Sunday, January 18, 2015

It's a gift

Phil Woods
This past weekend was truly a gift. On Friday, January 16th I went to Scullers Jazz Club in Cambridge to experience Phil Woods and the Greg Abate Quartet. Then, on Saturday, January 17th I went to David French Music to attend a masterclass by Phil Woods.

Phil Woods is a bebop saxophonist, an NEA Jazz Master, and a four time Grammy award winner, among many other accolades. His career of over fifty years has been marked by sideman recordings with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Billy Joel; as well as leading many successful groups of his own. If you want to learn more about Phil Woods, visit his website here.

Listen to Herbie Mann and Phil Woods playing, "We Will Meet Again":

My sketch of Phil Woods

It's a gift

I was very excited to go to Scullers because I could sense that this concert was going to be one in a million. For one, the band consisted of Phil Woods and Greg Abate on alto saxophones, Mark Walker on drums, John Lockwood on bass, and Tim Ray on piano. And to top it off, when I found my seat I noticed that I was sitting next to the great Gunther Schuller! Listen to Gunther Schuller's "String Quartet No. 2" here

Listen to Phil Woods and the Greg Abate Quartet play, "Roger Over and Out": 

Phil Woods and the Greg Abate Quartet

The band played "Steeplechase", "Lover Man", "Strollin", "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise", "Roger Over and Out", "Windows", "I Heard You Cry Last Night", and "Cedar's Blues". 

During the course of the show I was struck by how much energy the entire band had in their playing, connecting wide bebop lines with crisp articulation. The set was sold out, and you could really feel the enthusiasm from the audience, yelling, clapping, and whistling at the end of each song. 

My sketch of Greg Abate and Phil Woods (L to R)

My favorite song of the set was the ballad, "Lover Man", which took my breath away. The band played the original intro for Sarah Vaughan written by Dizzy Gillespie. I think what made the song so breathtaking was the way it seemed to stop time with its genuine emotional intensity. At the David French masterclass, I asked Phil Woods if he thinks like a vocalist when approaching a ballad. Phil remarked that he always thinks of the lyrical intent and the intent of the composer: "What was this song written to express?"

Listen to Sarah Vaughan, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie play, "Lover Man":  

Each song of the concert had a classic bebop sound, but wasn't stuck in the past. Every moment felt in the present, expressing the now, and each interaction of the band solidified this idea. 

At the masterclass, Phil Woods talked about having Emphysema, saying it was nature's way of saying he was playing too many notes. Now he searches for one whole note that means something, rather than a typewriter of notes. This reflectiveness, and resilience not only gave me perspective, but it helped me realize what I was hearing in the music - I heard resilience.

Phil Woods

At the masterclass, Phil recalled many stories from his own life, and took us all through the time when he first found a saxophone in his house (he wanted to melt it to make toy soldiers), to playing with Dizzy Gillespie, to leading numerous bands, to the present. Phil stressed the need to be a cultured human being, saying, "Read a book. Go to a museum. Learn about other cultures. Listen to everything. Listen to music you don't even like and find out why you don't like it." When approached about various awards and albums Phil noted, "There's no secret - hard work!" 

Listen to Phil Woods playing, "Stolen Moments": 

Final thoughts: 
Meeting Phil Woods
I was able to speak to Phil Woods, and we talked about being a cultured, well rounded human being that learns from things other than music. Phil also talked about how to be yourself, and quoted Dizzy Gillespie: "If you can hear it, take it. It's a gift." 

These experiences inspired me to write my poem, "Lovin", on my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem", where I improvise a new poem each day. I also added a drawing and song of the day as well, so stay tuned! 

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