Phil Woods Interview and Blindfold Test

Published in Downbeat Magazine, Volume 45(17), p. 32 (1978-10-19)

item thumbnail for Phil Woods Interview and Blindfold Test
Phil Woods
Image credits: Tom Marcello Webster, New York, USA / CC BY-SA

Leonard Feather: Hello. Yes, I just put them on. What is today? The 11th of August. Or 12th of August. Phil Woods, blindfold test.
Phil Woods: Could you sit over there? Give me a break. Distracting that here. That's a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon. One of the most lyric, talented, romantic alto players. Pepper.
Leonard Feather: His tone could get a little closer.
Phil Woods: Art Pepper. I know that it's not a guessing game, but that's certainly who it is.
Leonard Feather: Yeah.
Phil Woods: And I love everything Art Pepper's ever done. I'm a big Art Pepper fan. I always have been a big Art Pepper fan from the Stan Kenton days. Recently, I've acquired quite a few of the records through the... One of the great benefits of reissues: getting some of the stuff that I never had before, like the stuff with the big band? Small big band? What's the name of that?
Leonard Feather: I remember that. 10 piece band.
Phil Woods: Yeah, creating the Meets the Rhythm Section. Yeah, that's not a Great Shakes special record, but it's some lovely Art Pepper play. I don't know who the rhythm section could be. It could be just players that I'm not familiar with. It sounded like it could be a lot of rhythm sections. Funny, the opening section sounded a little bit like stuff we did with the European Rhythm Machine; just a little bit, just that opening stretch out part.
Leonard Feather: You like the composition?
Phil Woods: Yeah! It had the shape to it. It had the basic form to it. And Art can do more with a tag coda than anybody I know.
Leonard Feather: Yeah, that was nice.
Phil Woods: Yeah, it was nice.
Leonard Feather: And how is the rating, out of five?
Phil Woods: Let's see, out of five? I give Art Pepper five stars. For just being Art Pepper.
Leonard Feather: Yeah. Can you just turn that switch on?
Phil Woods: I like the piano player. I don't know what the saxophone player was doing at all. I couldn't figure out why they bothered playing changes. I mean, there's obviously some harmonic scheme going on there. And the saxophone player managed to avoid any reference to the changes happening. It seems to me bizarre if you're going to play out, why have the restriction of a cat comping for you. Or maybe he thought he was making the changes, I don't know. Gee, as I say, the piano player seemed like he could play the chords. And I'm not against leaving the chord structure, going up to upper partials and getting away from it and all that. If there's some sort of a design or something that lets me know that you're really working out the upper partials or something. And there's such a thing as is putting phrases together. It sounded spastic at times. I had trouble keeping up with the dialogue; it got much too busy for my taste. And the dichotomy between the harmonic scheme and the non-harmonic scheme, I think is a fruitless path to try to make music. I mean, it doesn't please me. Maybe it was a test of some avant-garde player to prove that he could play What is this Thing Called Hate? I don't know.
Leonard Feather: Come a little closer because of that noise.
Phil Woods: One star. Is it Tony?
Leonard Feather: Tony who?
Phil Woods: Braxton. Yes. I knew it was. I changed him enough.
Leonard Feather: You know the funny part? I played with some players.
Phil Woods: Uh-huh. That's a mean drummer on that. I'll just make an outside guess to say it was Billy Cobham and Stanley Clarke. And sounds like Chick Corea playing piano. Joe Farrell. Sounded like Joe Farrell on soprano. Good record, nice song. Oh boy. Is it Billy Cobham?
Leonard Feather: I'll tell you when we're through.
Phil Woods: Okay. Well, whoever the drummer was, was really fantastic. I worried about the recorded side of the soprano. I thought it wasn't very well done; just technically. Sounded like they had him off somewhere. But very nice line and very well played. I enjoyed the record. Four stars.
Leonard Feather: Okay. Well you said something about the bass player doing the solo.
Phil Woods: No, I had asked you if it was Eddie Gomez but I didn't have my ears on straight. I think it's Stanley Clarke.
Leonard Feather: But you liked it?
Phil Woods: Yes, I did.
Leonard Feather: Okay.
[Plays "Penelope" by Gary Bartz, from Love Affair, Capitol Records (1978). Personnel: Gary Bartz, alto saxophone, producer; Agusto Alguero, composer.]
Phil Woods: Well, the alto player played a funny quote in there. He played There's a Boat That's Leaving Soon for New York, which leads me to believe it was a West Coast recording. That doesn't matter. But I'm wondering if the alto player was sending a message that he wanted to get the hell out of that studio quick. That was dreadful. The producer... I can't blame the artist really. I would have a few words for the artist, but I would essentially blame whoever advised him and whoever put that musical cacophony together. I mean, it's dreadful. It's really dreadful. The producers should be forced to spend a week and lock them in a small room and it's just listen to that over and over again. After the musical... That was happening with the music, but just the sound is so bloody awful with the strings and the whatever it is. The poor alto player didn't have a chance. Sounded like the cat could play, but it also sounded like it was very out of tune. And I'll tell you one thing about those kind of dates, when you have all that business, I'm not talking about whether it's good music or bad music, but nevertheless, when you have strings and all that, there's a certain demand upon intonation and pitch that...In a small group you can get away with playing out of tune in a way because you have nothing to match it against. Or it sounds bluesy. But I suggest that you do another take and get the pitch right on. If you're going to make schlocky records, at least they could be in tune. I think that's minimal. Otherwise, it's... A very ill-advised piece of business. One star.
Leonard Feather: What if I told you the artist was also the producer?
Phil Woods: Well, then he must have perfect ears; no holes.
Leonard Feather: Yes. Gary Bartz.
Phil Woods: Oh those superb sixths. Supersax, whatever happened to them? I have mixed emotions about Supersax as you know, Leonard. And lately I've been saying this: I've been saying that perhaps there's been a lot of good done by Supersax. It might have turned on a lot of young people to Charlie Parker who otherwise might never have heard of Charlie Parker. And then I happened to know that Jan is having trouble selling some tapes. And that to me is like: imagine having some Beethoven tapes you want to sell and the people don't want to spend any money on them. The record companies don't want to, and yet they will spend money on recording secondhand and probably spent more money on the budget for this album than the tapes are asking. And the dichotomy of that kind of rationale; I don't know whether it's good. It's marvelous group. It's a good excuse for a group is all I can say. I'd hate to rate it because to rate it you'd have to... I mean, what am I rating, the Bird's chorus or the performance of the same, or the couple of choruses they have to stick out to make the record longer? I think their records could be a lot shorter. Just stick with Bird. I think that might be pretty. The solos, as nice as they are, I would imagine that would be cocky and... I thought it was Carl Fontana, but I decided it wasn't Carl Fontana. But as I say, it's the record companies I don't understand. It's not the groups. And everybody that's playing music I figure is okay with me, man. But when you have trouble dealing with the fresh new Bird, that is really far out, isn't it? I just happen to know that for a fact. It's very curious. It's like having an original Beethoven and, "Well, man, I think you're asking too much bread for that." But to rate their performance, or the way they played? Three stars for the overall-
Leonard Feather: Do you know what record this was?
Phil Woods: No, I don't. I was kidding.
[Plays "On Green Dolphin Street" by Eric Dolphy, from Eric Dolphy, Prestige Records (1972). Personnel: Eric Dolphy, bass clarinet; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet.]
Phil Woods: The only man that could play the C7 like that was Eric Dolphy. And he was something else on that bass clarinet. That was a hard beast to tame with a pitch, boy, that was weird. His whole band was out of tune anyway. The trumpet player sounded a little like Ted Curson, but I'm not sure if it was Ted Curson or not. Anyway, it was all Eric's record. And I had the great pleasure of working with Eric on John Lewis' orchestra, Orchestra U.S.A. We had to record the Star Spangled Banner and we were given parts of straight arrangement and on the reading Eric had the melody part as we all did. And I never heard such an impassioned Star Spangled Banner. Gunther had to say, "Eric, you'll have to just cool it a little bit. It's drowning out the rest of the band." Anyway, that's who I think it is and I loved Eric Dolphy. He knew what he was doing. He would go, as I say, as opposed to that other gentleman, Eric would go outside and he knew where the roots were. He was really dealing within the form with all the responsibilities that that entails. He would go off the high board with some funny notes, but I always had the feeling that he knew what he was doing. I mean, he communicated that to me as a musician, anyway. So I'd give that three stars for the record.
[Plays unknown song.]
Phil Woods: I didn't know quite what the make that at first, until I heard Benny Carter. And Benny Carter, that's all you have to say really. The first complete musician and always one of my favorite people in the whole world. He just sounds marvelous. And I noticed this: When you first started playing the record, I said, "Boy, that lead alto player is really something," because I'm a big sax section fan. I'm sorry to say that I don't really know who the other players were. I'd just be stabbing at the dark, but I don't think it's important. I think the important thing is that Mr. Benny Carter continues to play so beautifully. And I assume that was his chart and the immaculate voicings. I know some people would say their rhythm section was old fashioned or something, but they were just chomping, stomping with the music. It's the way it has to go. I loved it. I loved it. Five stars.
Leonard Feather: Great. That's another one.
Preferred Citation:
"Phil Woods Interview and Blindfold Test", Leonard Feather Blindfold Tests, University of Idaho Library Digital Initiatives Collections
Reference Link:
Educational use includes non-commercial use of audio and images in materials for teaching and research purposes. Digital reproduction rights granted by the University of Idaho Library. For other uses beyond free use, please contact University of Idaho Library Special Collections and Archives Department.