7/7/2015 6:09:01 AM
My colleague at DePaul, Bob Lark, had Phil Woods on campus several times to record with, perform with, and mentor our students. They played Phil's music, crafted arrangements of Phil's music, contributed originals and arrangements of standards to play and record with Phil, etc. It was quite a run!
Phil was not only a monster alto saxophonist, he was our friend. On and off the stage, he was just a blast to hang around with. He could talk food, wine, politics --- it wasn't JUST about music with Phil.
I asked some students to share some thoughts on Phil - here is but a sampling of the responses:
"I'll remember Phil for many things; always being brutally honest, for having great anecdotes, and for introducing me to the music of Elis Regina among others, but the single biggest lesson I learned from him was about trading. I had the opportunity to do a chart for him featuring both of us and included the obligatory trading section, and going into rehearsal I was really nervous about being able to keep up with an obvious master on his own music. When the time came though, it was one of the easiest musical experiences of my life because everything he played made not only what I had just played sound good, but what I was supposed to play next obvious. It wasn't a matter of him lobbing me pitches, it was simply what the musical moment called for from both of us, and that wordless lesson is some of the greatest musical knowledge I have ever received." - RYAN ADAMSONS
"When Phil visited DePaul in 2012, I was asked to arrange one of his pieces. I had done one the year before, and he seemed to like it, and we recorded it, so it had been a good experience. This new piece was a new tune Phil had just written – a really nice ballad for his grandson. I kind of wanted to do something a little different with it, so I wrote this modern sort of drone-y arrangement. I thought it was pretty cool at the time. When we rehearsed it before Phil showed up it went...okay. There were some tuning issues, because I used too many 'hip' cluster voicings, but other than that, it was okay. Phil arrived, we played it through once...and it never came back out of the book. Phil was pretty clearly put off, and I was pretty pissed – especially then, it took me a loooong time to write big band charts. I kind of stewed about it for a few days, until I heard, second-hand, that Phil actually really thought the arrangement was interesting and creative, but he was just looking for something straightforward for this nice ballad that had never been recorded. In hindsight, I can take a few lessons from it: first, just because you can, doesn't always mean you should. Especially when it comes to playing with a legend like Phil Woods. He obviously could have played over my droney stuff and sounded amazing, but it wasn't what I should have done in the situation. And along those same lines, know what you're good at, and what you want. Phil knew exactly what he wanted, and didn't compromise. Hearing later that Phil thought what I had done was creative, despite it not being his cup of tea, really meant a lot – and really made me learn, in a very real way, about context." - PAUL DIETRICH
"During my time at DePaul, I had the opportunity to play and hang with Phil in a variety of situations. It was a pleasure and a privilege to get to know him, and listen to him tell stories about his life in music. But the thing about being around him that affected me most deeply was the physical experience of his sound. Phil's tone was huge and resonant, even during the advanced stages of his illness. Hearing him in person brought to life a presence of sound that I only knew from the records of another era (his and those of the other greats), and alerted me to what has been lost over the years in the art of playing the saxophone. He inspired me to learn how to make the horn sing, and even though he's gone now, his legacy continues to inspire me to work toward that every time I play." - NICK MAZZARELLA
"Phil Woods was one of the most honest people I ever met in the music business. He was always very frank about the realities of the industry and remained very down-to-earth with younger players. The fact that his recordings serve as the gold standard for almost all modern lead alto section playing and improvising is almost eclipsed by the fact that he was one of the real road warriors of Jazz, who experienced the music and the culture in a way that many of us never will have the opportunity, and chose to spend his life sharing that with us. It was a great honor to have met him, to have heard him, and to have recorded with him, and I hope that I will be able to share as many valuable moments through music with the next generation of young people as he did with us. Thank you, Mr. Woods!" - MARK HIEBERT