Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Phil and Quill - [From the Archives]

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Those who demand the originality of geniuses who create entirely new art without any history are chasing an illusion: it doesn't exist. Every musician learns from other artists - as does every painter, actor, writer, sculptor, dancer, technician or engineer. The legend that art arises out of the void prevents any serious consideration of what is really being accomplished.

Ever since the 1950's Phil Woods has been counted among the undisputed masters in the tradition of Charlie Parker. That means he is well aware of what the father of bebop, this resourceful innovator, created in the 1940's and 50's. With similar intensity, he gathered information on the treasure chest of ideas which dozens of other saxophonists have brought forth. Independent of specific stylistic forms, he took his inspiration without copying. That is why Coleman Hawkins, a master of the voluminous, tuneful sound, is just as important to him as the agile, soulful musician Cannonball Adderley.

Every note Phil Woods plays sounds unmistakably like Phil Woods ….”
- Werner Stiefele, German freelance journalist specializing in Jazz

If the sequence of recent postings dovetailing into this one and continuing into the next, two features give you the impression that the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has been celebrating a sort of Phil Woods Week on the site, you’d be right.

I’ve never done a week’s worth of features on any artist before.

But then, as you know by now from reading the recent posts about him on JazzProfiles, Phil Woods held a special place in my Pantheon of Admired and Esteemed Great Jazz Musicians.

I can't remember the verbatim quotations, but back in the early 1950's when Phil Woods was first making the New York Jazz scene, Charlie "Bird" Parker was still alive and his style of playing the alto saxophone influenced a huge number of musicians who played that instrument - including, not surprisingly - Phil Woods.

But with the exception of those who played the alto sax with a cool -sounding, sub-toned emphasis on melody - think Paul Desmond, Lee Konitz and Hal McKusick - it is a statement of the obvious to say that "Bird" influenced a generation of Bebop alto saxophonist.

I always thought that that two of these players broke out of the Parker mode early and adopted their own way of phrasing modern Jazz on the alto saxophone: Gene Quill and Phil Woods.

And the more I listen to Phil the more I hear Quill. 

I’m certain that given their close friendship, Phil would have wanted Gene remembered that way.

“Phil is Phil Woods, Quill, Gene Quill; both are virile exponents of the art of the modern jazz saxophone style pioneered by Charlie Parker. Especially enlightened listeners also realize that Woods and Quill have found personal expressions within this style through modifications brought about by their own personalities and that each has his own story to tell no matter how similar an area their musical styles inhabit. Both have the cry of the true jazzman, literally and figuratively, that soul baring quality which communicates emotionally on a direct circuit to the listener.”
- Ira Gitler, Jazz critic and author

“They made a very fine team and there isn’t an ounce of spare fat in any of their solos. … Quill’s duskier tone and more extreme intensities are barely a beat behind Woods in terms of quality of thought.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

In his notes to the European edition of the CD release of Phil and Quill - The Phil Woods-Gene Quill Sextet [RCA/BMG ND 74405], Alain Tercinet reflects on the fact that even fifty years on, the pairing of the same instruments as lead voices in a Jazz quintet was memorable for its rarity.

He goes on to mention the two trombone groups led by J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding, the two tenor saxophone group led by Al Cohn and Zoot Sims and the two alto saxophone quintet of Phil Woods and Gene Quill were almost as shocking to the Jazz audiences of the times as they were innovative.

In the case of J.J. and Kai and Al and Zoot, these groups were planned happenings, but the quintet formed by Phil and Quill was a result of their chance meeting on a gig, the details of which are recounted below.

But thanks to the impression Phil and Gene’s work made on Jazz writer and producer Ira Gitler, he had the idea for a recording by these great altoist and brought it to the attention of Bob Weinstock, the owner of Prestige Records.

Bob arranged for the them to record at Rudy van Gelder’s studio on March 29, 1957 along with a rhythm section made up of George Syran on piano, Teddy Kotick on bass and Nick Stabulas on drums.

The result was the LP entitled Phil and Quill With Prestige: The Phil Woods/Gene Quill Quintet [Prestige 7115; OJCCD 215-2].

Here are Ira Gitler’s sleeve notes to that album:

“Most aware jazz fans, unlike the master of ceremonies who announced them with the introduction, "And here he comes now - Phil Anquill", know what the group heading Phil And Quill stands for. Phil is Phil Woods, Quill, Gene Quill; both are virile exponents of the art of the modern jazz saxophone style pioneered by Charlie Parker. Especially enlightened listeners also realize that Woods and Quill have found personal expressions within this style through modifications brought about by their own personalities and that each has his own story to tell no matter how similar an area their musical styles inhabit. Both have the cry of the true jazzman, literally and figuratively, that soul baring quality which communicates emotionally on a direct circuit to the listener.

Phil flows along making use of quotes from time to time; Gene is more jagged, his phrases surging, falling and gaining their power by pushing off from the preceding phrase in short bursts. Each knows how to build a solo to a point of intensity.

Phillip Wells Woods and Daniel Eugene Quill met in New York in 1954 and played in jam sessions together. During the next few years, in the main, they were occupied with playing for other leaders but early in 1957, they teamed up at the Pad in Greenwich Village. Phil had recently left Dizzy Gillespie's orchestra and Gene had just returned from Europe with Claude Thornhill when the two blew together in a group that pianist Johnny Williams was heading for a weekend engagement. Gene had just arrived that morning when he was informed that he was to play with John on that evening. On a borrowed alto (his had been stolen in Europe) and very little sleep, he was fulfilling his role with the attitude of a real trouper. When Phil dropped in later in the evening and sat in, Gene seemed to forget these problems completely and the two of them wailed wonderfully into the morning.

In the months following, the alto duo played several weekends at the Cork and Bib in Westbury, Long Island and also at the White Canon in Far Rockaway
(scene of the singular success of Phil Anquill) but these were the slim pickings of an otherwise empty schedule.

The rhythm section on these jobs was composed of the same trio which backed Phil Woods on his early Prestige quintet recordings and again appears here. Due to the transitory nature of the Phil-Quill combo, the three, as well as their co-leaders, have been heard in other groups recently.

Bassist Teddy Kotick has buoyed the Horace Silver quintet and the Zoot Sims-Al Cohn fivesome while drummer Nick Stabulas has also appeared with the latter group. George Syran has been in the process of completing his Bachelor of Music at the Manhattan School and, in connection with this, has given several recitals of classical composers.

The meat for improvisation in this set has been supplied by Phil himself and totals six originals. Let us hope that a-mong the new supporters this album gains for Phil And Quill, there are enough club owners to militate regrouping of the unit as a permanent thing.”

John S. Wilson prepared these insert notes to the CD Phil and Quill - The Phil Woods-Gene Quill Sextet [RCA/BMG ND 74405] on which the rhythm section is made up of Dave McKenna on piano, Buddy Jones on bass and Shadow Wilson on drums.

“In all of the awed recognition of the overwhelming influence that Charlie (Bird) Parker has had on the way jazz has developed during the past decade, it is only occasionally that one comes face to face with the problems that follow in the wake of so pervasive an influence. These problems are most noticeable in the area of Parker's own instrument, the alto saxophone.

If Parker pointed the way for jazz as a whole, he did much more for the alto sax. He set a pattern that has seemed so definitive that every alto man who has come after him, almost without exception, has taken to his pattern as though any deviation would be unthinkable heresy. This, of course, is the natural way for a jazz musician to start—there is always someone who is the inspiration and the guide.

But before Parker, no one—not even Louis Armstrong—had established an approach that was so universally accepted by the contemporary jazz generation.

As a consequence Parker, as a model, has been a trap—an inviting and exciting trap, to be sure—but nonetheless a trap for many young altoists who managed to acquire the surface qualities of Parker but, having done that, found they had no place to go but around and around the same repetitive and uncreative circle.

Neither Phil Woods nor Gene Quill were exceptions to the mode of the times when they started out on alto. Bird was the influence and they took to it with passion.

But, having used this convenient stepping stone to launch themselves in jazz, they both had the individuality and personal creativeness to realize that they had to avoid being suffocated by this influence. Building on the foundation they inherited, they have each moved in directions that are distinctly their own, and as time goes by the sound of their original inspiration has become steadily dimmer as their own musical personalities assert themselves.

Of the two. Woods has possibly developed the most completely individual attack at this point strong, assertive and gustily swinging. But Quill, who burst from the cocoon a Itit later than Woods, has recently been moving with startling and satisfying speed toward his own jazz fate.

The idea of teaming up has been stewing in the two altoists' minds for a couple of years, ever since they met at the apartment of pianist John Williams and started playing together in various groups. They found that they felt comfortable in each other's musical company and that more flexibility and variety were possible in the sound of two altos than in pairings of most other instruments.

Phil came to the alto after studying clarinet for four years at juilliard. He has had big band experience with Charlie Barnet and Neal Hefti and with the band Dizzy Gillespie took to the Middle East at the behest of the State Department in 1956. Friedrich Gulda chose Phil to play in his sextet when the Viennese Beethoven specialist made his jazz debut in the United States in the spring of 1956. Gene's soaring facility has been heard with various small groups and with Buddy De Franco's and Claude Thornhill's bands. The close musical and personal ties that bind Gene and Phil were made even tighter after they launched their own group (two altos and rhythm).

In the sextet heard in these performances, a "bottom" is provided for the two alto saxes by Sol Schlinger's baritone saxophone. The rhythm section is made up of the brilliant, swinging pianist, Dave McKenna; bassist Buddy Jones; and drummer Shadow Wilson, a widely experienced big-band veteran (Hampton, Hines, Basie, Herman).

The arrangements come from the pens of Woods; Neal Hefli and Nat Pierce, both quondam bandleaders; Bill Potts, who made his mark as a writer with Willis Conover's Washington band; and Gene Orloff, a violinist who is in great demand as concertmaster on jazz sessions when strings are used.”

The following video tribute to Phil and Gene features them on Bill Potts’s tribute to himself entitled Pottsville, USA, a tune with a light, airy melody that I first heard performer by drummer Chico Hamilton’s original quintet.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Phil Woods - The Steve Voce Interview

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected, all rights reserved, used with the author’s permission.

“"There was a very specific reason why Phil played on nearly every album I've made since 1956, because he not only was the best jazz alto sax player there was, he was a truly beautiful person," said Quincy Jones, whose collaboration with Woods dates to a State Department jazz tour with the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra in 1956.

"It is an understatement to say Phil Woods was one of the greatest jazz alto-saxophone players to ever set foot on this planet."

Arriving on the jazz scene in the late '40s, Woods was captivated by the fast-paced sound of bebop and quickly became familiar with the piquant harmonies and surging, offbeat rhythms of the music that was fast replacing the easygoing sounds and familiar memories of the Swing era. Musically adventurous, Woods was drawn to the compelling new chordal textures and the inventive possibilities that bebop provided.”
- Don Heckman, Los Angeles Times, 10-2-2015

The following interview was first published in the October 1996 edition of JazzJournal.

Steve Voce was kind enough to allow JazzProfiles to feature it on these pages.

Phil Woods passed away on September 29, 2015 at the age of 83.

Phil claims that his career was made possible by being in the right place at the right time.

I think it has more to do with bassist Chuck Israels assertions that “... intensity and focus were an essential aspect of Phil's artistic personality, but it is also important to recognize the intelligence that accompanied this mania. Phil was aware enough of his own experience and of the world he inhabited to make informed and considered decisions about his artistic life. It is these decisions as well as his great skill and intensity that shaped his commitment to the pursuit of his musical potential. It is a compliment to his determination that that potential was so often realized.” [I changed Chuck’s tribute to past tense.]

Whatever the case - fortuitousness or fortitude - I’m just glad that I was in the right place at the right time to be able to enjoy Phil’s music for almost six decades.

I heard the Phil Woods Big Band play at the Wigan Festival last month. Despite the fact that the band was exhausted by a savage tour schedule it played wonderfully, with Phil, Brian Lynch and the magnificent piano player Bill Charlap outstanding.

Phil and I had the conversation that follows a couple of years ago in Florida at one of Matt Domber’s jazz weekends, this one for Flip Phillips.  

“I went to New York in I947 and studied at the Manhattan School of Music for the summer and in the fall enrolled at Juilliard. I did four years at Julliard. I was living on 93rd Street near the Hudson River, sharing the rent with Sal Salvador and Hal Serra. Our pad was in the same building where Jimmy Raney and Tal Farlow lived. I remember John Collins, Johnny Smith, Chuck Wayne, Tal, Sal and Jimmy all jamming together late at night. I heard some incredible music. I wanted to join in so badly, but was told I wasn't ready. And I wasn't. Tal, Sal, Hal and I got on a kick of building model airplanes. We would stay up all night listening to the weekend live jazz shows on the radio, the main source of entertainment in Angelica.

We would take our flimsy ships to Central Park at first light and fly them. Sal's which were always the most sloppily built, flew the best. It was a time when the technological beast had not yet taken over our lives. We had 78 RPM records, big bands, 52nd Street and Birdland. Giants like Bean, Prez, Pops, Bird, Bud, Fats [Navarro] and Diz walked the earth.

While I was at Julliard I also played fourth tenor in Charlie Barnet's band for a while. The day of my final exam I was playing at the Apollo Theatre doing seven shows a day. I had to arrange to play my Mozart and my Brahms between shows. My clarinet was stolen that day, too! The reason I seemed to come up on the scene so suddenly in the fifties was because there were more bands and consequently more places to be heard. I got a lot of exposure playing at Birdland on Monday nights, which led to the Birdland All Stars tour and that drew Neat Hefti's attention to me and I joined his band.

That's where Quincy Jones beard me and recognised that I could play a little bit and he recommended me for the Dizzy Gillespie band. It all came of being at the right place at the right time. It was very much a golden age for big bands then, too. One of my first big gigs was when I took Jackie McLean's place in the George Wallington band. That was an important gig for me as for as name value was concerned.
Of course, Charlie Parker was around New York at the time and I played with him atsome jam sessions. I was playing at the Nut Club in Greenwich Village, playing for strippers and wondering about my saxophone and my mouthpiece  the usual doubts a young man would have. Somebody said 'Bird's across the street jamming," and I went to Arthur’s which is still there, and Bird was playing on a baritone sax belonging to Harry Rivers, the painter. I said “Mr. Parker, perhaps you'd like to try my alto?” He said he would, so I ran back across
the road and got my saxophone. When he played I realised that my horn sounded real good. There was nothing wrong with it! He said "Now you play it!" So I did my feeble imitation of him and he said 'It sounds real good son,' So I went back across the street to work and played the heck out of Harlem Nocturne.

I first heard Gene Quill with Art Mooney's band in the late forties then I met him at a jam session with Teddy Charles' band. We hit it off right away. Gene asked me if I wanted to sit in and asked me what I wanted to play. Whatever suits you, I told him. 'Donna Lee fast!" he said. We hit the line and the unison was pretty good. We played all day and all night and then we went to the bar and from then on we were like brothers. We became the preferred sax section for a lot of the arrangers who worked in New York then, people like Quincy and Oliver Nelson, Gary McFarland, Bob Brookmeyer and Ralph Bums. The rest of the preferred section was Al Cohn, Zoot Sims and Sol Schlinger (who's here at Flip's party) or Danny Bank on baritone. We had a band that we called Phil And Quill. We never travelled. We worked the Vanguard and the Half Note and odd gigs.

The Birdland All Stars tour was 1956 and then in '57 I toured with Dizzy's big band. For the Mid East part we had Joe Gordon as first trumpet soloist, We played in Abadan, Iran, Beirut, and Damascus  all of the trouble spots. I've often said they should have sent Dizzy a few more times. It might have been a much better world. When we did a tour of South America Joe Gordon left and Lee Morgan joined the band.

The Quincy Jones band was formed specifically for Europe in 1959,  it never appeared in New York. It was put together to play the show "Free And Easy", Harold Aden's remake of his "St. Louis Woman" show. It was a great band with Clark Terry, Benny Bailey, Ake Persson, Budd Johnson, Porter Kilbert, Jerome Richardson, the list is long. We were a year in Europe. We opened in Amsterdam. The band was in costume on stage with the music having been memorised. It was quite an accomplishment. The show folded in Paris after about two months. We managed to keep the big band intact with five saxes for ten months until we went back to the States. The economic reality of the States was such that we cut down to four reeds. I think we lasted about a month. It's amazing that we managed ten months in Europe, but we couldn't make it for more than a couple of weeks in New York City.

Quincy lost a lot of money on that trip. He did all the booking and everything. People told him he was crazy and that he couldn't keep a big band in Europe and that episode more or less forced him into the production end of the business.

One of my first big projects was "The Rights Of Swing" for Candid Records in 1961. Nat Hentoff was the producer for Candid and he was given what for those days was a whole lot of money. He had a real budget to commission writing and stuff and he said 'Do me an album,’ and that was the first commission I ever got. I bet the money up front to write the piece (a five part suite that ran for 40 minutes, Candid 9016). Quincy conducted and I had a good band. We used some of the guys from Quincy's tour  Benny Bailey, Julius Watkins, Sahib Shihab and Buddy Catlett along with Curtis Fuller, Willie Dennis and the drummers Osie Johnson and Granville Roker. I used the whole of my musical experience when I was writing the piece. For example there's a direct quote from the first piece I wrote, Back and Blow, which was for the first date I ever made for a Jimmy Raney album. I used ideas from Stravinsky's 'Rites of Spring' in the final part. I'd studied that work over the years, taken it apart, analysed it and enjoyed it. So when I thought of the title for my album it was really a doff of the hat to Mr. Stravinsky. I love both sides of the coin, jazz and symphony music.

I loved it when I had the chance to play Manny Albam’s 'Concerto For Jazz Alto Sax” with the full orchestra. I was trained as a classical clarinetist, so I'm fairly comfortable with an orchestra and I can read pretty good, you know. Gary McFarland and Oliver Nelson used to specifically write clarinet parts in to their pieces for me, because I was about the only guy in the section who didn't play flute.

In 1962 I joined Benny Goodman for his tour of Russia. He wasn't the greatest human being that I've ever met, but what a great artist! That's all we really care about, the great art. But he was tough on his musicians and nobody really understands why. He had his set ways. He wanted us to sound like his 1938 band. It was unusual for a man who did so much to revolutionise the music to be caught up in the past like that. If any of us caught the audience too much for him he'd reduce our solo space. It was very perverse I don't think he had always been like that though, I think it was something that caught him in later years. That was the only time I ever worked for him. We'd had quite enough of each other.

The only time I saw him again was years later in 1978. I won a Grammy for work on Michel Le Grand's Images which won the Best Big Band Album category. Benny Goodman was presenting the awards. He said "I wondered what had happened to you, kid!" I said 'I've been thinking about you, too, Benny.’

When Benny died John Frosk called Jerry Dodgion and he said 'I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that Benny died last night. The bad news is that he died in his sleep.’

I spent a lot of time teaching between 1964 and 1967 and then in March 1968 I moved with my family to Paris. The jazz opportunities in Europe were good at that time. I formed the European Rhythm Machine almost as soon as I arrived. with George Gruntz on piano, bassist Henri Texier and drummer Daniel Humair. Later Gordon Beck took over on piano. We stayed together for four years. It was an experimental group and an innovative part of my life.

As you say there were some periods of my life when I felt more creative than others. The ebb and flow of any evolutionary part of living is like that. You can't always be full out with the Creative thing.

You have to have time sometimes to ponder just where you're at. I hadn't recorded or played any jazz for years and suddenly I was in Europe and had a band and I was playing major festivals. I was even invited to play Newport.

I had the first Varitone electric attachment and [Gordon] Beck was using electric piano and we were early into fusion. I make no bones about liking what Miles Davis did at that time. Whatever Miles did I copied. I liked his musical direction. As he would change, I would change, too. He was the path finder for those things and I found him intriguing so that I experimented in my own way using his techniques.

The Varitone negates your own tone, so I tried a woodwind amp.  I also got a wah wah pedal. Well, that really takes your tone away. I also used an Oberheim ring modulator. You throw a wah wah and a ring modulator on the horn, boy, and you've got some nasty stuff! I remember Leonard Feather came to hear the electronic band I put together in California in I972. That was a more experimental band than the European Rhythm Machine had been. But I was leaning towards that in the Paris days, and when that ran out and I moved to California I was still pursuing it and exploring more of the electric gadgets. In fact we had arranged an audition with Elektra Asylum. They were trying to find a group to cover for Weather Report, which was hot. The week of our audition David Geffen took over [running] the company and all appointments were cancelled. There was a complete change of policy, so we never got the chance to be heard. I often wonder what would have happened if a big company had got behind that band.

Lately I've been doing a lot of writing. I like to play melody. I'm a melody man. I like to play a song and I like form and responsibility. I don't think I'll be doing too much experimentation. I'm not going to be getting into twelve tone and I don't think I'll be changing the course of Western music.  I sure have fun playing the theme and variation form which I love.

I don't overvalue the polls. I've been fortunate enough to win many of them for many years now, and it has enabled me to keep a quintet going. The publicity that goes with it makes it an important adjunct. That is, until I lose! Mosaic has just come out with a 20 year retrospective covering the quartets and quintets.. All the way back to the band with Harry Leahy and the first quartet with Mike Melillo, Bill Goodwin and Steve Gilmore. There's some stuff from Japan with Zoot as our guest, right up to the present with Brian Lynch and Jim McNeely.”

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Phil Woods - Searing Intensity

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Phil played as if there were no tomorrow.”
- Chuck Israels, Jazz bassist

For me, the phrase “searing intensity” used in a Jazz context immediately brings to mind alto saxophonist Phil Woods [who played one heckuva of a clarinet, too].

Phil solos burst forth with so many exciting ideas that it was a miracle that he could get them all in.

I am usually so worn out following one of his solos that I often look for a seat to sit down on when they're over, although I'm often already sitting down. And sometimes, while seated, his passionate improvisations made me want to rise to my feet and cheer as a release from the sense of overall exuberance they created in me.

I can think of no other player who consistently left me shaking my head in wonderment after listening to what came out of his horn.

Phil once said of the late baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams that “He was a Bebopper right down to his socks.” “Socks” is an appropriate metaphor for Phil’s playing because it usually “knocked my socks off” with the potency of its pulse and the brilliance of its ideas.

With Phil there was no “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” He just led and everyone else followed, joyous at the opportunity to do so.

It takes courage to always be out there showing the way; leading the way by going first and inspiring others to stand-up, plant their feet and blow. Like Louis Armstrong once said: “Jazz is who you are.” The music is all about honesty and Phil played it with an integrity that either inspired you to reveal your inner soul or convince you that maybe becoming a dry-cleaner was not so bad after all.

Jazz musicians are not often considered heroes or role models. Many of their lifestyle choices - let alone their lifestyle, itself - are deemed to be improper by the general public.

Phil Woods was a Jazz musician and he was a very brave one. On both accounts - because he was a Jazz musician and because he was brave - he was one of my enduring heroes.

With Phil’s passing on September 29, 2015, there are going to be a lot of words written about him, but none will have more sincerity and be filled with more admiration than those that follow by bassist, composer-arranger and educator, Chuck Israels.

Reading it will help you understand what made Phil Woods - “My hero, Phil Woods.”

© -  Chuck Israels/Mosaic Records, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Postscript - Encounters with Phil

“Upon graduating from college in 1959, I took the then obligatory trip to Europe to "find myself." I don't know exactly why I thought I might be there rather than where I was at the time, hanging around Boston and western Massachusetts, but that was the habit of the era, to graduate and go look for yourself in a place that you weren't. It had its advantages. Besides, I had $1,000 saved and that seemed a fortune.

After an uneventful Atlantic crossing on a Holland America Line ship, I was met in Paris by my Italian-American college roommate, who immediately took me to a party at the home of a movie director who was filming Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke playing at the party. I was asked to play with them and a few days later, I had a job with Bud, playing in a Left Bank cave for $10 a night. You could live on that.

Quincy Jones had a band that was preparing to tour Europe that summer. The band was rehearsing in the mezzanine of the Olympia Theatre and I somehow wrangled an invitation to attend a rehearsal. It was a great band with some of Quincy's friends from Seattle, like Buddy Catlett and Patti Bown. Les Spann was the guitarist and played some flute solos. Sahib Shihab was in the saxophone section and Joe Harris played drums. I listened to a number of pieces in which there were solos played by various members of the band. It would be unfair to say that those solos were perfunctory, but later, when Phil Woods stood up from the lead alto chair to play his solo feature, the atmosphere changed. Phil played as if there were no tomorrow.

The contrast was striking and I have always remembered the impression it left. If you practice rehearsing, then when the time comes to perform, you are ready to rehearse. Phil practiced performing.

Years later, sometime around 1980,I was involved in a recording under [trombonist] Hal Crook's leadership. Bill Dobbins and Bill Goodwin played piano and drums and it was one of Goodwin's early efforts at record production. He was already great at that job and had arranged that Phil should be a guest soloist on some of Hal's tunes. Bill Dobbins had the flu and a fever of 103 or so, but that didn't seem to phase him. We recorded a couple of pieces and everything seemed to be going at the high level of intensity one expects at an east coast recording session where someone's limited budget is on the line. No one was wasting any time and the work was proceeding at what we thought was as fast and efficient a pace as we could muster. Then Phil walked in, took out his alto, glanced at Hal's music for the first time, and played better, faster and more intensely than the rest of us who had been warmed up and working for an hour or so.

This intensity and focus is an essential aspect of Phil's artistic personality, but it is also important to recognize the intelligence that accompanies this mania. Phil is aware enough of his own experience and of the world he inhabits to make informed and considered decisions about his artistic life. It is these decisions as well as his great skill and intensity that have shaped his commitment to the pursuit of his musical potential. It is a compliment to his determination that that potential is so often realized.

There will surely be more to come.”

[Thank goodness Chuck was right; another 26 years as of this writing.]

Chuck Israels
Bellingham, Washington
November 1994

Phil’s performance of Charlie Parker’s Barbados forms the sound track on this retrospective of the art of Thomas Andersen with Hilton Ruiz, piano, Charlie Haden, bass and Marvin “Smitty” Smith, drums.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Phil Woods - November 2, 1931 - September 29, 2015: Rest in Peace

Philip Wells [Phil] Woods
Born: SpringfieldMassachusettsNovember 2, 1931

© -Reprinted with the permission of Gene Lees; copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Phil Woods sometimes refers to himself as Dubois. He is more than half French by ancestry. His father changed the name from Dubois. The rest of Phil is Irish.

When I played one of Phil's records for a friend whose main experience of music was country and western, she said, "Oh yes—he cares." And so he does. Phil's wife Jill (whose brother, Bill Goodwin, is the drummer in Phil's group) once said to me, "Phil's angry about all the right things."

And so he is. He gets angry about indif­ferent musicianship, politicians, racism, injustice in all its forms, and any failure to render to jazz and its past masters the respect he thinks they deserve. Phil man­ages to combine in his brilliant alto playing an improbable combination of ferocity and lyricism. Phil once said pointedly that his influences were "Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges, and Charlie Parker, in that order." He has assimilated all his influ­ences to become utterly distinctive, one of those people you can identify in two or three bars, sometimes in one assertive phrase.

Phil graduated from Juilliard as a clari­net major. He still plays the instrument occasionally, and always beautifully. But he has specialized since early days in alto saxophone, on which he achieves a huge tone. He has played with absolutely eve­rybody of consequence in jazz, in every imaginable context, and has recorded with Benny Carter and Dizzy Gillespie, two of his major heroes. He is an intriguing com­poser and, as a soloist, inexhaustibly inventive.

One of Phil's early idols was Artie Shaw, on whose work he modeled his own clari­net playing. It was my pleasure to intro­duce Phil to Artie, who began his pro­fessional career on saxophone, at a party after one of Phil's concerts. Also at that party was the fine tenor saxophone player Eddie Miller. When Phil had gone off in the crowd of his admirers, Shaw said to me, "I've heard them all. All. Phil Woods is the best saxophone player I ever heard." And Eddie Miller warmly agrees.

Phil is completely uncompromising. He dislikes amplification, and will not allow microphones on the bandstand. Though he was a successful studio musician in New York in the 1960s, he has since then declined to play anything but jazz, and only on his terms. He tours with a quintet that usually contains a second horn, whether trumpet or trombone. Tom Harrell is one of the alumni of his group.

I don't wish to make Phil sound forbidding. He isn't. Indeed, he's terribly funny and a delight to be with. But Jill got it right; I know no one on this earth with more integrity than Philip Wells Woods.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hamilton & Hamilton - Not A Law Firm

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"Tenor luminary Scott Hamilton was at the forefront of a new generation of young artists that helped revitalize mainstream acoustic jazz."
—SF Jazz Center

"[Hamilton's] muscular, little-big-band approach to the piano trio builds a groove so deep you could get the bends coming up out of it."
- Paul de Barros, DownBeat

I tend to be somewhat backward-looking in terms of my recorded Jazz preferences and spend a lot of time revisiting music that reflects my straight-ahead interests.

It’s not that I have an aversion to newer, more contemporary Jazz expressions because there are times when I do enjoy having my ears moved in new directions.

Unfamiliar cuisine, authors, artists, as well as, new people to meet and new places to visit offer an allure similar to the new adventure feeling that comes from listening to the music of a Jazz artist whose style is influenced through different assimilations.

Of course, the best of both worlds occurs when I find a new Jazz recording that features the straight-ahead style of Jazz that rekindles all of the feelings that helped me become a Jazz fan in the first place.

A likely source for this to happen would be from what I refer to as The Hamilton School of Jazz whose principals are tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton and drummer Jeff Hamilton. Most recent examples of such Hamiltonian Discoveries are Scott’s CD with Rein de Graff Trio Live at The Jazzroom/Breda The Netherlands and Jeff Hamilton’s Great American Songs Through The Years.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to hear both Scott and Jeff perform in person  and listened to their skills as Jazz creators on countless recordings both as sidemen and under their own names.

But I’ve never heard them perform together and I’ve always wished for the opportunity to do so.

Well the Jazz Gods - aka Tom Burns, the owner-operator of Capri Records - have granted my wish; on of October 20, 2015 Capri Records will be releasing Live In Bern [74139-2], Jeff and Scott’s debut recording together.

Joining Scott and Jeff are pianist Tamir Hendleman and bassist Christoph Luty, both of whom are regular members of Jeff’s trio.

This inspired quartet release is a corker and reaffirms the Jazz mastery of these mainstream giants. As an added treat there are thirteen - 13!! - tracks of music ranging from Great American Songbook Classics - September in the Rain, All Through the Night and You And The Night And The Music to Jazz Standards including Mal Waldron’s Soul Eyes, Dizzy Gillespie’s Woody ‘n You and Alan Hawkshaw’s The Champ.

Each of these is encased in an arrangement with lots of riffs, intervals and tempo variations that provide a powerful launching pad for interesting and intriguing solos by Scott, Jeff, Tamir and Christoph.

I’ll guarantee that if you are a fan of straight-ahead Jazz, you’ll have a tough time taking this one out of your CD player.

Great timing, too, for something special for your holiday wish list.

Tom Burns explains how it all came about in the following excerpt from the insert notes to Live In Bern [74139-2].

“Pairing Scott and Jeff Hamilton has been a long time dream of mine. I have known both of them for over 30 years and worked with them in a variety of settings throughout the years. We've also had solid friendships beyond the gig and recording worlds.

Jeff is on a lot of recordings on Capri as a leader with his dynamic trio, as co-leader with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and as a sideman on numerous sessions. His first recording with me goes back to 1987, only a couple  years after the label was launched. We originally met in 1978 when he was with the L.A.4.

Scott has always been under contract with other labels until recently. We always talked about him recording with me if he ever got free. I am grateful the time has  finally come. Scott rarely travels to the US and has been based in Europe for quite a while. We've kept in touch and when I approached Scott and Jeff about a Hamilton & Hamilton recording they were enthusiastic to say the least. The problem was logistical, finding a place and time that would work for everyone. Both of them are incredibly busy and, while they travel regularly, it is rarely to the same place.

The fortunate timing came together in May of 2014 when Jeff called and told me they were both scheduled to play at the International Jazzfestival Bern. Festival founder Hans Zurbrugg had asked Jeff to bring his trio to be the nucleus of a J.A.T.P. week. Scott was added as a guest along with Graham Dechter and Jeff Clayton. Without Hans it would not have happened. They played in a club called Marians Jazzroom in Bern. The feel and acoustics in the room at Marians were so good they decided to record there the following week. They recorded all the music in less than 8 hours. The result is what you now hold in your hand.”
  • Thomas Burns
President / Capri Records, Ltd

Ann Braithwaite and her fine team at Braithwaite & Katz sent out the following media release about the recording.

© -  Braithwaite & Katz, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton and the drummer Jeff Hamilton may not actually be related as family, but their mutual passion for swinging jazz makes them honorary brothers. On Live In Bern - available October 20,2015 on Capri Records - these two mainstream jazz veterans are captured on a recording for the first time. Joining them are Jeff Hamilton's trio with pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Christoph Luty. While the co-leaders have each been performing for some four decades, this powerfully elegant album affirms that both men remain in peak form as creative stylists. Now mature jazz masters, the Hamiltons retain a youthful gait in their playing fortified by the deep wisdom of experience.

Recorded in a compact session at Marians Jazzroom a week after the quartet performed at the club as part the International Jazzfestival Bern, Live In Bern is a case study in the relevance of contemporary swing. Soaring through American Songbook standards ("September In the Rain," "This Can't Be Love" and "You and the Night and the Music" among them) and jazz classics (Benny Carter's "Key Largo," Dizzy Gillespie's "Woody 'n You" and "The Champ," Harry Edison's "Centerpiece") Scott Hamilton displays the booting rhythmic drive and the vivacious phrasing that has made his playing a byword for mainstream swing since he emerged on the scene in the mid-1970s. On the judiciously chosen ballads (Mai Waldron's "Soul Eyes" and Billy Strayhorn's "Ballad For the Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus Eaters") the warm toned tenorist demonstrates his elegant and lyrical nature, bringing new life to the much-recorded Waldron tune while proving that Strayhorn's lovely and affecting composition is deserving of greater attention.

Jeff Hamilton, a drummers-drummer who combines perfect time and passionate interplay, once again offers up his technical mastery and intuitive percussive artistry in the service of group swing. A selfless musical giant, the drummer's impeccable stick work levitates the band while his brush work calls to mind such former masters of that fading art as Joe Jones and Ed Thigpen, and his original composition "Sybille's Day" proves him a witty composer. Alert and inspired, pianist Hendelman and bassist Luty add seamless support and pithy improvisations throughout. In the hands of Scott and Jeff Hamilton-and their valued compatriots-swing is alive, well and poised for the future.

"Pairing Scott Hamilton and Jeff Hamilton has been a long-time dream of mine," says Capri Records President Thomas Burns. "Jeff is on a lot of recordings on Capri as a leader with his dynamic trio, as co-leader with The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and as a sideman on numerous sessions. Scott and I have always talked about recording with Capri when he became free. When I approached Scott and Jeff about a Hamilton & Hamilton recording they were enthusiastic to say the least. I am grateful that the time has finally come."”

More information about the recording will be available on www.caprirecords.com, www.hamiltonjazz.com and www.scotthamiltonsax.com.
You can sample the music on the CD by viewing the following video that features The Champ.