Phil Woods Day

November 2, 1931 – September 29, 2015

The great altoist is remembered

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Alto-saxophonist and leader Phillip Wells Woods was born on November2, 1931 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Woods began seriously playing alto when he was 12, soon working locally.

After moving to New York in 1948, Woods studied with Lennie Tristano, attended both the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard (as a clarinet major), and in 1954 worked with Charlie Barnet and led his first record dates.

A bebopper who soon developed his own sound within the tradition of Charlie Parker, Woods was a brilliant technician and one of the finest soloists of his generation.

He performed with the groups of Jimmy Raney and George Wallington, was with the globetrotting Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra of 1956, and worked with Buddy Rich, the Quincy Jones orchestra, the Benny Goodman big band (touring the Soviet Union in 1962) and the 1967 Thelonious Monk Septet in addition to doing a lot of studiowork in the 1960s.

Otherwise, Phil Woods was mostly a leader during his career which included spending 1968-72 in Europe (where he led the avant-garde group the European Rhythm Machine) and heading his own quintets and quartets in the U.S. for decades which helped invigorate modern bebop with new compositions and dynamic solos.

Phil Woods played his last concert (a tribute to Charlie Parker with Strings) just 25 days before his death at age 83.

This film clip with the 1960 Quincy Jones big band features Woods and flugelhornist Clark Terry on an uptempo version of “Undecided.”

-Scott Yanow


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