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RealTracks Artist Bio: Phil Woods

Anyone who has heard the famous alto sax solo in Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are" has heard the genius of Phil Woods, but that mini-masterpiece is just a small window into a musical career born in the heart of bebop and still breaking new ground more than 60 years later.

Woods credited his first teacher, Harvey LaRose, with encouraging his talent for jazz and introducing him to the the triumvirate of the alto saxophone - Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges, and Charlie Parker. While still in their teens, Phil and a friend would make the 180-mile bus trip from their home in Springfield, Massachusetts to New York City for lessons with "free jazz" pioneer and educator Lennie Tristano. Then, before catching the last bus home, they would haunt the jazz clubs of 52nd St., making a $1 Coke last the night. It was on one of these outings that Tristano introduced the boys to Charlie Parker, who shared his cherry pie with them while they talked about music and the saxophone.

It seemed pre-ordained that Woods would move to New York on graduating from high school, first for a semester at the Manhattan School of Music and then for four years at Juilliard, studying classical clarinet by day and playing jazz saxophone at night. He worked with legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Oliver Nelson, Thelonius Monk and Clark Terry, all of whom (as with Parker) he remembered for "the generosity of genius." They were always ready to share their own musical knowledge and what Woods calls the "tribal tradition" of jazz with him. It's a tradition he would honor and perpetuate all through his career as an in-demand session player, sideman, and bandleader in New York, while playing avant garde jazz for four years in France, and with his own Quartet and Quintet following his return to the USA.

Phil Woods worked with all of the legendary players of his time. His credits and discography would fill pages, as would a list of his awards. They include numerous readers polls, four Grammy awards from seven nominations, Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters from France, membership in the American Jazz Hall of Fame, National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Fellowship, President's Merit Award from the Grammy Foundation, Kennedy Center Living Legends in Jazz Award, and an honorary doctorate from DePaul University.

Phil Woods was also a composer of major works for the saxophone in a variety of settings. He had composed a Children's Suite based on the poems of A.A. Milne, and another 200 songs, instrumental pieces, and arrangements.

When Phil lived in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania, he was a founder of the Delaware Water Gap Celebration Of The Arts ("C.O.T.A." founded in 1978) and was also an active supporter of numerous causes in the community. He was active as a bandleader, composer, arranger, and soloist worldwide.

Please visit the Phil Woods web site at for a complete biography and list of credits, or The Jazz Discography Project at offers detailed listings.

Phil Woods plays these RealTracks:

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