Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Red Mitchell and Harold Land Quintet

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

“Mitchell was known for a fluent improvising style in which pulled-off (rather than plucked) notes in a typically low register (Mitchell used a retuned bass) suggest a baritone saxophone rather than a stringed instrument; Scott LaFaro was later sanctified for a broadly similar technique.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“The basic sound of the Mitchell-Land group is one that the musicians find elusive of verbalization. "Hard" is an adjective that has been applied too often lately to any brand of jazz with a substantial degree of aggressiveness; the implication that hardness involves harshness seems to invalidate the use of the term here. It is more relevantly a jubilant, sinewy, cohesive sound, in which the key factors are self-confidence and the kind of group feeling that can only stem from musicians who have been working together and listening to one another closely over an extended period.”
- Leonard Feather, Jazz author and critic

Among the unique voices in modern Jazz that always impress me everytime I hear them are Red Mitchell's singing bass lines and Harold Land’s “Texas Tenor Sax Sound,” the blues-inflected, “moan within the tone” that Cannonball Adderley ascribed to this style.

Imagine my delight then when I learned that Red and Harold had teamed up in a new quintet that featured Carmell Jones on trumpet, Frank Strazzeri on piano and Leon Petties on drums.

Although the group disbanded after only about a one year stint, it was one of the finest bands on the West Coast playing a style with an emphasis on “heat” rather than the “cool” usually associated with Jazz on the Left Coast during the 1950s and early 1960s [all of which was exaggerated marketing nonsense to begin with].

Gene Lees offered these observations and thoughts on Red in his Cats of Any Color: Jazz, Black and White:

“Back in the 1950s, two names loomed very large on the bass: Ray Brown and Red Mitchell, idols of other bass players. Mitchell has to be accounted one of the most influential of jazz bassists, in a line with Walter Page, Jimmy Blanton, and Charles Mingus, if only because one of his proteges. Scon LaFaro, influenced just about every younger bass player since his death at twenty-four — almost the same age at which Blanton died. But more bassists have obvious audible debts to LaFaro dian to Mitchell, who remains, as Mingus did, a phenomenon of one.

No one sounds like Mingus. No one sounds like Red Mitchell. What makes his playing so really odd is that he developed an approach to the instrument as if it were a saxophone, extracting from it melismatic vocal effects, glissandi diat bespeak enormous strength in the left hand. At times he would play bottom notes on the first and third beats of die bar and then strum the rest of the chord on two and four on the top three strings, using the backs of his fingers a little like one of the techniques heard in flamenco guitar.

He developed a huge sound, producing tones that lasted forever, and did things on the instrument that no one else had ever done, and possibly no one else will ever do. He long has been looked on as something of a curiosity because he changed the tuning of his bass from the conventional fourths to fifths. One of the things one would not figure out for oneself is that the tuning actually could affect the sound of his instrument by altering the nature of its resonance.

Ted Gioia in his definitive West Coast Jazz: Jazz in California, 1945-1960 offered these comments about Harold Land beginning with his early association with Max Roach and Clifford Brown’s Quintet before the group moved to New York and Harold, who chose to stay in Los Angeles, was replaced by Sonny Rollins:

“His early Coleman Hawkins sound had by now broadened to include a fluent command of the bebop idiom, complete with a polished technique that could navigate the most challenging progressions and tempos. Throughout his career Land has shown a continued ability to assimilate new sounds and musical ideas. First grounded in the music of the big band era tempered with a dose of R&B, Land later assimilated the modern jazz vocabulary and made it his own, just as, in the 1960s, he would adopt many of the musical mannerisms developed by John Coltrane and his followers.

A restless stylist, Land has been the jazz leopard who continually tries to change his spots. His stint with the Brown/Roach Quintet was no exception: For two years Land further refined his craft within the confines of this world-class ensemble, slowly forging a quintessential hard bop sound that would reach its fullest expression in his later work as a leader and with the Curtis Counce group.”

Sadly, Red and Harold’s quintet only made one recording together - Hear Ye!!!! [Atlantic Jazz 1376-2] which the distinguished Jazz author and critic Leonard Feather annotated in the following insert notes to the original LP.

“The record debut of the Red Mitchell-Harold Land Quintet may mark a turning point not only in the career of this group, but in the whole image of West Coast jazz.

For too many years this slogan was associated with a brand of music, emanating exclusively from Los Angeles, that employed tautly scored little performances with all the shine and sparkle of a prune. It was claimed at times that this represented a new trend in jazz, that the music had its own validity and was not a mere faded reflection of some ideas that had become desiccated on their way west from New York. Time has killed theory and music alike.

Red Mitchell and Harold Land were never a part of that scene. True, they have worked at times with some of the musicians said to typify West Coast jazz, but this has no more direct bearing on their musical ambitions than Red's TV shows with Mahalia Jackson or Harold's Las Vegas excursion with Brook Benton. Both were interested in a new, fresh, bold sound, one that could give the tired West Coast slogan a valuable meaning.

That their paths crossed, leading to the creation of what John Tynan in Down Beat aptly called "the most stimulating and creatively alive jazz group resident on the West Coast," was the product of a series of fortuities. Red, a New Yorker, had worked in the East with Chubby Jackson (as pianist doubling on bass), Charlie Ventura and Woody Herman. He moved to Hollywood in 1952, when he began a two year membership in the Red Norvo Trio.

"I can't remember exactly where and when I met Harold," says Red, "but I heard him with the Clifford Brown-Max Roach group around 1954-5, and then really got to listen to him extensively a year or two later when he was with Curtis Counce's combo. Later on

I guess there was a mutual respect thing going; we started hanging out more, got to like each other a lot personally, and found out we had a lot of things in common, a lot of musical ideas and ideals.."

"It seemed a natural thing for us to get together. Even our families had grown close — our wives and sons — and somehow we started out with an idea for a quartet. But we wanted a fuller sound, and different voicings, and we had this concept of using the bass as a third voice on some things, so we agreed that the quintet is a perfect jazz instrumentation,"

"I can't remember exactly where and when I met Red," says Harold, completing the mutual oblivion pact, "but I think it was in San Diego, where I lived before I came to Los Angeles. He played there in a little group that Woody Herman had with Bill Harris and Bags, in 1950. That was four years before I moved north."

"The first time we played together was at an art exhibit, with a quartet. By that time I had known and admired Red's work for a long while. We both got to thinking that we could provide a few fresh approaches to the quintet sound. We felt there weren't enough well-organized, tightly-knit combos on the scene. . ."

The three sidemen lined up by these two leaders were all logical choices. "Carmell had come out to the coast primarily to work with Harold; he dug him that much," says Red. "Of course, I knew him well too; he had sat in with me several times. Frank Strazzeri and I had worked together a lot, and Leon Petties came here from San Diego, like Harold, and had been jobbing with Harold's quartet. I had known Leon since he sat in with me in 1956, when I was with Hamp Hawes' Trio; in fact, I had tried to get Hamp to hire him."

The five musicians began rehearsing in the summer of 1961. All but Petties doubled as writers, and all five had identical feelings concerning the group's objectives and musical potential.

"There has been so little of this kind of music organized out here," Red points out. "Curtis had a fine group, but it didn't last too long. We realized, too, that forming a group like this in Los Angeles and trying to keep it together was not the easiest thing in the world."

Despite the evident handicaps, the men were unflaggingly cooperative in making- rehearsals. All made sacrifices of one kind or another to keep the group intact. (On one occasion, in order not to miss a rehearsal, Red turned down a gig that would have meant a whole TV series for him.)

The basic sound of the Mitchell-Land group is one that the musicians find elusive of verbalization. "Hard" is an adjective that has been applied too often lately to any brand of jazz with a substantial degree of aggressiveness; the implication that hardness involves harshness seems to invalidate the use of the term here. It is more relevantly a jubilant, sinewy, cohesive sound, in which the key factors are self-confidence and the kind of group feeling that can only stem from musicians who have been working together and listening to one another closely over an extended period.

Fortunately the opportunities for the quintet, though limited by their geographical situation, have exceeded their original expectations. In addition to stretching out for several weeks at Los Angeles' Town Hill club, they have worked every Monday at Shelly's Manne Hole for several months, played weekend concerts at Le Grand Theatre, and have gigged at the Renaissance and other local spots. With the release of this album they plan to make their first joint trip East.

It is a healthy sign that a group of this type has been able to get going in Southern California. After having lived out here for a year, this writer can attest to the frustrations that beset Los Angeles jazzmen whose ambitions are analogous with those of, say, a Blakey or Silver or Adderley in New York. Removed by thousands of miles not only from the principal jazz clubs but also from the booking agencies' headquarters, most of the record companies, and many of the influential jazz critics, the musicians in Los Angeles are sometimes tempted to become bitter as they see extensive publicity and work opportunities falling in the path of other groups, whose musical value may be equal to their own but is certainly not so far superior as to justify the great disparity in recognition.

Had the above-mentioned New York groups been stationed in Los Angeles during the past six or seven years while Red, Harold & Co. were transplanted to New York, it is entirely possible that jazz history might have been written a little differently.

Although I have stressed the importance of the group's overall sound, obviously no combo that relies heavily on improvisation can be any stronger than its weakest solo link. The steel links in this chain know no weaknesses; all ensemble considerations aside, this is, man for man, as strong an alliance of compatible talents as you will find on the scene today — and this does not just mean the California scene.

Harold Land, in the course of these sides, manages to communicate all the essential values of contemporary jazz: not merely the harmonic knowledge and technical virtuosity, but the obvious respect for basics, the understanding of the blues force in jazz, the emotional quality without which all his equipment would be earth-bound. He is a modernist whose respect for tradition and traditionalists has prevented him from transgressing beyond the true orbit of this music. The influences are clear from time to time — Coleman Hawkins, whose Body And Soul, played a large part in forming his love of the instrument; Lucky Thompson, whose warmth of sound and fluency of style impressed him a few years later; and of course Charlie Parker, whose soul was Bird's legacy to a whole generation. Above and beyond the influences, Harold is vitally and consistently himself, both as instrumentalist and composer.

Red Mitchell, whether playing arco (as in his solo during the title number) or in the round, clear pizzicato that has made him the most consistently respected bassist of the past decade, remains the most supple and subtle of artists. He takes pride in his work, in his associates, in his remarkable bass fiddle with its big sound, and in the compositions he has contributed to the books. Rosie's Spirit, named for his wife, is an energizing up-tempo sample of his writing,

Carmell Jones is the most recent Californian of the five. Born in 1936 in Kansas City, Kansas, he took up trumpet at 11, studied locally, went to the University of Kansas for two years and moved to Los Angeles in August 1960. Originally influenced by Miles Davis, and for a while by Chet Baker, he was traumatically impressed by a Clifford Brown record; it is clear from the lyrical timbre and the Brownie-like touches in much of his phrasing that he remembers Clifford very well. Samara, a slow and beguiling minor theme, is an admirable example of his promising work as a composer.

Born in Rochester, N. Y., where he studied at the Eastman School of Music, Frank Strazzeri lived in New Orleans and Las Vegas before moving to Hollywood early in 1960. He names Teddy Wilson and Bud Powell as early influences, Al Haig and Hank Jones as overall preferences. Trained empirically in every phase of jazz — he has worked in Dixieland bands as well as with Sweets Edison, Kenny Dorham and Conte Candoli — Frank has developed amazingly in the past year. He might be called a West Coast equivalent of McCoy Tyner or Wynton Kelly in terms of fluidity, technique and imagination.

Leon Petties, since he moved to L.A. from San Diego, has gigged with Buddy Collette, and worked with Shorty Rogers a few times when Shorty took over Harold's quartet en masse for a series of engagements. Petties is admired by his colleagues in the quintet for his steady time, taste and consistency.

These are the men of whom Tynan reported: "They are the happiest jazz news to sing out on the coast in years." The key word is "happiest." If you are among those who have expressed alarm at the neurotic trend in modern jazz, and are looking for a group that is fresh, vital, integrated (in both senses of the word), you will find the joyous answer in the Mitchell-Land Quintet.”


The following Soundcloud audio-only track of Harold’s original composition Tippin’ Awhile is taken from a performance by the Mitchell-Land Quintet at Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach, CA in 1962.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Phil Woods and The European Rhythm Machine

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

"Mr. Woods was one of the leading alto saxophonists in the generation that followed Charlie Parker, who had set an imposing new bar for the instrument while defining the terms of bebop. Rigorous, complex and brisk, bebop’s stylistic language would be a constant for Mr. Woods throughout his prolific career, as both a leader and a sideman.

For much of that career, he was a sought-after section player in big bands because of his ability, unusual at the time, to read sheet music with as much breezy authority as he brought to his solos. He recorded with the composer-arrangers Oliver Nelson, Michel Legrand and George Russell, among many others, and helped the trumpeter Clark Terry establish his Big Bad Band.

... Mr. Woods often declared, with a touch of self-deprecation, that he was more a stylist than an innovator."
- Nat Chinen, New York Times Obituary

Most Jazz fans didn't realize the significance of Phil's Paris-based quartet which he - with purposeful motive - called the "European Rhythm Machine [ERM]." [Some US based Jazz critics were very dismissive of the ability of European rhythm sections to swing and labeled them everything from plodding to flimsy.]

When I first posted this piece about the group to my blog, Phil wrote to thank me for my efforts in "putting it together; now my kids believe me when I tell them that all this really did happened." [Phil has a son, three stepdaughters and a grandson.] The ERM got constant and quite ecstatic coverage in the European Jazz press but not so much in the geocentric US Jazz publications.

Mike Zwerin, the late Jazz musician/writer who was based in Paris for many years, claimed that Jazz went to Europe to live. In the main, I think he was referring to expatriates such as drummer Kenny Clarke, pianist Bud Powell, tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon and a number of other Jazz musicians who went to Europe in the 1950s and 1960s and set up residence there.

Paris also had a resuscitating effect on Phil Woods, because, as he explains in the following excerpt from his interview with Jazz columnist Steve Voce, after a very active career on the New York Jazz scene in the 1950s with Dizzy Gillespie's Big Band, the George Wallington's Quintet and a quintet he co-led with alto saxophonist Gene Quill, Phil spent most of the 1960s in the studios and teaching.

The 1968-1972 experience with his European Rhythm Machine brought Phil back into the Jazz Life and after a brief interregnum in California upon his return, he moved to Delaware Gap in Pennsylvania where he formed a quartet in 1974 and had his own group for over 40 years! [Phil died on 9/29/2015].

"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. [Bassist would take over for Henri Texier from 1971-72.]

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."

“Phil Woods: a majestic instrumental voice, a fertile and very lucid imagination, a forceful swing. I do not see an altoist today who could equal him, at least from the point of view of instrumental command. To his triumph were associated the three Europeans who now constitute probably the strongest rhythm section on the Old Continent.”
- Arrigo Polillo, Musica Jazz, Milan

“In Phil Woods’ music, everything bears the same signature, his own. The cleanliness dazzles, the rhythmic and melodic happiness blooms in all simplicity.”
- Jean-Pierre Binchet, Jazz Magazine, Paris

“Phil Woods possesses eveything, the sound, the ideas, the swing, the power, the ease. Phil Woods: a monster.”
- Michel Delorme, Jazz Hot, Paris

“In Barcelona, The Phil Woods Quartet triumphed and one will remember for a long time this homogeneous group, creators of an original Jazz with an extraordinary contexture.. Phil Woods lavished an inventivesness, a sensitivity and an admirable instrumental mastership. All works presented constituted an homage to the cult of musical beauty.”
- Alberto Mallofre’, La Vanguadria, Barcelona

My apologies for the “quality” of the translations that form the lead-in to this piece, as well as for the translation to following insert notes by Jean-Louis Ginibre from Phil Woods And His European Rhythm Machine: Alive and Well in Paris [Toshiba-EMI Limited TOCJ-5960].

I wanted to stay as close to the writing in the original languages of Italian, Spanish and French in which they were published and this is the best I could do. The press excerpts and recording notes tend to be a bit overstated and perhaps over-enthusiastic, but this was typical of the excitement that alto saxophonist Phil Woods generated amongst European Jazz audiences and press when he moved to France in 1968 and caused quite a stir by using European players to form the rhythm section in his quartet - The European Rhythm Machine.

I’ve been listening to Phil Woods play alto saxophone for almost 60 years, and in my opinion he has never played like this before or since.

All Jazz musicians have resting places, or licks that they fall back on while they wait for more original ideas to form in their minds so that they can move forward in their improvisations.

Phil has his share of tricks and licks, but you’d never know it by the way he plays on The European Rhythm Machine recordings that were issued from about 1968 to 1972.

Unleashed from the restrictions of working primarily in a studio environment by his move to Europe and the reception that he received there, his playing is rich with a fresh inventiveness that is characterized by improvised phrases that seem to leap out of his horn.

In the forty years or so since the European Rhythm Machine disbanded, I have become so accustomed to Phil leading his own quartet or quintet, that I didn’t realize that the ERM is the place where it all began in terms of fronting his own group on a regular basis.

Up to this time, Phil’s bands were largely formed for recording purposes or for the odd gig in and around New York, but he made his living working in the studios.

When he couldn’t take it anymore, he accepted an invitation to come live in Paris and form his own group.

The invitation involved Jean-Louis Ginibre, who was the editor of the Paris-based Jazz Magazine, and his wife, Simone, who was forming an entertainment management business.

Here are Jean-Louis insert notes for the Japanese CD reissue of the European Rhythm Machine’s first recorded appearance which took place at 1968 Montreux Jazz Festival.

“Bologna, Barcelona, Paris, wherever they appear, Phil Woods, George Gruntz, Henri Texier and Daniel Humair provoke enthusiasm. The space devoted to these notes would not be sufficient to reprint the eulogistic comments that they have aroused in Europe since that day of April 27, 1968 when they formed as a regular unit.

For the fans of the European Continent, Phil Woods was, until now, a sideman of quality capable of “taking care of business” in every circumstance be it with Thelonious Monk, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie or Quincy Jones.

Now, everyday, he proves that he is a leader of exception and the best altoist of today.

For Phil Woods, the fact that he has left the United States is sort of a liberation.

Indeed, it was not a lack of work that made him leave the country. A remarkable reader and lead-alto, he could have lived at ease in the studios where the hits and jingles are recorded.

But for him, this comfort was nothing but servitude and left him feeling very unsatisfied. So he left the United States in 1968 with his family, in part to get away from the studios, to forget the atmosphere of violence that reigns today in the United States, but mostly to achieve his vocation which is to play Jazz.

Europe has welcomed him with open arms and Phil has wanted to show his gratitude in honoring his reputation as a Jazzman and the art that he defends.

When, for some American musicians, our Continent is nothing more but a parade ground where one can afford to lose many a battle, Phil has wanted to win them all and he has understood for this he needed to have by his side trained me in perfect communion of feelings and ideas.

So soon after he arrived in Paris he formed a quartet with Gruntz, Texier and Humair, a rhythm section of the highest quality.

Immediately, the four musicians found a basis of understanding and since then have not ceased to provoke the admiration of the fans by their perfect mutual understanding, their inventiveness, their musicality, their swing, their “joie de vivre”  and their rage to play. …

There are albums, there are albums more conservative, but there are few albums that are so simply beautiful.” - Jean-Louis Ginibre, Redecteur en chef, Jazz Magazine, Paris

The background as to how and why the European Rhythm machine was formed are contained in these insert notes by Leonard Feather, the esteemed Jazz author and critic, from the first European Rhythm Machine LP which was issued on MGM Records as Phil Woods and His European Rhythm Machine at The Montreux Jazz Festival [SE-4695]

“When Philip Wells Woods left the U.S. of A. in the spring of 1968 to become a Paris-based expatriate, there were those who said: ‘Why is he giving it all up? He's got it made!’

At a superficial glance it would have seemed that way. Phil Woods had established himself so firmly in jazz, earning his credentials with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Quincy Jones and Oliver Nelson, that he had been able financial stability that goes along with the willingness to move into new and lucrative areas.

He was accepted in studio circles, gaining the relative become an anonymous sideman. He had a lovely home in New Hope, Pa., an acre of land, a wife, four children. Unlike so many who become expatriates, he wasn't bugged by any scarcity of work. Still, he was sitting at home one day when the moment of truth hit him. ‘Chan, let's go,’ he said!

Very soon it began to happen after he had planted roots in Paris. Jean-Louis Ginibre, editor of Jazz Magazine, became a good friend; Simone Ginibre, his wife, became Phil's manager. The European Rhythm Machine, a permanently organized entity, soon was in such demand that in a climactic irony, the group was invited to play the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival. He stayed in town long enough to record the superb Round Trip album with Johnny Pate's help (Verve V6-8791), then headed back for his adopted home. He stays busy writing compositions and arrangements for European TV and radio stations (yes, they still have live radio on the Continent), and gigging at clubs and festivals with his still very much together quartet.

An engagement at the Montreux Jazz Festival proved particularly felicitous in terms of the general ambiance and the peak level of performance achieved by the group. The Swiss gala has proven lucky to several American jazzmen. In 1969 an album recorded there by the Bill Evans Trio (Verve V6-8762) was awarded a Grammy by NARAS as the best jazz combo record of the year. Recently a Montreux performance by Les McCann and Eddie Harris has become the top-selling jazz LP in this country. Perhaps now it is Phil Woods' turn to triumph.

It was in Paris, between cross-Continent hops in the fall of 1968, that I heard this luminous quartet for the first time, at the Club Cameleon. There was no time to hear any other music in town, but the brief encounter with the Rhythm Machine made the visit worthwhile. The Cameleon is a small cave, with room for perhaps 75 amateurs du jazz, but their number was well counterbalanced by their enthusiasm. The group feeling among the men that night is captured even more overwhelmingly in the Montreux recording.

Pianist George Gruntz, who is just a few months younger than Phil, was born in Basel, Switzerland and has worked with numerous other Americans—Donald Byrd, Lee Konitz, Roland Kirk, Dexter Gordon. As a composer (his works include several jazz symphonies and chamber pieces) he is represented here by the opening track, Capricci Cavaleschi, which after a brief thematic exposition gives extended solo opportunities to all hands. Henri Texier, the only Frenchman in this France-based combo, offers astonishing evidence of his flexibility, wealth of ideas and technical finesse. Daniel Humair is the man who set to rest for all time the false alarms
could swing with the best of the Americans. Born in 1938 in Geneva, Humair has visited the U.S. several times, most notably with the Swingle Singers.

In an interview with Lars Lysted for Down Beat, Phil once remarked: ‘I’m  an old bebopper, and Bird didn't play total reality. He just played music as it was to him then. That's enough.’ The unregenerate second-generation bopper is completely at ease in this new concert version of I Remember Bird. (Originally, on a big band date which Oliver Nelson and I put together, it was converted into a memorable concerto for Phil, on the first volume of Encyclopedia of Jazz in the '60s (Verve V6-8677). Phil plays it a hair faster here and provides more room for everyone to stretch out.

The Oakland-born Carla Bley is a composer and pianist who has become to the avant garde what Mary Lou Williams was to the swing era. Her Ad Infinitum gives the Rhythm Machine a chance to operate at a high level of abstraction, soon after the hauntingly melodic main theme has been established. Despite Phil’s sworn allegiance to the memory of Bird, it is evident here and elsewhere that the impact and influence of Coltrane and other seminal figures of the 1960s could not have been lost on him. Similarly Gruntz reflects some of the new pianistic forces of the past decade, Herbie Hancock among them.

Finally, speaking of Hancock, the set ends with Herbie's own composition Riot. This version, paradoxically, is far more suggestive of the title than Hancock's own treatment, though there is an element of turmoil in both. Humair, though he
acknowledges that his primary influences were Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones and Roy Haynes, is a figure of total authority here both as soloist and rhythm section component. As for Phil, one can only gasp at the range of emotions and
variegated and eminently satisfying performances. "A majestic instrumental voice, a fertile and very lucid imagination and forceful swing. I do not see which altoist could,
today, equal him, at least from the point of view of instrumental command." Those words, part of a review by Arrigo Polillo in the Milan magazine Musica Jazz and are an exact reflection of my own feelings about Phil Woods.

If you are not yet among the converted, this document of a memorable  Montreux rendezvous should bring you around to Pollilo's way of thinking and mine.”   - Leonard Feather

Phil offered his own thoughts about gigging with The European Rhythm Machine in these notes from their Phil Woods and his European Rhythm Machine at The Frankfurt Jazz Festival Embryo LP: [Stereo/SD 530] [in this 1971 performance, Gordon Beck had replaced George Gruntz on keyboard]:

“The Machine and I will always remember Frankfurt. The evening concert was very long and consisted of mostly free-jazz German groups. Originally we had planned on recording but, after the mid-day rehearsal, I felt it was not the place. The hall did not sound right and the ambiance in general was not conducive to a live album. So I thought! After the first five minutes or so of Freedom Jazz Dance, I suddenly realized that it was going to be one of those evenings when everything works. And, after the first free connecting link to Ode A Jean-Louis, I knew that everybody else felt the same way. We now employ the non-stop technique and try to join all of the material into a suite. It's more demanding on an audience (though certainly not as demanding as a totally free group) but we believe that people who are familiar with the group and know its ingredients will enjoy following each step in the collective improvised recipe.

Three basic ingredients:

1— The Audience

We've discussed this and agree that, after the first few bars, we knew and felt the communication with the audience was well established. Perhaps it was the relief at not being the recipients of hostility but, once the rapport was there, all concentration and energy went into the making of the music.

2—The Acoustics
We could hear each other fantastically well. This is the biggest problem about playing the way we do; we must be able to hear each other and react or the result is forced. In Frankfurt the conditions were as near perfect as it is possible.

3—The Piano

Gordon said that as soon as he touched the keyboard he knew that the concert was going to be a bitch. Show me a happy piano player and I'll show you a happy band.

Many thanks to the fine people who present the Frankfurt Festival. Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau (Horst Lippmann supervised this recording) and the engineers. But above all I must mention Simone and Jean-Louis Ginibre, without whose encouragement and help all this would not have been possible.” - PHIL WOODS

There is also more from Jean-Louis Ginibre about Phil and the ERM in these notes from  Phil Woods and his European Rhythm Machine at The Frankfurt Jazz Festival.

All those who have followed attentively the evolution of jazz and its men have known for some time that within Phil Woods lies part of the future of jazz. Phil and His European Rhythm Machine triumph in clubs, concert halls, the most famous festivals. Praised in Montreux, Newport, Bologna, Carthage, Frankfurt, Berlin, Barcelona, Scandinavia, France, they conquer each day new audiences and make friends wherever they play. Phil and his men create between the audience and themselves affectionate rapport and establish passionate bonds. They communicate. They diffuse their "joie de vivre", their rage to play, their enthusiasm and their faith in modern art.

Phil Woods was born twice. The first time in Springfield (Mass.), in 1931, the second time in Paris (France) in 1968. The man who was the companion of Gene Quill, the sideman of Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman, the lead-alto of Quincy Jones and Oliver Nelson, died to be reborn better. When he set foot on the earth of France, Phil Woods opened his eyes and discovered that many people were ready to have faith in him.

Musicians looked at him with admiration, an agent gave him a helping hand with enthusiasm, jazzfans listened to him with fervor. And, thanks to this audience, this agent, these musicians and, of course, his talent, Phil Woods managed to avoid the trap befalling many American jazzmen who come to settle in Europe: becoming a local musician, an American expatriate playing here and there with whichever rhythm section is available in each city. Phil Woods' new life began in Paris on April 28th, 1968. On that day, Phil was due to open in a small club, the "Cameleon". His manager had booked around him what she thought would be the ideal rhythm section for him: pianist George Gruntz, bassist Henri Texier and drummer Daniel Humair. Two Swiss and one Frenchman.

From the first moment the contact was established. A mutual understanding, an identical faith, a similar sensitivity united them. They decided to remain together and to form a steady group. Quickly, the whole of Europe was informed of the existence of this new group to which, in order to give it its own personality, a name was given: PHIL WOODS AND HIS EUROPEAN RHYTHM MACHINE. The communion was such between the four men that the style of the group continually evolved. New outlooks were discovered and new trails cleared. George Wein, passing thru Paris, heard the group and asked them to participate in the Newport Jazz Festival.

After playing there, in July 1969, George Gruntz had to leave the group because of other commitments. Phil saw only one man in Europe capable of filling the chair: an Englishman, Gordon Beck. Phil contacted him and Gordon accepted eagerly. With this new element, the Machine started off again better than ever. It accelerated and the evolution went on. Success, too. London, Rome, Belgrade, Warsaw, Palermo, Molde. New victories, new successes. The U.S.A. began to be moved. And it was from America that came the most unexpected, the most tremendous, the most unbelievable of encouragements. In 1970, Down Beat published the results of its polls. In the Critics Poll, Phil was voted No. 1 alto (Established Talent Category) and his group was voted first of the combos (Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition). A few months later, in the Readers Poll, Phil came second behind Cannonball Adderley. In 1969, he was fifth! They say that no one is a prophet in his own land and Phil had to move to Europe to be admired by the Americans. When he lived there, he was a musician among many others, a little better considered than most but that was all.

The music speaks for itself. No need to describe it, to comment on it, to be more explicit. Allow me, however, to make a personal remark: Phil Woods is, for me, the greatest alto-player alive. His group is the best in Europe and, in the United States, I only know of two others capable of competing with it. Phil Woods and His European Rhythm Machine will live very long. A long road opens in front of them, a road spread with traps at times but with many triumphant moments.” -  JEAN-LOUIS GINIBRE Editor of "Jazz-Magazine" PARIS

When I started this piece on Phil and The European Rhythm Machine I could barely find any mention of it in any of the major Jazz research tomes, although I must admit that my canvassing of The Literature was by no means exhaustive.

I am not a Jazz authority or scholar; if anything, I am a compiler [sometimes, a not too discerning one, although I try to be accurate about what I post]. I collect information on Jazz topics that interest me and then “cut and paste it” to form many of the features that appeared on JazzProfiles.

It is my effort at developing an anthology of information all in one place for those readers who wish to have a more in-depth look at the musician being profiled on the blog.

With this in mind, there follows a lengthy interview that Phil gave to the English Jazz writer and critic, Les Tomkins, in 1969 about how the European Rhythm Machine came into existence, an excerpt from Phil's 2010 interview with Marty Nau for the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Project on the same subject, as well as two, additional reviews of recordings made by Phil and the ERM.

We close with our usual video that provides you with an example of the music of the group, in this case, the version of Freedom Jazz Dance that was recorded at the 1969 Montreux Jazz Festival.

Breaking Out of The Studio: Phil Woods as told to Les Tomkins

Pennsylvanian alto saxophonist, clarinettist, bandleader and composer Phil Woods talks to Les Tomkins in 1969 about his quartet The European Rhythm Machine, running a music camp and playing across Europe.

Interview : 1969

Source: Jazz Professional/National Jazz Archive
“It feels good to be playing, I must say; I enjoy this rhythm section very much. Having worked with them almost a year makes a difference. It's becoming a little more instinctive, some of the things we do. The level of creation and rapport is a lot higher. A good feeling, one that I've sorely missed.

When I was in London a year ago, I got some correspondence from a lady, the wife of the editor of a French magazine, who was just beginning to get into personal management. She flew over to London during the Ronnie Scott engagement, asked me what my plans were, and said that she knew a very good rhythm section.
Would I be interested in going into the Chameleon in Paris and seeing how it developed from there? The individuals were more or less hand-picked for me. I'd known Daniel Humair ten years ago; George Grunz I knew a little bit as a pianist, but not personally, and I didn't know Henri Texier, the bass player, at all. So I had a ready-made group. I don't think I could have done it by myself. I wouldn't have known where to go, in the first place, to find this calibre of player. Daniel and Henri are from Paris, but George is from Basle, Switzerland-I would never think of looking there.

We've been to the Barcelona Festival; we did a Norwegian tour, Stockholm, a few gigs in Brussels, a tour of the South of France, radio and television in Italy. The only place we haven't hit yet is Germany, and I think that's forthcoming. We've kept quite busy; mostly festivals and concerts, which is essentially where all the work is anyway. Not so much clubs.

Clubs are difficult in the cities because they can't afford the transportation. That's why there's that perpetual thing of doing a single and working with the house rhythm section. Sometimes, in the face of economic tribulation, I have to go out and work with the local musicians. Gradually the quartet is catching on, though. I think we'll be working more and more. I hope so. We're playing at the Montreux Festival. And we go to Newport this year; that should be a good boost for us.
Our conception? Well, we're not teenagers, by any means; we've all been playing for quite a few years. The youngest member is Henri Texier, who's 23. We cover all of our own individual musical backgrounds within the group context. Free collective, but very tight; we're quite aware of form. We use freedom when the tune or the emotion of the moment calls for it. We're not free jazz players, but I don't think I'm a pure bebopper either. I've taken all the elements that have made up my musical experience.

We play some new and some older pieces. If I do a ballad, I play it a different way. We try to get as much variety as possible within the jazz quartet form. Because the instrumentation is such that there's not too much you can do; so you have to rely upon the texture of the tune itself.

I remember there was some criticism last year when I was here with the British rhythm section, asking how come I couldn't find a new format other than solo, solo, bass, fours and out. But there's no other possible way you can do it with a quartet. I mean, you could start with a bass solo but in the interests of musical sense, you can either vary the solo format by having the piano go first, or maybe a little group improvisation. You don't have too much colour to work with; it's the variety of your material that kind of offsets that.

On a ballad, I may be the only soloist. We have several fairly extended pieces, where everybody has the chance to get deep. It's a varied book; it covers just about every situation, I think. Everybody in the group has contributed, which makes it a good thing.

Why the name European Rhythm Machine? We had to call it something and I didn't want to just call it the Phil Woods Quartet. And I'm quite proud of the rhythm section; I just like people to know that there are some European swingers. The gap is narrowing. That's a bunch of nonsense about: "Oh well, they don't swing." Maybe that was true thirty or forty years ago.

The rhythmic thing has always been the criticism that you've heard. There were no drummers in Europe, and so forth. I think that's fast dating; the musical level is fantastic, as you know, with people like Dave Holland, Gordon Beck.

And they sound marvellous, by the way. I must put a plug in for the Gordon Beck Trio, which was my rhythm section last year. They've made fantastic development; I can hear it, especially in Cordon. Tony Oxley has certainly mellowed. And Jeff Clyne is, as always, solid as a rock; he's broadened even more. It's a delight for me to hear them again, and they're all very nice cats.

I like Europe very much. Naturally it's given me the chance to do what I've always wanted to do, and I'll be forever grateful for that. European audiences are very astute. I'm quite content. The family is well- adjusted; the children are all very fluent in French, attending French schools. My French is creeping along; my wife is doing very well. And we like the living, although France right now is a little shaky politically; but we still love the country very much. That's part of the whole world picture; France is going through the throes of economic troubles. I'm not really qualified to speak of politics of my own country, let along the one where I'm a guest. But sometimes it gets a bit unsettled there. I arrived right in the middle of the May riots; the week I opened in the Chameleon was when it began. Fantastic. But it's worked out well. I'm quite pleased.

My reason for leaving the States was that I wanted to play, essentially. I felt the only way I could do this would be to just sever all ties with my image. Which had been cultivated for me; I tried not to contribute to it, but it was unavoidable that I be labelled a studio musician. It was just inevitable for it to happen.

And I never considered myself a studio man at all. Most of the work I did then, even in the studios, was in a jazz- orientated vein, if you check the records. I did my share of the commercial things, television jingles and whatever, but it was usually for the jazz- based writers who would ask for me. I mean the schlocky contractors didn't want to hire a jazz alto player. I was used as a jazzman within the studio scene, but as far as getting any gigs outside of that scene, I was considered more studio than jazz.

A lot of times people would say: "Well, he's so busy in the studios he wouldn't take a gig in a jazz club." You know, and they wouldn't even call, just figured they'd get a "No". Actually, I'd have been only too glad to do it.

I was very dissatisfied and bored with what I was doing. I felt: "This is not what I set out to do." And I never feel that I tossed the towel in. It was just circumstances. Also it says something for the state of jazz in my country; perhaps the state of jazz all over. I know the same trap occurs in Europe. You have your session musicians that are labelled the same way, and some of them are fine jazz players. It's right back to trying to make a dollar or a pound playing music; it's very difficult.

That's why I consider myself quite fortunate to be able to keep the quartet going. I'm also getting opportunities to do some writing, which I've always been very interested in. The one thing I want to do is more teaching; I haven't started any yet. I'll be doing some clinics in Europe; I did one here with the London Youth Jazz Orchestra. Eventually I intend to get into that.

My school back home went on for five summers. Before I left it had been sold as a remedial reading camp for backward children. It just became financially unfeasible to maintain. We had an administrative staff, the people that owned the school. I was Music Director, generally responsible for the co-relating of the different departments. Like, I'd work with the ballet department if we were doing a jazz piece with some dancers. It wasn't exclusively my camp, although it became more of a jazz camp, because we got a little publicity out of the fact that a jazz musician was teaching. But not enough to keep it going, which was truly a shame.
It was absolutely marvellous while it lasted, a fantastic experience for me and my whole family. Because we only lived a mile from the school out in Pennsylvania, amid an estate of lovely scenic woods. You'd visit the school and over here you'd see some kid with a tenor under the apple tree, practising some Pres licks or something, while some other kids over there would be dancing. We had all of the performing arts represented. Very exciting.

Towards the end we developed quite a few good players. In fact, I'm quite proud of one young man; his name is Richie Cole. He's now playing lead alto with the Buddy Rich band. I get a bigger kick out of seeing his name in print than I do my own. It's a good feeling to see an ex-student of mine, still only around 18 making it like that. He’s very talented and I'm sure you're going to hear more from him. Without the school, it's possible that this kid might not be there today.
So if only one had come out of it, it's worth it.

Section and lead playing is something you can teach to a certain extent but it's a deep experience which must be shared by the kid within working circumstances. This is what the school supplied- we worked on ensemble and big band sound- I mean, we played free pieces. I gave the kids free rein to play the music they wanted to. I wasn't about to tell them: "Well, you'd better learn all your Bird licks or you won't get a gold star." Play what you want, but let's play correctly, as musicians, with a professional level of performing. …”

Marty Nau 2010 Interview with Phil for the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Archive

[Phil Woods]“[Late 1960s] The record business had changed completely, you know, it was now you know the three cretins with an ewee [electronic wind instrument], a lot of guitars. It changed and the gigs were falling apart. And so I remember I said to Chan [Phil’s wife], “Let‟s go to Europe, let‟s go back,” because we spent that year, ‘59 and ‘60, in Europe and we loved it being based in Paris.

So I said, “I can‟t make the studio scene anymore. I want to play jazz,” you know. So, we packed up our matching luggage, our 24 cardboard cartons [MN chuckles] and uh I, I had a gig I had two weeks at Ronnie Scott‟s club in London and then I had a couple of German workshops. In those days, they each the radio orchestras would have would bring in a not a big bands but famous players from all the different countries and they put together a special project. I had a couple of those. So, we uh we flew to England and did Ronnie Scott‟s and then we were actually heading for Amsterdam because we didn‟t think we could afford Paris.

And, in fact, I bought a Fiat 1500 for delivery in Amsterdam, and um when I  was working in Ronnie Scott‟s, a guy by the name of uh Jean Louis Ginibre, who was the editor of Jazz magazine in Paris, came to London, heard I was in London, knew who I was, and said, “You know, you‟ve got to come to Paris.” And I said, “Well, we‟re thinking of …” He said, “Come to Paris.” He says, “My wife‟s going to start booking. Simone Ginibre, who became George Wein‟s right-hand lady, girl Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, started booking. But I was her first client. So we went to Paris and drove around the Arch of Triumph with Jean Louis and Simone Ginibre and we went to Paris and he put a band together for me which was Daniel Humair on drums, Henri Texier on bass and George Gruntz on piano, became the European Rhythm Machine.
[Marty Nau]: Later, uh replaced by Gordon Beck,
[PW]: Replaced by Gordon Beck and Ron Mathewson replaced Tex. But we always had Daniel on drums.

Man, you know, from playing jingles and all that stuff all of a sudden I‟m playing every major festival in Europe, you know, because of Jean Louis‟ influence and Simone booking us. I man, right off the bat we started recording for Pathé the French label, did a thing called “Alive and Well,” it was received very well and man I was off and running man five years of you know headlining and stuff, ….”

The full, 66-page text of Phil's interview with Marty about all aspects of his career can be located via this link: 

BBC Review. Peter Marsh. 2003. Phil Woods And His European Rhythm Machine: Alive and Well in Paris [Toshiba-EMI Limited TOCJ-5960]

“In 1968 alto player Phil Woods gave up a promising career as a sideman and studio musician to move to Paris, in the belief that Europe was a much healthier place (both politically and culturally) to be a jazz musician.

Strangely, he was right. Within a month or two he'd hooked up with a band who'd all go on to be important European jazz artists in their own right; pianist George Gruntz, bassist Henri Texier and drummer Daniel Humair. A storming set at the 1968 Newport Festival suggested this was a band to be reckoned with; though visiting American jazzmen usually worked with local pickup bands while in Europe, this was a different kettle of fish. The ERM stayed together for five years (with only two personnel changes) and arguably produced the altoist's finest and most exploratory work.

Woods, a self confessed 'old bebopper', was deeply in thrall to the work of Charlie Parker, but the ERM's remit included nods to the emergent avant garde. On this date (recorded in 1969) they cover tunes by Carla Bley and Herbie Hancock; though Woods was publicly distrustful of free jazz (he famously dismissed Anthony Braxton's music in a Downbeat blindfold test) he was obviously attracted to the possibilities of improvising over more expansive structures. Hancock's "Riot" provokes an electrifying solo from the altoist that recalls Eric Dolphy's elastication of bebop language.

Pretty much everything here is taken at an alarmingly high tempo. Woods' bebop sensibilities are intact, but he rarely resorts to merely recycling old licks; or if he does, he stitches them together in new ways. More crucially, his tone never suffers at speed; where other altoists get screechy, Woods' tone remains satisfyingly fruity, each note deftly articulated.

Humair is equally dazzling; there's some of Elvin Jones' polyrhythmic approach at work, coupled with the effortless complexity of Roy Haynes. And (aided by Texier's flowing, inventive lines) he swings too; Woods noted ruefully that Humair's abilities were accepted with some surprise by American audiences (obviously unused to the notion that any European musicians could be worth their time).

Later editions of the band with Gordon Beck at the keyboard would take Woods into more exploratory pastures, flirting with electric instruments and rock rhythms, but this Montreux set is second generation bebop of the highest order. Recommended.”

Review of Phil Woods and His European Rhythm Machine [Inner City IC 1002]by Michael G. Nastos for

“In 1970, when Inner City Records was just getting off the ground, Phil Woods was in Europe enjoying himself, and collaborating with musicians who were definitely feeling the spell of the Miles Davs  groundbreaking jazz fusion epic Bitches Brew. While always a staunch straight-ahead bebop player,Woods decided to mix it up a bit and incorporate elements of funk, rock, and free improvisation, much to the likely chagrin of his listeners.

In fact, a vitriolic letter printed on the back cover from an unidentified fan residing in Chicopee Falls, MA, rips Woods for abandoning melody, criticizes his titles, and actually threatens him with physical violence should he ever show up in his town. Woods gives his terse reply, but as cynical as this discourse is, it could all have been whipped up by Woods to deflect any detractors to his "new thing." Truth be told, the music here is inspired and focused, even if it is not what devotees might expect. British electric pianist Gordon Beck (who took over for original keyboardist George Gruntz), French acoustic bassist Henri Texier, and Swiss drummer Daniel Humair are all extremely talented musicians, who alongside the excitable Woods forge strong bonds in amalgamating this modern jazz into a personalized sound.

Bookended by really long jam-type pieces, the album also retains a certain amount of arranged and complex melody lines. The opener, "Chromatic Banana," is the piece that caused the letter-writing fan's consternation, and in the hilarious liner notes, Woods offers listeners a chance to win one in simulated plastic. Musically, it moves fast from 6/8 to free to 5/4, 4/4, and 7/8 meters in pre-fusion rock-funk modes, with the alto and Varitone-modified sax of Woods wheezing, wailing, improvising, and eventually vocally scatting.

Beck's "The Day When the World..." has a folkish intro on the Hohner electric piano, moves from a steady rock beat to a poppish tune, and concludes with introductions of the band members by one of the leader's children in English and French. A combo track of Beck and Woods, "The Last Page/Sans Melodie" starts as a pleasant ballad, then quickens to a bop and rock pace with Woods on a Varitone clarinet. The most straight jazz-oriented cut is also contributed by Beck: "Ultimate Choice" is a fleet bebop discourse between the pianist and alto saxophonist, with hard attacks and Woods digging in and establishing his territory. The short "A Look Back" is actually forward-thinking and progressive in a spontaneous manner via the spare recorder playing of Woods underpinning clacky percussion, rattles, and bowed bass.

This recording, the second overall release in the Inner City catalog (with artwork containing a Rube Goldberg-type Honeywell computer schematic and the label's original skyscraper type logo), has been issued on CD, and it is a testament to the tenacity of Phil Woods to think outside the box occasionally, while losing none of his identity. The project deserves a revisit, despite some of the fans' misgivings.”