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Jazz Saxophone Great Phil Woods Dies At 83

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PHIL Woods, a prolific saxophonist seen as a Charlie Parker successor, who took jazz from its golden era to its incorporation into pop, has died. He was 83.

Woods had been diagnosed with emphysema and announced at a Sept 4 show in Pittsburgh that the performance – in which he played Parker’s work – would be his last, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

His New York-based booking agent, Joel Chriss, confirmed that Woods died on Tuesday.

The alto saxophonist, who lived in Pennsylvania, at an early age developed a proficiency at the fast-paced bebop style popularised by Parker.

Woods had been seen as taking the mantle of the jazz legend. He played with him only a couple of times but wed his widow, Chan Parker, soon after the troubled saxophonist died in 1955 at age 34, although the marriage ended in divorce.

In contrast to many jazz musicians, Woods was formally educated, having studied music at Juilliard in New York. In another rarity at the time, he was a white artist in a genre rooted in African-American heritage.

Woods won praise when he effectively became the new Parker on a global tour led by trumpet giant and former Parker collaborator Dizzy Gillespie. The tour was organized by the State Department to promote US culture.

Quincy Jones, who helped put together the tour and later became one of pop music’s most successful producers, identified Woods as a talent early on.

“It is an understatement to say Phil Woods was one of the greatest jazz alto saxophone players to ever set foot on this planet,” Jones wrote on Facebook.

Woods “epitomised what Nadia Boulanger meant about ‘your music never being more or less than you are as a human being,'” Jones wrote, quoting the influential French music instructor.

Thanks in part to the connection with Jones, Woods branched out into rock and pop, a decision that came under criticism from some jazz purists.

Woods notably performed the memorable saxophone solo that ends Billy Joel’s 1977 hit “Just the Way You Are.”

‘Taken seriously’ after leaving US

Woods won four Grammys including for the 1975 album “Images,” in which the saxophonist showed his Parker-like prowess at intense improvisation but also demonstrated his classical training as he played with a band led by French composer Michel Legrand.

“Our creative community has lost a true musical treasure,” Recording Academy president Neil Portnow said in a statement, hailing Woods for his “pioneering sound.”

Born after the golden era of jazz as rock took the airwaves, Woods for a time resorted to recording Coca-Cola commercials to earn money.

But he found a new creative energy in 1968 when, fed up with the Vietnam War-era political climate, he moved from New York to Paris.

“I was getting trapped in the studios and not playing enough real music,” he said in a 2009 interview with the blog JazzWax.

After just two months in Paris, he was invited back to the United States as a headliner of the Newport Jazz Festival, a feat he had not earlier achieved.

“Once I left America I was taken seriously,” he said.

In Paris, he founded the European Rhythm Machine with Swiss pianist George Gruntz, a band that produced some of the most discursive, high-energy music of his career.

He returned to the United States five years later, fearing becoming too close to any one scene. – AFP

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