Writings About Music

Rapturous Resonance: Phil Lives

When Doug Ramsey wrote about Jaki Byard at Rifftides, I was moved to make the following comment:

"One of the greatest jazz albums of all time is Musique du Bois by Phil Woods, due in no small part to the appearance of Jaki Byard on piano, in addition to Alan Dawson on drums and Richard Davis on bass. Byard’s intrinsic contribution pertains both to his soloing and accompanying. Check out his performance on the phenomenal rendering of "Willow Weep For Me.

Subsequently, Doug mentioned how he was in attendance for the recording of Musique du Bois, and wrote the memorable liner notes for the album -- perhaps my favorite liner notes ever -- which drew this response from myself:

"This is amazing. How fortunate you were to be there, and no doubt your presence was part of the mix that made everything so magical. I recall your original liner notes now, and how terrific they were, even though I lent that LP and lost track of it.

"If only this quartet made in heaven had recorded 25 or more albums! I would go so far to say that Musique du Bois is close to being the ultimate example of entirely equal interplay between members of a jazz quartet, all truly improvising and playing at a high level of inspiration. And what can you say about Phil Woods on Musique du Bois, except that he plays like a god in the throes of creation, including taking the alto saxophone to places it’s never been before.

"All the tracks are immortal, and the ballad performance, The Summer Knows, belongs up there with the slow movement of the Moonlight Sonata.

Phil Woods passed away the following month, and I was moved to comment at Rifftides once more:

"A few Phil Woods anecdotes: Charlie Colin once told me that when Phil Woods, as a teenager, took lessons at Charlie’s studio in Manhattan, his teacher there was very hard on him, causing the young Phil to cry on at least one occasion after being reprimanded for not doing well enough on his lessons. Whatever tactics that teacher used surely worked! Subsequently, I asked Phil about this in-between sets at the Catalina Bar and Grill in Los Angeles, and he said it was true.

"In the mid-seventies, I went with a date to see Phil in Manhattan, and we sat right in front at a small table. During his ballad performance, Phil walked right up to our table, and while he played Body and Soul in typically ravishing and breathtaking form, the bell of his alto was just above the middle of the table in-between us.

"The one time I was at Phil’s house, his wife Jill came home, and Phil got up instantly, walking across the living room while improvising with his voice in a musical rhythm: “Give me some sugar!” and then kissing her.

"A friend told me how he once went to hear a big band play for free at an outdoor park on Long Island, and they were sounding pretty good. Then, one of the alto players got up and played a solo that made his jaw drop and his eyes bulge. That was his introduction to Phil Woods.

"He took the alto saxophone to places it’s never been before and will never be again. Thanks, Phil, for filling the world with your rapturous sound and music.

There was always an air of unreality when listening to Phil Woods play, as if it simply wasn't possible that someone could get the alto saxophone to sound so good, as he transported us to some wondrous dreamland.

One friend hearing him live remarked that Woods was the sexiest musician she had ever heard.

Myself, I hear the melodic, rhythmic and expressive influence of Dimitri Shostakovich in Phil's music more so than in any other jazz artist. And given how my own melodic, rhythmic and expressive tendencies were nurtured by Shostakovich, it is evident that my intense attraction to the style and substance of Phil Woods stems from a like musical granulometry.

Now left with recordings and videos, the musical legacy of Phil Woods will continue to grow, and given the powerful numinosity of those fortuitous capturings, I'm glad to say that Phil Lives.

- Michael Robinson, October 2015, Los Angeles


© 2015 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, pianist and musicologist. His 199 albums include 152 albums for meruvina and 47 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University Long Beach and Dominguez Hills.