Word spread very quickly through the jazz community this afternoon that alto saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master (Class of 2007) Phil Woods passed away today. He was 83.
The news came less than a month after Woods told the audience at a September 4 concert
at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh that he had just played his final gig. He had long suffered from emphysema and performed for several years while using oxygen.
The Springfield MA native was a creative player, fine bandleader and a tremendous nurturer of young talent. He had a great sense of humor, acerbic more often than not, and a refreshing level of candor.
He was an easy choice for inclusion in my book Jazz in the Key of Light (Eighty of our Finest Jazz Musicians Speak for Themselves).
Here's what Phil had to say about his own early evolution as a jazz player, at a time when he felt overwhelmed by the talents already on the scene: “I remember one time, I got kidnapped by Art Blakey and Dizzy Gillespie. I was working at Birdland. I was drinking too much and unhappy with the band I was playing with, and moaning and groaning, and all that stuff. Dizzy and Art took me to Dizzy’s pad out in Corona where he lived and said: “Now what is your problem, man?’ I said, ‘Oh, man, I’m not ready. I’m a white guy I’m not going to make it in jazz.’ And Dizzy said—‘Young man, Charlie Parker did not give this music to any particular race. He gave it to everyone in the world. And if you can hear it, you can have it. You can’t steal a gift.’ I’ll never forget that.”
Jazz wisdom, passed on from a man who gave so much to the music.
RIP Phil. You can breathe easy again.
This story appears courtesy of Ken Franckling's Jazz Notes.
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