Jazz Friday: Phil Woods at the Village Vanguard

Alto Saxophonist Phil Woods was an animal. I saw him for the first time in the late 70’s and it changed the way I thought about the saxophone forever. Phil played so fast and hard that it reminded me of a running out of control and always about to fall on my face. But Phil never fell down. 

Some called him the “New Bird” because of the way he played so intensely like Charlie Parker. (He also was married to Bird’s widow.) I always thought of him as the jazz-hippie because I was introduced to him during his long-hair phase. For awhile, Phil lived in France and recorded avant-garde jazz with a group called the European Rhythm Machine. (A nice example of this music is their song, Chromatic Banana.) By the 70’s, Phil moved back to the United States, returned to more straight ahead jazz, and got a haircut.

Phil also played sax for many popular artists including Billy Joel and Paul Simon. Whether playing upbeat or a ballad, Phil Woods always played intensely. My pick, his Live at the Village Vanguard is on iTunes and features him powering through Webb City and equally nailing a ballad as only Phil could in Prelude to a Kiss. Like a lot of jazz artists, the best Phil Woods recordings are those made before a live audience.

Phil passed away last week at the age of 83. The below video is of Phil playing in Lincoln Center a few years ago. Even in his 80’s Phil Woods still could swing his ass off.