Phil Woods Biography

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2 November 1931, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA. Woods began playing alto saxophone as a child, studied later at the Juilliard School of Music in New York and by his early 20s had already made a significant mark on jazz. Playing hard bop and acknowledging Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker but never slavishly so, Woods became a vital force in jazz in the late 50s. He led his own small groups, co-led a band with Gene Quill, played in bands led by artists such as Buddy Rich, Cecil Payne, Thelonious Monk, Quincy Jones and Benny Goodman, and worked as a studio musician and recorded extensively, including appearing on Benny Carter’s 1961Further Definitions. During the 60s he was also active as a teacher and towards the end of the decade became resident in France, where he formed the European Rhythm Machine with pianist George Gruntz (later replaced by Gordon Beck), bass player Henri Texier and drummer Daniel Humair. Woods led this band until his return to the USA in the early 70s where, in 1973, he formed a new acoustic quartet (pianist Mike Melillo, bass player Steve Gilmore, drummer Bill Goodwin) which met with great critical and commercial acclaim. This group stayed in operation for the next few years and Woods’ stature continued to grow. He also made a dynamic if somewhat anonymous impact on the pop music scene with his solo on Billy Joel’s hit single, ‘I Love You Just The Way You Are’.

In the early 80s Woods was active in the USA, touring internationally, and continuing to record albums of exceptional quality. His quartet had expanded with the addition of Tom Harrell, while Melillo was replaced by Hal Galper. He also recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Rob McConnell and Budd Johnson Although identified with the post-Parker school of alto saxophone playing, Woods has always had his own style. Early records, such asBird Calls, reveal a highly sophisticated performer belying his age with the maturity of his improvisations. He plays with a rich, full sound, avoiding the harshness favoured by some of his contemporaries. By the late 80s Woods was firmly established as a major jazz musician and one of the most successful alto saxophonists the music had known. In the 90s and into the new millennium his standards of performance remained outstanding. The depth of his imagination remains unimpaired and his playing is still filled with the enthusiasm and vitality of his youth.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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