Flip Phillips Day

March 26, 1915 – August 17, 2001

A tribute to the swinging tenor saxophonist

Tenor-saxophonist and bass clarinetist Joseph Filipelli (“Flip Phillips”) was born March 26, 1915 in Brooklyn, New York.

Phillips started playing the clarinet when he was 12 and had a steady job during 1934-39 playing at Schneider’s Lobster House in Brooklyn.

After working with Frankie Newton at Kelly’s Stables during 1940-41, Phillips permanently switched to the tenor sax, working with Benny Goodman, Wingy Manone and Red Norvo.

Phillips became famous for his exciting playing with Woody Herman’s First Herd (1944-46) where he took many choruses and was Herman’s main soloist along with trombonist Bill Harris.

After the Herman period, Phillips became a regular with Jazz At The Philharmonic for a decade, taking a booting solo on “Perdido” that made him a major attraction, and holding his own against such saxophonists as Illinois Jacquet, Lester Young, Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins.

Phillips recorded regularly as a leader in the 1950s, was a member of the Gene Krupa Trio in 1952 and was part of one of Benny Goodman’s best small groups in 1959.

After that, Phillips retired to Florida (he was still just in his mid-forties), playing locally and taking up the bass clarinet which he played quite effectively as a double.

Phillips returned in the 1970s, performing at jazz festivals and parties, having some reunions with Woody Herman, and making many excellent recordings, playing regularly in an unchanged style into his mid-eighties while never losing his enthusiasm.

Here is Flip Phillips’ famous solo on “Perdido” from a 1947 Jazz At The Philharmonic concert.

-Scott Yanow