Meet Phil Woods

Craig Jolley By

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There is no need to introduce Phil Woods to a jazz audience, but it should be mentioned that he is now as active as ever, turning out quality CD's and videos, playing concerts with his popping quintet, posting outrageous and hilarious notes on his website, and generally refusing to fade away.

A Life in E flat (new video)

The first album I did for Graham Carter out of Denver was the Mancini Album with Carl Saunders. He wanted to do more albums about composers. I've always wanted to do one of Quincy Jones music. He said, "That's a terrific idea." I said, "I don't want to do it in Denver because the altitude is too tough for me." He said, "We'll do it in your neck of the woods." [Delaware Water Gap, eastern Pennsylvania] I assembled the band and did the writing and got in touch with Quincy. As we got closer to the project Graham said, "What do you think if we do a video?" I said, "That's a terrific idea." It seemed to work out really well in conjunction with the way I feel about Quincy and his music, and it got me a chance to talk about my life. I think we captured it pretty good. Oh, I'd love to have the Marx Brothers, Paul Whiteman, Joe Venuti, Zoot and Al, a lot of people.

Quincy Jones

Quincy is actually very responsible for my even being here. Without Quincy I might still have been a chemist which is what I wanted to be when I was a kid. He discovered me when I was with the Birdland All-stars and hired me for the Dizzy Gillespie band. That kind of launched my career, so I've always been indebted to Quincy. Quincy gets a bad rap because he's successful. It's a peculiar thing in America—if you're a smashing success there's something suspect about you. I was with him a year in Europe, and we did the Free and Easy show. Working with his band I did his very first album, This is How I Feel about Jazz, which is why I called my album This is How I Feel About Quincy.

Piano playing (a backdrop in A Life in E Flat)

I used to play gigs on the piano when I was in New York—I used to play for singers. It helps me understand music, and it's a very vital tool for every musician. That's why when you go to a conservatory you get keyboard harmony. All too often jazz students can't play any piano because the courses don't demand it. I went to Julliard. If you go to Oberlin or Julliard or Eastman or any of the bona fide music schools, New England Conservatory, you have to take a piano exam before you even get into school no matter what instrument you play. I've always worked at the piano. I spend more time playing the piano than I do the saxophone when I'm home. I don't play a song before the public unless I know how to play it at the keyboard. I analyze everything before I take it to the saxophone. It's the best way to understand the composer's and the lyricist's intent. I compose a little at the piano, but mostly I compose sitting in a chair, thinking about it. Some nights I dream about what I'm working on. I do a lot of sketching at the piano, then I take it to the computer for the final orchestration and tweaking. The original impetus comes not from the keyboard. The keyboard will help point the way. The trouble with composing at the piano is your compositions will never be any further than your technique at the piano.

Writing/Bird with Strings

I've written for any size band you can think of: little big bands, four clarinets, four altos, strings, a lot of big band stuff. That's where I came from. My first gig was with Charlie Barnet's big band. I've done three or four saxophone quartets—a sonata, solo pieces. I'm doing the Charlie Parker music from Bird with Strings which I reorchestrated and added woodwinds. I took some of the original tunes, "Just Friends," "I'll Remember April." I tweaked them a bit—I thought they were a bit dated. I'm not going to try to improve on playing better than Charlie Parker, but I think I can orchestrate better than the way it was then. It was kind of an anemic sound. They only had four or five or ten strings. We're using twenty-four. They just had an oboe. I added clarinet and flute, and it puts a little more sparkle on the strings. Last year I did an album [The Thrill Is Gone] with strings, a lot of Cole Porter, Gershwin, a couple of my originals—nothing to do with Charlie Parker. It's based on Bird with Strings as is every string album, although the first string album was by Artie Shaw. We call the concerts I'm doing "Bird with Strings plus more." I've added some of the music from The Thrill Is Gone. I wouldn't call it hard core jazz, but I think people will enjoy it, people that are not really hard core jazz fans. We work with the local symphony orchestras. They bring in their conductors. We appeal to maybe a different segment of the population because of the symphonic nature of the project, and hopefully get them to be true jazz fans. I think we'll get our fair share of jazz fans also.

European dates


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