Alto saxophone giant Phil Woods dies

One of the great saxophone voices, Phil Woods, a first-call sideman and band leader who played on countless classic recordings has died aged 83.

Alto saxophone jazz giant Phil Woods has died at age 83. Although facing insurmountable health challenges he loved to play, as recently as September 4 in Pittsburgh. He was assisted by an oxygen tank, something he joked was his "amplifier" on stage. After this show he announced his retirement from live performance.

Woods began playing alto in his childhood, studying at Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard. He worked with trumpeters Kenny Dorham, Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry, drummer and big band leader Buddy Rich, producer and bandleader Quincy Jones and famously toured the Soviet Union with band leader Benny Goodman. Woods’ signature style was always bebop. He was a strong musical voice often talked of, perhaps unfairly to him, in terms of similarity to Charlie Parker. He was even nicknamed 'New Bird' and was actually married Parker’s widow Chan for some years. 

Woods recorded his first album as leader in the 1950s and created much loved recordings for several great jazz labels including Prestige, Verve, Impulse!, Muse, Concord and more. He was also ever present as a sideman on recordings from Thelonious Monk, Oliver Nelson, Bill Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Lou Donaldson, Gil Evans and many others.

His most universally recognisable recording though was his sax solo on a 1977 pop hit from Billy Joel, ‘Just the Way You Are.’ He also played on records by Steely Dan and Paul Simon.

He left the USA to live in Europe, moving to France in the late 1960s citing his disdain at political and civil problems at home, later returning to Pensylvania where he lived for the rest of his life. He died from Emphysema. 

In 2007 the American organisation National Endowment for the Arts named him an NEA Jazz Master. 

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