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. So one Jazz observer after another began hailing Phil as the "New Bird."

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 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.



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