Alto saxophonist Phil Woods died on Tuesday in Pennsylvania from emphysema. He was 83.
The winner of the 1956 Downbeat International new star division, the Springfield, Massachusetts born Woods spent many years in Paris where he played at the Cameleon club in April, 1968 with George Gruntz, Henri Texier, and Daniel Humair: Phil Woods and His European Rhythm Machine was born. After his return to the US in 1974, he became a successful solo artist and a much sought-after session player as well. He played on records for Paul Simon and Steely Dan, among many others, and is probably most remembered for his ultra-soulful solo on Billy Joel‘s Top Ten hit “Just The Way You Are” in 1977.
Before his move to France, Phil studied with Lennie Tristano, at the Manhattan School of Music, and at Juilliard. He played with Neal Hefti and with George Wallington. In 1956, he played the Newport Jazz Festival with Friedrich Gulda and went on the famous government-sponsored tours to the Middle East and South America with the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra. Quincy Jones was a big supporter as well.
Phil has won four Grammy awards over the years and many other awards as well. I saw him at the Blue Note in New York a few years ago; even with his oxygen tank on stage, he still had that magic touch and that bright, almost screaming sound.