Written by Sean Packard
You’d be hard pressed to find a saxophonist who hasn’t transcribed at least a chorus of Phil Woods. His clear, bright sound, impeccable technique, buoyant phrasing, and confident approach to the alto saxophone are undeniably Phil Woods. The music community has lost a truly special artist this week.
Lineage and community are ideas that have surrounded jazz since its humble beginnings, and Mr. Woods epitomized them both. As a kid in Springfield, Massachusetts, Mr. Woods looked up to the alto saxophone heavyweights of the time - Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges, Charlie Parker – and he certainly succeeded in following the path they paved. Mr. Woods respected them, learned from them, and then continued to push the music forward. In time his own sound, concept, and approach to improvisation became incredibly influential to the development of the jazz language.
Phil Woods performed and recorded with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Clark Terry, Bill Evans, Oliver Nelson, Quincy Jones, and Thelonious Monk, over the course of his incredible and storied career. As iconic as he was, he was always generous in sharing his experiences and tutelage with aspiring musicians across the country. Mr. Woods always demonstrated a dedication and love for the music and a respect for those around him, whether young students or colleagues.
(Quincy Jones and Phil Woods pictured to the right, courtesy of Facebook, Quincy Jones)
Mr. Woods was named a NEA Jazz Master, received a living Jazz Legend Award from the Kennedy Center, and was awarded four Grammy Awards; but his contributions to the music’s lineage extend so much farther. His dedication to the music and impressive body of work will continue to occupy a very special place in jazz history.
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Some words from Vandoren Artists
"Just reading about Phil Woods, and sad he's not with us. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to know him and to witness his mastery of the art. Those of us that know him are truly blessed." - Antonio Hart
“Thank you Phil Woods for your beautiful sound, inspiration, keeping it real, all your lessons and wisdom about music and life, showing us true greatness, what it means to be a pro, and keeping the bar HIGH!! The world is already a different place without you in it...” - Gary Smulyan
“Phil Woods was the epitome to me as the perfect jazz alto saxophone player along with Cannonball. A glorious, beautiful, resonant sound topped off with impeccable time and unbelievable technique coupled with heart and soul. Hanging with him and hearing the incredible stories of his life and career will forever be with me! ... I listened to Phil when I was a kid on a bunch of Oliver Nelson, Quincy Jones and Benny Goodman [in Moscow] records. The first "Rhythm Machine" record called "When We Were Young" turned me around. It was, at that time, my favorite record in my massive collection. I never thought that I would get to know and communicate with him. And having him guest on one of my CDs was a dream come true! Rest In Peace Phil and thank you for all the music you left us! You'll be missed.” - Mark Colby
“I met Phil Woods a few times and he always remembered my name and knew some of what I was up to. I was shocked that a giant like him was so open and cool every time. Rest in Peace Mr. Woods.” - Bruce Williams
"When I started taking alto lessons at age 11, my teacher handed me 3 names of alto players I should to listen to: Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, and Phil Woods. I'll never forget the first time I put on Phil's record "Sugan" featuring Red Garland, I couldn't stop listening to it. I listened to it on repeat in my portable CD player for days. Phil's sound on the entire record was incredibly full and rich with a sweetness about how he shaped every phrase. His playing on that record in particular influenced my concept of what an alto should sound like. I've heard so many personal stories about him to know he was a beautiful human being as well as a brilliant artist. We are all thankful that he graced us with his genius. May he rest in peace playing the baddest bop with all the late greats." - Danny Janklow
"My experiences with Phil Woods during grad school were one of the highlights of my musical career so far. His playing was always of the highest level, and he inspired you with his passion and sound. One of my fondest memories is hanging with him after a recording session and just talking, not about jazz but life. To hang with someone who had that much history in and around him is something truly special, and something I will remember for the rest of my life. Rest in peace Phil Woods." - Alex Beltran
"I have to pinch myself when I think about all the time I got to spend with Phil Woods. Ever since I started saxophone he was one of my idols. I'm so grateful that he heard something in me, wanted to be there to encourage me, and was such a great mentor. We shared performances together all around the world, he taught me musical lessons on stage, recorded a very special album together, and was the most entertaining story teller. He will always be a huge inspiration to me and I am so honored to wear his hat and keep his legacy alive." - Grace Kelly