Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Phil Woods (November 2, 1931 ~ September 30, 2015)

A weight that would break most musicians pressed on Phil Woods from early on.  How many young singer-songwriters have been declared "the next Bob Dylan" or young operatic tenors "the next Plácido Domingo"?  Woods was burdened with being "the next Charlie Parker," a jazz legend of extraordinary virtuosity, after the death in 1955 of the man nicknamed Bird.  Woods soared to that challenge, not merely becoming the New Bird, as he invariably was dubbed when he was still wet behind the ears, but forging a 60-plus year career as an extraordinary bebop alto saxophonist, as Bird had been, as well as a gifted bandleader and composer.
Woods died on Tuesday morning.  He was 83.
I first met Woods because of the Delaware Water Gap Celebration of the Arts, a jazz festival held each September since 1978 in the tiny eastern Poconos village of Delaware Water Gap.  
Woods, trombonist Rick Chamberlain and community organizer Eddie Joubert had founded the festival.  While Woods played at every festival until this year, as had Chamberlain until his passing earlier this year, Joubert left this mortal coil in 1981, the victim of a brutal ax murder that left the close-knit community of musicians, artists and Vietnam veterans stunned and bereft.
When I interviewed Woods in 2003 for The Bottom of the Fox: A True Story of Love, Devotion & Cold-Blooded Murder, a book about Joubert's life and times, he opened his home and heart to me, and we chatted at length in a spacious living room with a cathedral ceiling and walls covered with four Grammy awards, a slew of Downbeat and Playboy Jazz Poll awards, testimonials and a gold record or three.
Woods and I later became neighbors, if not exactly bosom buddies.  He is irascible and then some, although I did hear that he liked The Bottom of the Fox so much that he gave away copies as Christmas presents the year that it was published.
Phil Woods and Eddie Joubert at the jazz festival (1981)
When Woods reprised Parker's classic Charlie Parker With Strings album with a jazz trio and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Pittsburgh on September 4, he left his alto sax on stage after the last number, an unmistakable message that his extraordinary playing career was over.
That career includes 48 albums as a leader and many as a much-sought-after sideman to, among others, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Oliver Nelson, Ron Carter, Quincy Jones, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Art Farmer, Milt Jackson, Bill Evans, Stephane Grappelli, Ben Webster, Lee Konitz, Kenny Burrell and Gary Burton. 
That's Woods blowing sax on Billy Joel's New York State of Mind and Turnstiles, as well as on Joel's "Just The Way You Are," for which he was paid $300 for just 10 minutes of studio work.  The single was a Number 3 hit, went gold and jump started Joel's then struggling career.  He also played on classic rock hits by Paul Simon ("Having a Good Time") and Steely Dan ("Doctor Wu"), both produced by Phil Ramone, a classmate of Woods' at the Julliard School.
Steely Dan’s “Doctor Wu,” Paul Simon’s “Have a Good Time” and Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” The last two were produced by Phil Ramone, a classmate from Woods’ days at New York’s Juilliard School.

Read More: Phil Woods, Saxophone Legend, Dies at 83 | http://ultimateclassicrock.com/phil-woods-dies/?trackback=tsmclip
Steely Dan’s “Doctor Wu,” Paul Simon’s “Have a Good Time” and Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” The last two were produced by Phil Ramone, a classmate from Woods’ days at New York’s Juilliard School.

Read More: Phil Woods, Saxophone Legend, Dies at 83 | http://ultimateclassicrock.com/phil-woods-dies/?trackback=tsmclip
Steely Dan’s “Doctor Wu,” Paul Simon’s “Have a Good Time” and Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” The last two were produced by Phil Ramone, a classmate from Woods’ days at New York’s Juilliard School.

Read More: Phil Woods, Saxophone Legend, Dies at 83 | http://ultimateclassicrock.com/phil-woods-dies/?trackback=tsmclip
Woods was one of those great artists whose sound is immediately recognizable: Distinctive and clean  melodies, dashing runs and subtle quotes wrapped into a bright, soaring tone. 
While he is most closely associated with Parker, he has never copied him, and his greatest inspirations actually were alto sax greats Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter, with whom he was very close until Carter's death in 2003. 
Woods passed at Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg, Pa., not far from his home in Delaware Water Gap, where he had lived since 1976.  He had been battling emphysema and other health problems, including a self-acknowledged blow-and-booze lifestyle in his younger days that was bound to catch up to him.  He had brought an oxygen tank on stage at recent concerts, and as he noted at a memorial service for Chamberlain, no one was more surprised than himself that he had outlived the other jazz festival founders.
His association with Parker was solidified when he married Parker’s widow, Chan, in 1957.  The marriage ended in divorce.  He is survived by his wife, Jill Goodwin; a son, Garth; three stepdaughters, Kim Parker and Allisen and Tracy Trotter; and a grandson.
As crowning achievements go, Woods' is monstrous.  In 2007, he received the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award.

"Jazz will never perish," Woods said.  "It's forever music, and I like to think that my music is somewhere in there and will last, maybe not forever, but may influence others."
Well, he's wrong about the not lasting forever part.

PHOTOGRAPHS © BUD NEALY (2008) AND WALTER BRAEDEL (1981)

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