The intense be-bop style created by Charlie Parker changed the shape of jazz and created an entirely new vocabulary for the saxophone. Few sax players could keep pace with the incredible dexterity and musical intelligence of Bird, though many tried.
Phil Woods is one of the best and certainly the most ardent successor of the be-bop legend. He has succeeded in large part not by imitating Parker, but by comprehending and mastering the essence of his innovations. Though it could be said that Woods is still worshipping at Parker’s altar, he has developed a distinct vocabulary and phrasings and expressions of his own. He has been playing in the demanding bop idiom with integrity and zeal for the past 40 years.
In the late ’50s to the early ’60s, Woods rotated from one first chair to the next in the big bands of Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich and Quincy Jones. The post-bop trend, though, was toward smaller, tighter units and lengthy, weighty solos. These innovations revolutionized jazz.
Along with other Parker disciples, Woods pushed himself to the technical limits and he has continued his own relentless expansion of bop ever since. He still plays with a fiery, emotional attack and has a brilliant knack for long, complex solos.
Despite his incredible career and stellar recordings, Woods is remarkably down-to-earth. On a weekend jazz pilgrimage to New York during my first year of college, I scrounged up the $15 needed to get into the Village Vanguard. Sitting in the back with my high-priced beer, I was in awe of his first set. During the break, he sat down next to me and we talked about Charlie Parker, New York, jazz and life until it was time for the next set.
For this tour, Woods will be with pianist Eric Doney, who has made a name for himself playing with Steve Gilmore and Bill Goodwin, drummer Masahiko Osaka, one of the best in Tokyo, and bassist Iwao Masubara.
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