Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Chapter From, Phil Woods - "My Life in E-Flat" [From the Archives]

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

“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.”

- Chuck Israels, Jazz bassist, composer-arranger, educator [Emphasis mine]

So, I recently sent alto saxophonist, composer, bandleader, educator and one-heckuva-nice-guy Phil Woods copies of my recent postings about his European Rhythm Machine quartet and the quintet he co-led with the late, alto saxophonist Gene Quill.

Concerning the Phil and Quill posting, Phil wrote back with a correction, which I made, and he also sent along a chapter from his unpublished autobiography, My Life in E-Flat that offers his own take on this period in his life.

I suggested that the chapter would make a great blog posting.

He wrote back and said: “Sure do it.”

Did I mention that Phil was one-heckuva-nice-guy?

© -  Phil Woods; used with the author’s permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Chapter 10.
Anything You Can Do

“It was a cold blustery night in the Apple.  It was March 1954 and the wind was caroming off the canyon walls and going right through the lead‑sheet I called my winter coat.  I had heard that the cats were jamming at Teddy Charles' pad, 50th and Seventh Avenue right above the IRT kiosk, and as I climbed the funky staircase the warm sound of a bass playing the introductory ostinato to Robbin’s Nest warmed my young bebop soul. Teddy was from Springfield and had come to New York years before our gang.  I do vaguely remember that he used to play drums and the local cats used to say his watch couldn’t keep time.  But on the vibraphone he was a master. Teddy was on Chubby Jackson's Big Be‑Bop Band in the late forties and occupied a pivotal position among the new music and its young Turks.

I think that ‘young Turks’ is a more suitable sobriquet than young lions.  Young lions need their Mommies and have no teeth for the task.  Young Turks have a big bite and changed the world!

There seemed to be general amusement when the cats spotted my raggedy blue corduroy gig bag.  Hip stuff in Springfield perhaps, but not much impact in Bop‑City.

My hearty, "Hi Guys!  I'm Phil and I play the sax”, was received with cool nods and bemused almost- smiles.  One of the reasons this period was known as cool was because the musicians were not usually warm, not at first anyway!  They were all world‑weary men who knew life was not a fountain and showed it at every opportunity.  Some, of course, were so out of their minds on heroin that they couldn't be anything but cool.

This was indeed a most underwhelming welcome.  Teddy managed a gracious nod as he blew on Sir Charles' popular be‑bop composition.  I laid out and fired up an Old Gold and surveyed the situation.  I recognized Teddy Kotick on bass, Harvey Leonard on piano and I think it was Frank Isola or Phil Arabia on drums.  Various horn players were scattered about the room.  Man!  This was it!  My first session downtown with the heavies!  I started to feel a little more secure.  The horn players I heard were not raising a lot of sand.  And then it came around to an alto man I had not noticed at first.  As soon as this cat started to play I knew that I was neck deep in the shit.  And then I recognized him.  It was Gene Quill and I had heard him with Art Mooney's band at the Valley Arena in Holyoke.  Gene had a solo on the Stars and Stripes Forever, not a great jazz tune, but Gene doubled up the tempo and then doubled it up again!  He knocked me out!  Quill was good, loud, hot and fast.  All of a sudden I didn't feel so hot!  I fought an urge to run as the final pedal ostinato concluded the tune.

I introduced myself to Gene and told him how much I liked his work.  He nodded politely while looking like he was about to have my E flat butt for dinner.

"You want to play some?”  


"What'll it be?" he asked."

“Your pleasure," I replied, nice like my Mom taught me.

“Donna Lee" he said, "Fast!" he added. 

"Kick it off, Bro!"

He did and we were gone at the gate.  Eight bars rhythm and when we hit the theme and it was as if we had been playing together for years.  He played ten choruses - I played ten.  The other horns stopped and checked out the action.  We played eight’s and fours and twos and hit the reprise like one E flat laser.  Our eyes met after the tune and smiled.  If all Bird's children are brothers then Gene and I were twins.  We played till morning and then went to Charlie's for some serious hanging out and something to eat.  (Probably the renowned meat loaf sandwiches!)  And Quill could hang Jack!

After leaving Diz, Gene and I formed a band.  We made a record for Prestige and used our publicity photo for the cover.  Bill Potts said we looked just like Leopold and Loeb!  Our compulsion was not so severe as theirs!  We were doing a few local gigs at one of which the announcer grandly proclaimed:

"And here he is now, ladies and gentlemen, Phil Anquill!"

I looked at Gene.  He looked at me!  We went through the whole Alphonse/Gaston thing, cracking up as we mounted the stage.

We worked a week at the Halfnote once, and after paying the band and our bar‑tabs, we split $14!  I learned some good things too.  Gene was the first lead alto to minimize the use of vibrato, hitting the note sans scoop, and only adding vibrato towards the end of the note.  Like Prez.  Like Louie. Like Bird.  He taught me so well that years later we couldn't tell which of us was playing lead on many records.  My favorite sax section to play with was Gene on lead alto, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn on tenors and Danny Bank or Sol Schlinger on baritone sax.  We were the altos of choice for many of the arrangers because we could also sight read anything as well as solo in the new idiom.  Gene also played the best lead clarinet I ever heard.  He was with the Claude Thornhill band, the one that had such a great influence with the arrangements of Gil Evans.  He also played lead clarinet and alto with the Gerry Mulligan Concert Band.  Both seminal institutions!  Some of his best-recorded work was with the Johnny Richards band.

The list of great baritone players is not long.  You have to be real good before they give you the big sax!  Harry Carney was the first baritone man to gain fame and notoriety from his years of work with the Duke Ellington band.  Danny Bank, Serge Chaloff, Pepper Adams, Nick Brignola, Sol Schlinger, Cecil Payne, Charles Davis, Ron Cuber, and Gary Smulyan all belong on this list.  But the list for great baritone player and great composer/innovator is real short, Gerry Mulligan.  I first met Gerry Mulligan in the late fifties when we did an album for Manny Albam called Jazz Giants with Al Cohn, Zoot Sims and a small band.  That was when I first noticed his penchant for detail.  He was continuously asking me if this or that phrase was to be long, long short; short, short long; or long, short long?  I was not the model of patience that I am now (Did you hear my wife laugh?) and I asked Zoot to change places with me, outdistancing myself from any more short/long questions.  Try asking Zoot about that stuff, baby!
I loved the quartet albums with Chet Baker, the piano-less quartet.  These were the first recordings that relied on a clear delineation of the guide tone principle now espoused in all music schools.  That is the use of alternating thirds and sevenths by the horns.  The end result of this skeletal approach is a clarification of all of the harmonic possibilities and an elimination of the sometime tyranny of a piano player who can dictate and determine the melodic content of an improviser by his harmonic selection.  In the naked framework of this technique all harmonic choices are possible by the soloist.

In the sixties, Gerry assembled a new concert band.  This was one of the best jazz bands ever and was a further continuation of the principles first espoused by Gil Evans for the Claude Thornill band and, later, the recordings by the pivotal Miles Davis Nonet for Capitol.  Gerry’s new band had arrangements by him, Al Cohn, Bob Brookmeyer, and Gary McFarland.  Gene Quill was playing lead alto with the band.  This chair had more clarinet parts than alto parts.  When they opened at Birdland, Gene had an accident, slashing his eyeball on his reed when he turned his head too fast.  Gene always moved too fast!  I got the call to sub and dashed from my home in New Hope PA to fill in.  Gerry fired me the first night but rehired me the next day.  Something about me being another drunk Irishman.  Like calling the kettle green!  Yes.  Gerry and I had a sometime stormy relationship but remained good friends united by our love of the music.  I had no problem with Gerry when I was not working for him.  We would hang by the hour in Jim & Andy’s, watering hole of the jazz community, along with Gary McFarland, Gene Lees and Jim Hall and we would talk late into the night about everything.  And I mean everything.  Gerry was a thinking man’s musician, well read and passionate in his politics as well as in his opinions.

A couple of years ago the Quintet and I were doing the Ravinia Jazz Festival outside of Chicago.  Gerry was the musical director that year of the jazz series.  The quintet had played this event many times and we knew that the sound people knew the group and were good at their jobs.  So I elected to pass on the sound check.  They are usually a waste of time anyway.  If the soundman knows his job, its no problem to balance an acoustic jazz group, and if he doesn’t know his job, it won’t matter anyway!  Gerry called me at the hotel and told me how unprofessional I was.  He said he was worried about the cymbal sound on the lawn.  (Part of the audience would picnic on the grass surrounding the bandstand.)  We did not speak that night so when he called me to do the Re-Birth of the Cool album I told him no way.  What did he want with an unprofessional man like me?  Lee Konitz was unavailable.  There began a lengthy FAX exchange with Jeru and we made up.  Music first!  Gerry apologized and we made the record.  Working on that album was a delight.  I grew up with those sounds and felt honored to take part.  Gerry knew exactly what he wanted on this album and communicated his wishes succinctly and directly.  Oh what a better workplace it would be if all leaders had such a handle on a project.  Lee Konitz told Gerry that since he hired me, they should call the album Birth of the Hot.  Nice compliment, thank you Lee.
(Do you know why no one sounds like Lee Konitz?  Because it’s too damn hard, that’s why!)  Come on you alto clones, cop some of his stuff if you can!

Gerry, Gene Lees, Johnny Mandel and I were on the Norway jazz cruise last year and got a chance to hang out like the old days.  Gerry was obviously very ill but I have never heard him play better.  He was reaching deep and we all agreed that it would not be possible to hear the second set.  It was so moving time was required to digest what we had just heard.  It was that breathtaking! I told Gerry that one of my favorite albums was Krupa Plays Mulligan.  I got a chance to play Charlie Kennedy’s chair and learn from playing 2nd to Sam Marowitz’ brilliant lead alto style.  I told Gerry that his arrangement on If You Were The Only Girl In The World, was a joy to play.  It also was the first time I ever overdubbed a solo, a big deal back in those early days of tape.  All of the musicians were quietly packing up and I was playing the melody over the pre-recorded background.  I assume it was originally a vocal.  Gerry said, ”Was that you?  That’s one of my favorite recordings of my early stuff.”

His words made me feel good.  

Gerry died on January 20, 1996.  He was 68 years old.  AS Gene Lees so eloquently said in his recent Jazzletter the world has lost a great musician and we have lost a good friend.  Later Jeru!  Our relationship was stormy but steadfast and I too shall miss my Irish friend.

Back to Quill, a great player but he was wild!  He fancied himself a pugilist and was reported to have been a Golden Gloves champ when he was a kid in Atlantic City, his hometown.  One time he and Les Elgart got into it and Gene bit him on the wrist and stole his watch.  (Is it possible that he tutored Dizzy’s singer Austin Cromer?)  He gave me the watch and whenever Les was in Charlie's, Gene would make a big too‑do, asking me over and over again for the time.  Les never copped.

As Gene came off the stand one night some ass‑hole said to him-

"Gene Quill.  All you’re doing is imitating Charlie Parker!"

Gene handed the cat his horn and said; "Here!  You imitate Charlie Parker!"

The first day I had my new Ford Falcon, we were at the Halfnote, not gigging, just digging Al Cohn and Zoot Sims.  Gene wanted to try my new wheels when we went back uptown to Jim's for a taste.  As we approached a tight parking place I told Gene to wait a minute while I opened the door and appraised the size of the space.  As I did, Gene floored it and backed up the car, catching the front passenger door on the bumper of the car in front, ripping my lovely new car's door right off its hinges.  The door was just lying there on the street.  I was beside myself with fury at what Gene had done to my brand new car. Boy!  Was I going to get it!

"Look what you've done!  You SOB!  You've killed my new car!  My old lady is going to kill me and I’m going to have to kill you."

And the more I yelled the more Gene cracked up until I finally cracked up myself!  It was some sad funny shit to see us pick up my brand new door and load it in to the back seat.  Chan however didn't find it quite so amusing.

When Gene was with Claude's band they did a gig at the Norfolk Naval Base.  After the gig Gene was using the "head" and he overheard a couple of "tars" denigrating the band.  You know.  Cute, original stuff like;

"What a bunch of fairies."

"Yeah, they all play the skin‑flute" etc.

Gene finished his business, zipped up his Johnson and BOOM!‑‑BANG!  He cold‑cocked both "swabbies” - they “hit the deck” - and Gene ran like hell to get on the bus before the U.S. Navy killed him.  What a guy!

All of our gigs were in the New York area.  We never went through the tunnel together, not officially anyway.  We worked a lot at the Cork&Bib in Westbury, Long Island.  A swinging, lovely man, Charlie Graziano, ran it.  He once hired me to play behind Billie Holiday.  She wasn't happy with the sax man who was with the group that accompanied her so I would just blow behind her and then keep her company at the bar.  Not too tough an assignment!  Charlie is still in the jazz biz as an agent, and we remain good friends.

Gene and I worked there a lot.  If we had a home base, this was it.  Chet Baker and Philly Joe Jones and their assorted retinue often came out and made commando raids on our bandstand, especially after they copped, never before!  They would ask to sit in, one at a time, and before you knew it, Chet's whole band would be on the stand.  Quill and I would adjourn to the bar and let the junkies do the gig for us.  Sometimes, if they didn't slow down too much we'd listen.  Fat chance with Joe when he was stoned!  When I was with Buddy Rich at the Apollo Theater, Buddy always hired Philly Joe Jones to play the show because he read so well.  Joe was a truly inventive and influential drummer.  He was a very funny man.  His Dracula imitation was a classic!

I've always loved Chet's work.  He was one of the finest melodists to ever blow a horn and Philly Joe Jones was something else.  Years later in Italy, where Chet was living, he once said to me,

“Phil, do you realize that the dollar is the strongest money in the world?”

Well, at that time the dollar was not that strong so I asked him how he came to that conclusion.

“How many lira do you get for a dollar?”

I replied, “6 hundred million or so.”

“And how many francs?”

“Well, seven - but it is very inflated at seven I think.”

“So how many Swiss francs or German marks do you get for a dollar?”

“Around like two, maybe a little over two.”

“See!” Chet exclaimed gleefully, ”No matter where you are, you always get at least two of theirs for one of ours.”

Proof positive and thus the Bakerian theory of economics was born!

One time, Chet was supposed to play a concert somewhere in Italy and the hall was filled but no Chet.  He never showed so the manager had to give the audience their money back.  Hours later and the manager is back at the hotel and Chet sashays in and asks him if he got the money.

“But Chet!  You didn't make the gig on time so I had to refund the money and send everyone home.”

Chet’s reaction, ”Well!  If that’s the way it is I’ll never play this town again!”

I signed with Epic records after my Prestige contract expired.  The Epic contract included a Kraft Television Playhouse production about a jazz drummer, played by Sal Mineo, that was called "Drummer Man".  I did not understand the connection between the cheese company, the TV network and the record company.  Corporate shenanigans I imagine.  I was the technical director for the production and my quartet (Nick Stabulas was on drums, Teddy Kotick on bass and George Syran on piano) recorded the love theme for the show as well as some other source material.  The name of the song was Leila's Theme, and the B side was a tune by Mal Waldron called Abstraction.  It was a 45-rpm and was found in the dairy section.  In those days most TV was live and this was one of the earliest and most popular of the many TV live dramas of this period.

We rehearsed all week in a Yiddish theater facility downtown.  Nick Stabulas, my drummer, coached Sal, the hero and I coached his buddy, the sax player.  The show went out from NBC's newly built color studio in Brooklyn.  It was huge, crammed with all the sets and had a separate studio for a fifty piece orchestra for the live background music.  Sal Mineo was a very nice man to work with and the week and the money were very pleasant.

In September 1957 I did an album called Phil Talks With Quill with the same band plus Quill added as a guest and a month later I did quartet album, Warm Woods.  A Juilliard school buddy, Bob Prince, now one of our finest film and dance composers, produced all of this work, and actually secured the Epic deal for me.
My favorite Phil & Quill record is Phil Talks With Quill.  If you listen closely you can hear Gene fall off the orange crate during my break on "Night in Tunisia".  He was even shorter than I was and we used the crate to give him a better shot at the microphone.

Bob Prince was also responsible for my only gig on Broadway, in 1956, with the Jerome Robbin's production Ballet USA.  I played the opening piece, composed by Bob with lots of solo alto, and I was through work and back in the bar before 9:30PM.

On the night of dress rehearsal I showed up in my civilian mufti and was surprised to see the orchestra members all sporting tuxedos.  I ran across the street to the new Charlie's Tavern and called Frank Rehak, who lived just around the corner.  I told him I needed a tux and ten minutes later I was in the pit playing in the proper attire.  I had assumed that dress meant stage performers only.  Wrong!  Show Biz is not my thing.
I did a lot of subs for Gene.  He was missing more and more gigs.  Success did not fit comfortably on Gene.  His self‑destruction was getting worse.  He punched out Johnny Richards on his opening night!  He lasted one set with Benny Goodman and the tales of his road trip with Buddy Rich's band are about what you would expect, given the volatile nature of both these people.  Buddy once sent for Gene just so he could fire him again.  Sting like a drummer and drift like a reed.

Gene was hospitalized and in intensive care one time.  He was in an oxygen tent with IV’s in every orifice and was not expected to survive.  Some of the gang snuck up to his room to see him.  Bill Potts leaned over the bed and asked Gene if there was anything he could do.

Gene said; ”Yeah! Take my place!”
When I told Brookmeyer that Gene had undergone brain surgery he asked,

"They found one?"

Gene could no longer play professionally but he still rehearsed the alto voices in the church choir every Sunday.  An alto player recently told me that he hung out with Gene a few years ago and they were both in the bar and Gene turned to this young cat and asked him,

"So what are you trying to killing yourself for?"

He made the kid realize some shit he hadn't thought about and he cooled it right then and there!  Gene was Irish and thought he was tough.  He wasn't so tough.
Gene Quill died in Atlantic City on December 8, 1988 from complications from a failed attempt at a pacemaker implant.  He had survived for 18 years with severe paralysis of the right side from brain damage suffered in a brutal mugging.

I did a lot of gigs with Neal Hefti's band, recording, clubs, and concert tours, even one with the McGuire sisters, one of whom played alto.  Which one you ask?  The one on the right.  She has Bird's horn!  It was great to play Neal’s composition, Repetition with the band.  The piece was very famous because of Charlie Parker’s presence on the record.  The story goes that Bird just dropped by to listen and Neal asked him if he would like to blow on it and the rest is musical history.  Bird soars over the strings and brass and I was very familiar with the piece.  In fact my present quintet still plays this great work.  Listening to Frances Wayne every night was also a musical delight.  She was one of the great singers in jazz history and a dynamite lady.  Her biggest hit I think was Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe that she did in the forties with the Woody Herman band.

Neal was a very special leader.  After the McGuire sisters tour we were due to open in Birdland.  In those days, many leaders would hire a different band for their New York gigs and get a cheaper band for the road.  Neal didn't play this game.  He took us out to a great steak house, Dick's I think, with an open bar and private dining room on our opening night.  This was a great vote of confidence on his part and all the cats cooled it at the open free bar and we blew the walls down that night.  I think that was the night that Miles heard me and probably changed my life by uttering those four words;

“The guy can play!”

One of the musical highlights of this period was being hired to play with the Thelonious Monk big band assembled and directed by Hall Overton, a great teacher and good friend, who I knew from Juilliard days.  He taught in the Extension division and used to jam with the boppers.  The music for Monk’s band was arranged by Hall and was essentially a transcription of Monks tunes and solos.  Really difficult stuff as the final two choruses of Little Rootie Tootie will confirm.  When we first started to rehearse we would begin at the top; intro, head, then Rouse would stretch out, Monk would stretch out then we would get to letter F, get to about the eighth bar and fall apart.  Monk would get upset and yell,

"Back to the top!"

And again, intro, Rouse solos, Monk solos, letter F, trainwreck and we’d stumble to a halt again.  Monk again yelled,

“Back to the top!”

Finally, Hall took the reins and told Monk that it was possible to start at the dreaded letter F.  Monk looked surprised, then he broke into a big smile and said to Hall,

“Bold move, man!”

We just rehearsed the difficult section and Monk was amazed at this simple time‑saving procedure.  From that moment he left all future musical decisions to Hall, resulting in the classic record, Monk at Town Hall.  We could always tell when Monk was pleased at our performance by the way he would dance around the band at rehearsals.  The small space demanded some slick footwork so we focused our attention on the Maestro's feet and it all came together and Monk was very happy.  You could tell from his huge warm smile, like a kid in Toyland.

My main income was still derived from my silky renditions of Harlem Nocturne at the Nut Club.  Mom and Dad came down for a weekend when I was doing a two‑fer; a concert at Town Hall with Jimmy Raney and then on to my strip gig at the Nut Club.  My folks were very proud to see me in such a prestigious venue as Town Hall.

I remember when I brought home my first record, with the aforementioned Jimmy Raney with Joe Morello on drums, John Wilson on trumpet and Bill Crow, on bass.  They put it on the turntable and were really listening, a rare thing for Dad.  About half‑way through, as the silence became unbearable my Mom turned to my Dad and said,

“Well!  It certainly is catchy, isn't it Stanley!"
So after Town Hall we went downtown to Sheridan Square for my evening gig.  You should have seen the look on my folks’ (especially Dad’s) faces when the lovely school‑marmish lady with glasses, whom they had just met and were having a chat with turned up a few minutes later and took all her clothes off.  She worked my folk’s table and it was wild!  Dad was beating the table enthusiastically with the wooden hammer supplied by the management. He loved to tell the story for years afterwards, especially the part about the breast‑tassel action!  (How do they do that?)

The recording scene was pretty healthy in this period and I was getting some good calls.  Most of the first rate arranger/composers were still in New York.  People like Quincy Jones, Billy Byers, Pat Williams, Don Costa, Bill Potts, Manny Album, Ken Hopkins, Neal Hefti, Ralph Burns, Eddie Sauter, Bill Finegan, Bob Brookmeyer, Gil Evans, Al Cohn, Oliver Nelson and Gary McFarland, to name a few!  

Most recordings from this period, whether pop or jazz, very often used the big band format.  Many, if not all the writers took the Ellington approach and demanded that the contractor get the good, jazz guys.  No brother‑in‑laws allowed!  The reason I was busy in this period was not because of any doubling skills.  I played some bass clarinet but that was about it, along with the regulation clarinet.  The reason was  the writers wanted their music phrased in the modern manner.  My sight‑reading ability was excellent because of Harvey’s lessons and my Juilliard training.  I had an identifiable sound and got lots of solos.  With the level of musicianship in the Apple at this time, all of this work was usually accomplished in one or two takes. I was getting settled in the studio scene and adventure loomed on the horizon.  Onward!  Upward!

I Hear Music.”

The following video montage is set to the Gene Krupa Orchestra’s performance of Gerry Mulligan’s arrangement of If You Were The Only Girl In The World with Phil Woods in the solo spotlight.

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