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sgcim

Life in Eb The Phil Woods Autobiography

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This just came out on Cymbal Press, available in hardcover, paperback or Kindle. I don't know if you get more material if you order the kindle version, but it says 252 pages for the hardcover and paperback versions, and 337 pages for the kindle version. I don't know the equivalencies between print pages and kindle pages. I haven't made up my mind which medium I'm getting.

It was written with the help of Ted Panken, but apparently PW finished it before he passed. Somehow, they manged to have a 'pull the plug party' in the hospital, with 50 people in attendance. It has an incredible discography of his work as a leader and sideman. Just looking at what they provided of the index, it looks like PW went out with a fully intact memory.

 

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I am definitely interested though the hardcover price seems steep.  A little concerned though how much is given over to his discography? I'd be interested in a meaty book about his career and everybody he ran into ... and whether he paid any attention to the critical voices, like Larry's, who rejected his later style.

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Just received my paperback copy from Amazon. Will begin reading it once I finish a couple of other books I am currently reading.

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Price?

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E-books contain the exact same material as print editions, AFAIK. The ability to vary the font size is the factor that increases or decreases the number of pages. A major difference would be the index that specifies exact pages in print editions. The search feature in e-books gets you the same results.

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I enjoyed the book, though I was surprised that Phil Woods didn't discuss his prolific recordings for Paolo Piangiarelli's Philology label. Phil jokingly called this output "his retirement plan," though I don't think he planned on retiring until he couldn't physically play anymore. 

He pulled no punches criticizing himself, it was a worthwhile purchase. I do wish that his Phil In The Gap columns that he penned for the Al Cohn Memorial Newsletter had been added as an addendum.

 

 

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$22 for the softcover, I'm in.

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Having heard from Greg Abate about the great experience of playing with Phil at the end of Woods' career (and they made two lovely albums together), I first turned to the index but was disappointed to find no mention of Greg. 

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4 hours ago, Dan Gould said:

I am definitely interested though the hardcover price seems steep.  A little concerned though how much is given over to his discography? I'd be interested in a meaty book about his career and everybody he ran into ... and whether he paid any attention to the critical voices, like Larry's, who rejected his later style.

The discog is just listed, not elaborated on, so it's not half the book like many discogs, about ten pages. Ken Dryden could tell you more than I could.

As for Larry, Alan and Jim, Phil will be waiting for them down below to argue about his later style for all eternity...:g

1 hour ago, BillF said:

Having heard from Greg Abate about the great experience of playing with Phil at the end of Woods' career (and they made two lovely albums together), I first turned to the index but was disappointed to find no mention of Greg. 

That's sad to hear, but probably Phil had written it already by then. On the brighter side, that might mean the lousy records he did with Vic Juris were hopefully left out, too.

3 hours ago, JamesAHarrod said:

E-books contain the exact same material as print editions, AFAIK. The ability to vary the font size is the factor that increases or decreases the number of pages. A major difference would be the index that specifies exact pages in print editions. The search feature in e-books gets you the same results.

That may not true in all cases. I paid a little more for the David Raksin bio, and got something like 400 pages more for the Kindle edition I chose. It might have been a choice between two different E-book versions, though.

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46 minutes ago, sgcim said:

As for Larry, Alan and Jim, Phil will be waiting for them down below to argue about his later style for all eternity...:g

I gave Phil my $21 a few hours ago, so I think he can stop his waiting and move on the other things.

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7 hours ago, Dan Gould said:

I am definitely interested though the hardcover price seems steep.  A little concerned though how much is given over to his discography? I'd be interested in a meaty book about his career and everybody he ran into ... and whether he paid any attention to the critical voices, like Larry's, who rejected his later style.

Believe it or not, Dan, I just ordered a copy. Phil surely has many good tales to tell, I liked the writing style in the sample I read, and I'm curious to see if there might be some incidental revealing information about what might have led to the circa 1958 change in Phil's playing that I believe took place and  I've seldom been able to get past. I'm curious too about what he has to say about his life with Chan, if indeed he choses to talk about that.

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3 hours ago, Larry Kart said:

Believe it or not, Dan, I just ordered a copy. Phil surely has many good tales to tell, I liked the writing style in the sample I read, and I'm curious to see if there might be some incidental revealing information about what might have led to the circa 1958 change in Phil's playing that I believe took place and  I've seldom been able to get past. I'm curious too about what he has to say about his life with Chan, if indeed he choses to talk about that.

that doesn't surprise me Larry - any fan of the music should be interested in the tales he has to tell.

Nevertheless, "and the circus was back in town" was pretty harsh to my ears (I think that's what you wrote?). So I remain curious about that change and if he noticed any critical commentary then or later ...

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I gather that Woods and Chan hooking up was quite an extraordinary situation in the immediate post-Bird days. The jokes about cats bragging about they got Bird's axe pale in comparison. And they probably weren't jokes at all. I shuder to think at what was going on in that world at that time in this regard. Think about ALL that was involved...wow. I can only imagine the intensity of having to live with that.

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6 hours ago, JSngry said:

I gave Phil my $21 a few hours ago, so I think he can stop his waiting and move on the other things.

Well, since you and Larry have anted up, I guess you both are off the hook. I remember our old friend fasstrack had the same opinion, but he put the year at 1962. He better ante up too, or Phil is gonna give him HELL...:g Allen (or Alan) has been through enough, so I'm going to have to hold a seance, and see if Phil can cut him some slack.

I'm glad Dan remembered that 'circus back in town' comment, that should be worth a hardcover...:g

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I actually put the year at whenever it was he came back to the US. I don't know if the circus was back in town, but he was back in the circus, and this time out in the ring, in full makeup.

I mean, yeah, America can do that to a motherfucker, so I'm not really finding fault with him personally. But I'm not pretending about it either.

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36 minutes ago, sgcim said:

Well, since you and Larry have anted up, I guess you both are off the hook. I remember our old friend fasstrack had the same opinion, but he put the year at 1962. He better ante up too, or Phil is gonna give him HELL...:g Allen (or Alan) has been through enough, so I'm going to have to hold a seance, and see if Phil can cut him some slack.

I'm glad Dan remembered that 'circus back in town' comment, that should be worth a hardcover...:g

One of the dividing iline recordings for me was "Life at the Half Note" (from 1959, I think) with Al and Zoot and Phil added on half the tracks. Encountering it at that time and with so much lucid shapely Woods solo work in my memory bank, the seemingly  artificial "hotness" of his playing here was quite a shock compared to the previous Woods recording of the prior persuasion that I recall, Red Garland's "Sugan."

As for the "circus back in town" remark, some context. At some point in the '80s, Phil's group came to Rick's Cafe American in Chicago. I was prepared from prior encounters for what I was sure was to come, but instead the first set was quite mellow, really lovely relaxed music-making. Afterwards Phil apologized to the audience, said that because of transportation snafus they'd arrived in town having had very little sleep, and he promised they'd get things together for the second set. I stuck around, and yes "the bebop circus" (or something of the sort) "was back in town."

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16 hours ago, Larry Kart said:

One of the dividing iline recordings for me was "Life at the Half Note" (from 1959, I think) with Al and Zoot and Phil added on half the tracks. Encountering it at that time and with so much lucid shapely Woods solo work in my memory bank, the seemingly  artificial "hotness" of his playing here was quite a shock compared to the previous Woods recording of the prior persuasion that I recall, Red Garland's "Sugan."

As for the "circus back in town" remark, some context. At some point in the '80s, Phil's group came to Rick's Cafe American in Chicago. I was prepared from prior encounters for what I was sure was to come, but instead the first set was quite mellow, really lovely relaxed music-making. Afterwards Phil apologized to the audience, said that because of transportation snafus they'd arrived in town having had very little sleep, and he promised they'd get things together for the second set. I stuck around, and yes "the bebop circus" (or something of the sort) "was back in town."

I remember that story, and I replied back then that there is a difference in his playing documented on the Herbie Mann album, "Bebop Synthesis" in 1957. He became a more exciting, expressive player, compared to the laid back Bird imitator he was before. He was no  Warne Marsh or Lee Konitz before that. Unlike them, he needed the virtuosity thing to realize his greatest strengths. That's just how he was, take it or leave it. It was part of his personality. The guy was first call player in NYC when that still meant a lot. He could be depended on to sight read fly sh-t, and then play a solo that would have the entire band speechless. Even Arron Sachs, a very laid back player, remarked that he was "just on a whole different level than everyone else", when I asked him about his experiences playing with him in rehearsal bands.

One musician I grew up with absorbed his entire style from PW, and is still winning critic polls year after year today.I have only come across three sax players in the last 40+ years who detested Woods. One said he sounded too white. That was contradicted by Oliver Nelson, who described him as one of the few white players who broke that particular barrier. Another tenor player hated Woods. because he used to witness his drunken behavior in bars in the city. The final guy was another tenor player, who claimed he could tell that PW was a monstrous person (like Getz), just by his playing. He was astonished that I liked PW, because he claimed I was a good person by the way that I played!

That's it. 40+ years of asking thousands of sax players I knew, they were the only ones who hated him. One guy, Chasey Dean, who even put Phil and his wife up in his house for a while when they came off the road with Charlie Barnet, turned sour on Woods when he realized he couldn't play like PW anymore, because he was too old, went on a rant that PW was a %^$ computer, and that Gene Quill played with more balls than PW. This was the same quality that had the entire Basie Band watching him play one night with open mouths, asking each other, "How does he do it?".

Budd Johnson, Houston Person, Oliver Nelson, Johnny Griffin, and Benny Carter, loved and recorded with him. Your honor, what more evidence can I offer?

The defense rests...

18 hours ago, JSngry said:

I actually put the year at whenever it was he came back to the US. I don't know if the circus was back in town, but he was back in the circus, and this time out in the ring, in full makeup.

I mean, yeah, America can do that to a motherfucker, so I'm not really finding fault with him personally. But I'm not pretending about it either.

Well, that's even later than fasstrack. Show me your $21.50 receipt, and you're exonerated!!!

I put it at the years he started lugging an oxygen tank with him. Without his sound, it was over.

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I loved the book and was asked to blurb it. This appears on the back cover and I stand by it:

"Life in E Flat is a gift, a compelling and entertaining memoir by one of the leading alto saxophonists in jazz for 60 years. Woods is a charismatic storyteller--literate, funny, insightful, self-aware, with a keen eye and ear for details that reveal character and wise observations about the music business and the jazz life laced with sardonic wit."

I would add here that whether one likes or dislikes Phil's playing at any particular period is irrelevant to the success of the book or the value a reader might get out of it. He knew everybody, was in all kinds of interesting places at the right time, has opinions about all of it, and isn't afraid to express them, even when they reflect poorly on himself. 

 

Edited by Mark Stryker

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Briefly, I have no problem with PW's virtuosity per se; what I don't like is what strikes me as the slathered on hotness that came to be a hallmark of his playing and, further, though it's probably not separable from that, his tendency to pepper, so to speak, his lines with a great deal of accenting, when in what I think of PW's pre-'57 work, his lines were by and large allowed to breathe, to be lines, if "allowed to be" is the way to put it. And he was such a fine maker and shaper of lines, and/or, which may be more to the point and a rarer trait, someone who could create a fluid dialogue of shapes -- a la, if this isn't too farfetched, one of his early models, Benny Carter. The subsequent proliferation of hardbitten gritty accents in PW's playing more or less left PW the lucid and at times quite graceful shapemaker in the rearview mirror.

Some top notch vintage Woods for me would be his playing on George Walington's "Jazz for the Carriage Trade" and on Quincy Jones' "This is How I Feel About Jazz" (hear his solos on "A Sleeping' Bee" and "Walkin'"). Speaking again of PW's hotness, I never found it off putting when he was teamed up with Quill because Gene may have been even hotter, especially in terms of temperament, and the sense that they were jousting with each other typically seemed so natural and inevitable -- like Griff and Jaws. But when the hotness begins to feel like it's coming out of a bottle... Yes, many others in what I sometimes think of the jazz clubhouse or locker room feel otherwise. And I don't hate PW; to me he's a player who had a great gift and for reasons that I can only guess at went off in an another direction that rendered the gifts that he IMO once had in abundance pretty much a thing of the past. That he had other gifts that made him a man leaders wanted in their sax sections goes without saying, but those gifts are shared by others. The gifts I detect in the pre-'57 or so Woods were exclusive to him.

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48 minutes ago, Mark Stryker said:

I loved the book and was asked to blurb it. This appears on the back cover and I stand by it:

"Life in E Flat is a gift, a compelling and entertaining memoir by one of the leading alto saxophonists in jazz for 60 years. Woods is a charismatic storyteller--literate, funny, insightful, self-aware, with a keen eye and ear for details that reveal character and wise observations about the music business and the jazz life laced with sardonic wit."

I would add here that whether one likes or dislikes Phil's playing at any particular period is irrelevant to the success of the book or the value a reader might get out of it. He knew everybody, was in all kinds of interesting places at the right time, has opinions about all of it, and isn't afraid to express them, even when they reflect poorly on himself. 

 

Yes, I read your editorial review online, and thought it odd that you made no announcement about the book here.

I'm afraid you'll have to be detained with Kart and the rest, while we wait for your statement. :g

We're considering Larry's last statement, and I can say that things look much better for his case...:g

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well, I'm ready to take my punishment; I first realized something had gone awry back in about 1976; I was only about 22 but I picked up the LP Musique Du Boise; I had never until that point listened  much to Woods, but Jaki was on this and I figured it had to be great. But Woods' playing, his tone, his execution, it was all just too damned slick. It left me cold; I couldn't hear any sweat in any of it. It was mechanized, but not in an interesting or intentional way. And he was liked that for the rest of his life.

I am, however, reading the autobiography; I think it's really effed up that they used the same title as Chan's book, and I am willing to bet that Woods asked for that title to get back at her because she was so critical of him in it. But it makes no sense, and is really unprofessional for them to use it.

Edited by AllenLowe

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On 12/20/2020 at 8:28 PM, AllenLowe said:

well, I'm ready to take my punishment; I first realized something had gone awry back in about 1976; I was only about 22 but I picked up the LP Musique Du Boise; I had never until that point listened  much to Woods, but Jaki was on this and I figured it had to be great. But Woods' playing, his tone, his execution, it was all just too damned slick. It left me cold; I couldn't hear any sweat in any of it. It was mechanized, but not in an interesting or intentional way. And he was liked that for the rest of his life.

I am, however, reading the autobiography; I think it's really effed up that they used the same title as Chan's book, and I am willing to bet that Woods asked for that title to get back at her because she was so critical of him in it. But it makes no sense, and is really unprofessional for them to use it.

Even Woods thought Musique Du Boise sucked. A sax player I know who had a friend who studied with Woods, said that his friend told Woods that MDB was great. Woods told him he thought the album sucked, because it never got off the page. It was that album that convinced PW to form his own working group, which lasted 40 years or so.

As far as slick and mechanical, the first PW cut I heard was from "Phil Woods and His European Rhythm Machine. Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival", and IMHO, his playing was so raw and burning on Carla Bley's "Capriccio Cavaleshi" that it made me run out and buy the album. When my friends and I staggered to our feet, and joined the standing ovation Phil got for his solo on "You Must Remember Spring" at Carnegie Hall, where he was featured with Michel Legrand, I don't think that a person in the packed concert hall felt that his incredible, emotion-drenched performance was slick or mechanical, either. We looked at each other like we didn't know what hit us, and the only thing we were high on was the music.

I bought the DVD PW made about his life, also titled "A Life in Eb", and had read Chan's book too, and i assumed the title was a tribute to Bird and Chan, but who knows?

We'll consider your sentence, 'time served', now get outta my courtroom, and don't let me see you in here again on any charge concerning PW!:g

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well, I really tried to like him. Even the stuff that Larry likes I tend to find a bit too slick - something about sound, execution, etc.

But I'll throw myself on the mercy of the court.

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Leaving aside in which period Phil Woods' playing began to change, I'm loving the book. I'm only up to the early 1950s but he puts you right in the middle of that scene. He's a terrific writer and he doesn't pull his punches. He also comes off as a very likable guy. (I don't know what those who knew him would say about him, but that's the persona that emerges from the book.) I shouldn't necessarily be surprised what a good writer he is but our stupid preconceptions tell us that someone who is a complete master of one art is unlikely to achieve excellence in another. Anyway, a pleasure to read.

Now, not leaving aside the period in which his playing began to change, all I can say is that I love him on two 1962-ish albums: Benny Goodman in Moscow (on the Tommy Newsom tune "Titter Pipes") and Gary McFarland's The Jazz Version of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

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I'm pretty much enjoying the book, but at times I'm left with an underlying uneasy feeling about -- and this is close to but not quite it -- how tightly wound Phil was/could be.

BTW, I'm just past the point where he and Chan split up after, Phil emphasizes, seventeen seemingly good years together (as he says, people who speak snarkily about him marrying Bird's widow; he quotes from Art Pepper's "Straight Life" to that effect)  forget that "we were in love with each other"). Also, I've yet to encounter anything in the book about Chan that's negative, just mentions of a spat or two. Further, Phil seems to have been a warm caring stepfather.

Allen Lowe alert:

On p. 138 there's a fairly creepy story about a New Year's Eve gig for $35 that Phil had at a longshoreman's club in Brooklyn, under the leadership of the latter-day Al Haig, that, Phil says, "was the first indication I had that [Al] was stone nuts!"

There's a fair bit more about how out there Al had become. Phil concludes: "What a poet! What a piano player! What a piece of work!"

 

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