Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 2 November 1931, Springfield MA; d 29 September 2015) Alto sax, clarinet, leader. He studied with Lennie Tristano, studied the clarinet at Juilliard, there being no saxophone major there at the time; toured with big bands, worked with small groups; was married to Chan Richardson (Charlie Parker's consort at the time of his death); played with Dizzy Gillespie big band '56, co-led a two-alto combo with Gene Quill (b Daniel Eugene Quill, 15 December 1927, Atlantic City NJ; d 8 December 1988; recorded with Gerry Mulligan, many others); played in Buddy Rich Quintet '58-9, became founder member of Quincy Jones's big band '59. Along with Cannonball Adderley he was one of the most influential alto players of the post-bop era, deepening the style with a full tone, blues inflections and his own voice, becoming a jazzman of internationally high regard.

He recorded with George Russell (on Decca) and others in the 1950s, and with T. Monk big bands on Riverside and Columbia in '60s, others. His own albums inclcluded Woodlore, Pairing Off, Phil And Quill '55-7 on Prestige (compilation two-disc Altology); octet Rights Of Swing '60 on Candid (his own extended composition); he played concerts with Michel Legrand, contributed to film soundtracks The Hustler '61 and Blow Up '66; recorded with Oliver Nelson, Joe Morello, on Further Definitions '61 by Benny Carter, etc. He lived in Europe '68-72, formed European Rhythm Machine with Gordon Beck on piano (At The Frankfurt Jazz Festival '70 on Atlantic; many years later at Wigmore Hall in London the BBC recorded nearly 2.5 hours of Woods and Beck in duo: The Complete Concert on French JMS).

More Woods albums: Musique Du Bois on Muse, New Music on Testament, two-disc Live From The Show Boat '76 on RCA, More Live '79 on Adelphi, Quartet '79 on Clean Cut, Birds Of A Feather '81 and At The Vanguard '82 on Antilles, Live From New York '82 on Palo Alto. European Tour Live '80 on Red is a two-CD set made in Italy with Mike Mellilo on piano, Steve Gilmore on bass and Bill Goodwin on drums, the rhythm section that had already been with Woods for several years; Hal Galper replaced Mellilo '81. Meanwhile trumpeter Tom Harrell made it a quintet '83 (see his entry) and plays on Integrity on Red, Heaven on Blackhawk (on Evidence CD) and Gratitude on Denon, '84-6. Woods is also heard on Old Acquaintance '85 on Pausa with Conte Candoli, with Lew Tabackin '80 on Omnisound, with Chris Swansen synths on Sea Breeze (Crazy Horse '79; Piper At The Gates Of Dawn '84 was nominated for a Grammy and was later on a Rykodisc CD).

He was finally well-documented, having toured the world with his own group for decades; there are many more CDs on Concord, Philology, Chesky and other labels. (The Concords include Evolution '88 by the Little Big Band, adding a trombone and two reeds to the quintet.) In one of the most unusual releases on Mosaic, that unusual label issued The Phil Woods Quartet/Quintet 20th Anniversary Set '95, five CDs of gems from Woods's stash, recorded in Japan, Finland, London and the USA '76-92, with pianists Mellilo, Galper and Jim McNeely (who replaced Galper '90), trumpeters Harrell and Brian Lynch, guitarist Harry Leahey, trombonist Hal Crook and Zoot Sims on one track: a document to treasure. Plays The Music Of Jim McNeely '95 has everyone on top of some richly textured charts; Astor And Elis on Chesky was his tribute to Astor Piazzolla and vocalist Elis Regina, with a specially-assembled group: Phil Markowitz on synth, Erik Friedlander on cello, Bill Charlap on piano, David Finck on bass, Duduka Da Fonseca on percussion; Mile High Jazz -- Live In Denver '96 on Concord has the Woods quintet playing tunes from 'Godchild' to 'Harlem Nocturne' and making them shine brightly. My Man Benny, My Man Phil on Musicmasters '89 was a studio duo set with Benny Carter, with Chris Neville on piano, George Mraz on bass and Kenny Washington on drums; then Another Time, Another Place '96 on Evening Star was a two-CD set recorded live with Carter at the Regattabar in Cambridge MA, with Neville, John Lockwood on bass and Sherman Ferguson on drums. On Celebration! '97 back on Concord the Festival Orchestra was a big band with Charlap, Gilmore and Goodwin.

He played on pop records, astonishing everybody in dropping by the studio and donating a perfect solo as easy as dropping a hat, on records like Paul Simon's 'Still Crazy After All These Years', Billy Joel's 'Just The Way You Are', Steely Dan's 'Doctor Wu'. An example of Woods's influence: More Live in 1979 was recorded at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, Texas; in the audience was fledgling musician Michael Melinger, who was inspired to get serious: today Melinger's Austin Jazz Workshop takes a sparkling jazz show into each primary school in the area each year, enchanting children of all ages.

That 1979 album was also on CD as The Phil Woods Quartet, Volume One on Clean Cuts. More Woods albums: on Philology, Live At The Corridonia Jazz Festival with the Space Jazz Trio, trio set Just Friends and two duos with piano, Elsa with Enrico Pieranunzi and Our Monk with Franco D'Andrea, all made in Italy; also A Jazz Life, a well-filled compilation of tracks from '56-88, displaying just about every side of a great talent. Man With The Hat 2006 on Pazz and Pass The Bebop 2011 on Cowbell were late albums. Though suffering from emphysema he played a fine gig in Pittsburgh just weeks before he passed. His autobiography (with Ted Panken) was due to be published in 2020.