Gene Quill [his partner in the two alto sax quintet of the time, Phil & Quill] in the Richards band at Birdland. After playing until almost 4 am, Johnny would bring out new arrangements and we'd rehearse until breakfast time. That's when giants walked the earth."
Many fans and musicians would say that Woods is also one of those giants of jazz, notably Paolo Piangiarelli, who named his record label, Philology, for Woods, dedicating the label to "documenting authentic legends of jazz [mostly Woods and fellow alto legend Lee Konitz] and preserving the music of this genius of jazz." The Phil Woods discography on the label numbers 40 albums and counting. Goodwin has lost count of the recordings he's done with the Quartet/Quintet, Little Big Band and Big Band, but he says the band's book has over 300 charts and is constantly expanding.
"Phil's band is almost a writer's workshop," says McNeely. "He likes to play a lot of different kinds of things and wrote a lot himself as well as encouraging us to write. And it was great to write for a band with such a constant personnel, you know everybody's strengths and weaknesses. And everyone in the band could read so well that we could run a tune at a sound check and then begin playing it on the gig right away. When I was leaving the band and Phil and Bill decided to record a whole album of my works [The Phil Woods Quintet Plays the Music of Jim McNeely on TCB], it was like a classical composer being asked to do an album for the Emerson String Quartet or some other really established ensemble, a real honor."
Woods has a busy schedule this spring, from an April appearance at Jack Kleinsinger's Highlights in Jazz series to dates in Europe, but he's not very sanguine about the future of jazz these days. "Europe is pretty quiet and it's going to get worse," he predicts. "A festival in London just cancelled and that's just the tip of the iceberg. European festivals have kept American jazz musicians alive for years but I have a feeling it's over, we're getting to the swan song, the bread has dried up and there won't be many more straight-ahead jazz festivals."
But meanwhile, Woods is more optimistic about his local jazz scene in the Poconos, where he's looking forward to the 33rd annual Delaware Water Gap Celebration of the Arts (COTA) festival in September, an event he co-founded with trombonist Rick Chamberlain, and to reviving a jazz summer school that has been "my dream since the jazz camp we had in New Hope in the '60s that Michael Brecker, Richie Cole and Roger Rosenberg attended. And I'm also doing another 10-day residency at DePaul University in Chicago in May, working with Bob Lark's student big band. So my plate is pretty full."
Phil Woods, Rights of Swing (Candid, 1960-61)
Phil Woods & His European Rhythm Machine, At The Frankfurt Jazz Festival (Atlantic, 1970)
Phil Woods, Musique Du Bois (Muse-32 Jazz-Pony Canyon, 1974)
Benny Carter/Phil Woods, Another Time, Another Place (Evening Star, 1996)
Phil Woods, The Solo Album (Philology, 2000)
Phil Woods/Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra, Unheard Herd (Jazzed Media, 2004)