Sep 30, 2015
Here in the suburbs of Springfield, Massachusetts, I take moment to reflect on the passing of one of our native sons – alto saxophonist Phil Woods, who passed away yesterday from complications of emphysema at the age of 83.
The loss of woods severs another tie that today’s jazz world has with the Be-Bop Generation of the late Thirties and Forties. Woods was one of the players who picked up the mantle of Charlie Parker after Bird’s untimely death. The New York Times reported that Mr. Woods was known to some, “admiringly if a little back-handedly, as ‘the new Bird.’” The association was solidified when he married Parker’s widow, Chan, in 1957. They later divorced.
While Woods won four Grammy awards for his jazz recordings, most notably his work on large ensemble sessions, the average music listener knows his unique sound for his work on rock and pop sessions. On the recommendation of the producer Phil Ramone, an old classmate at the Juilliard School, Woods was featured on Paul Simon’s 1975 album, Still Crazy After All These Years, playing a lightning –fast bebop-inflected outro on the song “Have a Good Time.” That same year he played a memorably soaring solo on the Steely Dan’s “Doctor Wu.” Two years later, Phil Woods was chosen to play the classic solo on Mr. Joel’s now-standard ballad “Just the Way You Are.” Bet you didn't know that was the master.
I had the pleasure of meeting Phil when he played the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz, and found him unassuming, even self-deprecating when he talked about himself or his prodigious talents. He was a man capable of swinging with the best, and yet playing the most silken of ballads. His take on “The Summer Knows” remains my favorite version of that tune.
Woods had been active to the end, releasing collaborative albums with younger musicians like Grace Kelly and performing near his home in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Earlier her performed a tribute to the album Charlie Parker With Strings, backed by members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He brought his oxygen tank with him onstage.