Confessions of a Sideman
Or... A View from the Side (and the Back): How Spanish Jazz Producer Jordi Suñol Moved the 18 Musicians of the Phil Woods Big Band Relatively Unscathed in and out of 8 European Countries 17 Times, on 20 Planes and 15 Buses, Performing 21 Sets of Music in 23 Days (and Nights).
Or... How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bus.
By Patrick C. Dorian
East Stroudsburg University
of Pennsylvania Music Department
Although primarily known worldwide as an astounding improvisor in small group settings such as his own quartets and quintets (February 1999 marked the 25th anniversary of The Phil Woods Quartet containing bassist Steve Gilmore and drummer Bill Goodwin for the group's entirety), Phil Woods has also been composing and arranging music for big band for five decades. It has been a dream of his to front a working big band of five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, piano, bass, drums, and percussion. As he became quite proficient at using a computer in the mid-1990s to compose and orchestrate his music, he entered a substantial portion of the oeuvre from all segments of his career into his computer, revising some of them and gearing most of them to feature the melodic statements and virtuosic improvisations of his quintet as the nucleus of the eighteen-member ensemble. This way he could keep his working quintet intact while enjoying the deep variety of textural densities and orchestral colors that a big band may afford an experienced, artistic arranger. To students of Western music history, I've often thought that this approach must parallel in a striking manner the compositional technique used in the concerto grosso of the latter part of the Baroque Era (1600-1750), where a small group of virtuoso soloists called the concertino would be featured among the larger accompanying ensemble that formed the main orchestral body known as the ripieno or tutti.
At the annual Delaware Water Gap Celebration of the Arts (COTA) jazz & arts festival, founded in 1978 by Phil Woods, trombonist Rick Chamberlain, and the late Ed Joubert in Phil's home village of Delaware Water Gap, PA, a big band had been performing since the late 1980s. The ensemble was founded by former New York City rehearsal band leader, composer, and copyist Dick "Uncle Dickie" Cone as a rehearsal band in the late 1980s and was called Grandma's Soup after a concoction that Uncle Dickie's grandmother used to produce from whatever ingredients were on hand. The group rehearsed and performed at the legendary Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap. Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and Paul Motian recorded a live trio album, At the Deer Head Inn (ECM records ECM 1531 517 720-2) at the inn on September 16, 1992. Keith states in the liner notes that the Deer Head Inn was his first serious trio job on piano and that this recording at The Inn is "what jazz is all about." Pat Metheny and Dave Liebman recently performed at The Inn and as of this writing, The Inn has run live jazz for almost 50 years and now presents over 160 jazz events yearly.
After Uncle Dickie's death in 1991, Phil Woods began leading the big band's performances each September at COTA and the ensemble became known as the COTA Festival Orchestra.
Phil set his big band dream in motion by bringing this group into Red Rock Recording Studio in Saylorsburg, PA, for three days in January 1997 to record a compact disc. It was released in July 1997 as Phil Woods & the Festival Orchestra Celebration! on the Concord Jazz label (CCD-4770-2) and in January 1998 the disc was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance (not a bad calling card!). All of the printed compositions and arrangements from this CD, along with dozens of other brilliant Phil Woods works are available from: Music DuBois, PO Box 278, Delaware Water Gap, PA 18327. (2006 editor's note: Arrangements now available online at http://www.philwoods.com. They are no longer available by mail order.)
That same week the group performed to a standing-room-only audience at the 25th Annual International Association of Jazz Educators International Conference at the Times Square Marriott in New York City. Within weeks the ball continued to roll on Phil's fantasy via the formation of a summer 1998 European tour of several major international jazz festivals by the Phil Woods Big Band a.k.a. Phil Woods and the COTA Festival Orchestra. Spanish jazz producer Jordi Suñol organized the tour and it was thought that "Big Band" would be more easily understood than trying to explain and sell the "Festival Orchestra" concept. Not to embarrass Phil, it is believed that he accepted this tour well knowing that it would sacrifice both his health and finances. The personnel of the tour were:
Phil Woods: director, alto saxophone, clarinet(quintet)
Saxophones: George Robert, Jesse Heckman, Tom Hamilton, Lew Del Gatto, Jim Buckley
Trumpets: Ken Brader III, Brian Lynch (quintet), Paul Merrill, Patrick Dorian
Trombones: Jeff Galindo, Evan Dobbins, Kevin Haines, Jim Daniels (bass trombone)
Piano: Bill Charlap (quintet)
Bass: Steve Gilmore (quintet)
Drums: Bill Goodwin (quintet)
Percussion: Ed Hudak