Phil Woods

2011 Living Legacy Awardee

Color photo of Phil Woods with his saxophone.

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Image: Phil Woods. Credit: Courtesy of the artist.

Born in 1931 in Springfield, Massachusetts, and currently residing in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania, Phil Woods is considered a master jazz alto saxophonist whose lineage is clearly rooted in the tone and phrasing of the great Charlie Parker, Benny Carter and Johnny Hodges.  After graduating from high school at age 16, Woods moved to New York City and enrolled in the Juilliard School, where he remained through 1952, majoring in clarinet performance.  In the 1950s, he led his own groups and toured the Near East and South America with one of his musical idols, Dizzy Gillespie.  Woods went on to perform in Buddy Rich’s quintet and toured Europe with Quincy Jones (1959-60) and Russia with Benny Goodman (1962).  He also played and recorded with Clark Terry, Bill Evans, Oliver Nelson, Charlie Barnet, and Thelonious Monk.

From 1964 to 1967, Woods took a break from the bandstand, teaching at the Ramblerny performing arts camp in New Hope, Pennsylvania, which was the beginning of his continued dedication to jazz education and advocacy in his home state.  Woods talent as a composer blossomed in 1968 when he moved to France and formed the European Rhythm Machine quartet, wrote music for Danish and Belgian radio, and composed a ballet for French television.  In 1972, Woods returned to Pennsylvania and formed a jazz group with Mike Melillo, Steve Gilmore, and Bill Goodwin.  With this ensemble, he became recognized as the finest alto saxophonist in mainstream jazz, confirmed by performances with Michel Legrand and on Billy Joel’s hit recording Just the Way You Are. He has been the recipient of four Grammy Awards and the NEA Jazz Master Award.  Woods remains active internationally as a bandleader, composer-arranger, soloist, and recent steward to younger players such as the emerging saxophonist Grace Kelly.

Phil Woods (1931-2015)

*Bio from Award presentation.