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Springfield, Massachusetts native Phil Woods was born on November 2, 1931. He was 83 years old when he died unexpectedly on September 29, 2015, in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. He was widely regarded as one of the most talented alto sax players ever.

JazzTimes and AllAboutJazz (among many others) published nice obits upon his death. The AllAboutJazz writeup includes an interview JazzWax creator Marc Myers conducted with Woods in 2009.

When he was 12 years old he began playing an alto saxophone that he inherited from an uncle. In the time since, he has played with most if not all the biggest names of jazz, including Benny Carter, Charlie Barnet, Quincy Jones, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, and others.

With a career that has spanned seven decades, Woods has recorded dozens of albums, both as a sideman and under his own name. Picking one disk to write about was not an easy task, although the fact that at present I only own half a dozen of them certainly helped!

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The album I picked is “The Rev And I”, recorded January 10 and 11, 1998. The personnel on this fantastic album are:

Phil Woods, alto sax and (track 1 only) Wurlitzer keyboard
Johnny Griffin, tenor sax
Cedar Walton, piano
Peter Washington, bass
Ben Riley, drums
Bill Goodwin, percussion (track 1 only)

The opening number, which is also the title track, gets things off to a nice start. “The Rev And I” is dedicated to Woods’ best friend, John Flick, whom Woods calls “The Rev” because Woods used to be involved in the Universal Life Church, about which I’ll say no more here but may discuss further in a different post at a later date.

“The Rev And I” is a wonderful song, and it’s interesting to hear Woods tackle an instrument new to him, the Wurlitzer keyboard, although that part is overdubbed. Woods and the group acquit the song well and it flows by seemingly in no time.

“We Could Make Such Beautiful Music Together” follows. It is not a particularly fast-paced piece of music, but it does move you along. The exception is during Cedar Walton’s piano solo, during which he fades almost completely into the background. Woods’ sweet alto really brings this song to life.

“Hand In Glove” is up next. It’s a Cedar Walton composition, and the group really goes to town on it. Woods’ alto sounds brilliant, and Griffin’s tenor work is superb. This time you can actually hear Walton on the piano, and he makes a damn fine job of it. The two sax players complement each other well on this one. This song runs a bit over eight minutes, but when the end comes you will not believe it’s been that long.

“Red Top” is done exceptionally well. Everyone solos, of course, and each one of them adds his personal take to this superb classic. This is one of those songs that will make you want to pop on a pair of good headphones and crank the volume so you can be sure to catch every little nuance.

“I’m So Scared Of Girls When They’re Good Looking”, written by Jack Sels, is a quiet little song that captures the pathos of unrequited love. The song is a beauty, and once again the two saxophonists do a marvelous job of complimenting one another’s sound.

The Hal Galper song “Loose Change” is up next, and it’s a nicely vigorous piece. Goodwin’s percussion sparkles in the background as the rest of the guys go through their paces.

“Loose Change” is followed by “Dutch Morning”. In the liner notes, Ira Gitler says Woods wrote this one at dawn in Holland in the early 1970’s. It has a warm, mellow feeling that seems tailor-made for Griffin’s tenor. I haven’t mentioned bassist Washington until now, because he has largely been relegated to the background. He gets a nice solo in this number, and manages to really shine.

The group exits on a high note with “Before I Left”, the third and final Woods composition presented here.  The guys really stretch out on this one, and Woods seems to fly right through it.

When it’s all said and done, “The Rev And I” consists of nine excellent songs and runs a little over 67 minutes long. I think you’ll find it an excellent addition to your personal playlist for a Saturday, or any other, night!

To learn more about Phil Woods and his music, visit his web site. You can also purchase some of his CD’s there, although you will have to look elsewhere to buy “The Rev And I”. Others are available for purchase or legal download at the usual places.

I was not able to find any videos from this album, but here are a few of Phil Woods teamed up with various other jazz performers, beginning with one of my favorites, David Sanborn.

This next video is from an old TV program called “Night Music”, host David Sanborn talks with guest Phil Woods for a few minutes before they get down to the business of playing. In it we learn that Benny Carter had always been Phil Woods’ main hero. When the talking is done, they team up for a knockout rendition of the standard, “Willow Weep For Me”.

(If you’d like to know more about the program, which ran from 1988 to 1990, you can read this articlefrom Wikipedia.)

And finally, here are Phil Woods and Red Garland doing “Au Privave”, recorded in 1957.

Thanks for reading this.

Al Evans
Wood Village, Oregon

This is the 30th installment in a more-or-less weekly writing exercise that I began in the summer of 2011. How long it will continue is a good question. Until I either lose interest or run out of jazz CD’s would be my guess.

My original content, including photos other than album covers, Copyright © 2012 by Al Evans. All rights reserved.