Thursday, January 25, 2007

Letter from Jazz Great Phil Woods

(Addendum to the below: The changing of the guard at the Bud Shank Workshop happened in the summer of 2004. Word is that the very fine bassist John Clayton now directs the workshop and the affiliated Jazz Port Townsend festival, set for July 26-29)

Here's a note from Phil Woods, recently posted to the JPL (jazz programmers list). Woods is one of jazz's great alto saxophonists. I recall, as a young jazz fan, listening and listening and listening to I Remember, the 1978 album by the Phil Woods Orchestra. I wore out the grooves on that album, featuring his quartet (pianist Mike Melillo, bassist Steve Gilmore, drummer Bill Goodwin) + orchestra. I subsequently saw the quartet play (where was that show?) and I got the album cover signed by all the band members.

I'm so glad that I had the chance to hear Woods sit in with saxophonist George Robert's quartet at the IAJE conference in New York. For part of the show, Bob Mintzer made it a three-sax deal.

Woods offers some wise words about the state of arts culture in America, and some (justifiably) angry words about the apparently unceremonious dumping of veteran sax man Bud Shank from the program that bears his name.

Subject: Letter From Phil Woods

Hello Jazz lovers, wherever you are! I continue to be a fly on the windshield of the jazz industry. (HA!)

I presume you know that Bud Shank was fired from his post as founder and guiding light of the Bud Shank Workshop in Port Townsend, WA. He has been the 'man' there for 25 plus years, assembling one of the best teaching ensembles ever! But now they want a younger man with young ideas! Outsourcing the wrong guy folks!

It only takes forever to learn this music thing and even longer to come to terms with this jazz thing. And they want a younger guy. Any damn fool can play when they are 20, or 30, 0r 40, 50, 60. But try cutting the mustard when you are in your late 70's! Now anyone that can do that has acquired knowledge that no younger person can ever hope to learn.

The jazz existence, or any existence is not about getting somewhere it is all about the voyage. No one can ever master life, only experience it and contribute something to making the world a better place to be an artist.

ARTIST is the key word. If you want to be a practical musician, great. Get some gigs and have a good life. But if you want to be a jazz musician, the requirements are more stringent. An awareness of world culture is a good place to start! Learn something about food and wine, learn a language, read a book, paint a painting, see an O'Neal play, stare at a sunset. Write a Rondo for heaven's sake- be somebody.

And no matter how long you do it you will barely touch the surface of this passion called life, the jazz life! You have to be a warrior-Bud Shank is a warrior! A tough one who has survived. What he has to teach is incalculable to measure.

And they want a younger guy. How about Norah Jones to teach jazz singing ? Yeah! Right!

Bud and I have been doing many gigs together, Toronto festival, North Sea and others. We broached Concord records to try and secure a one shot record deal for Yoshi's in November. They said that instrumental music doesn't sell anymore! Imagine! A company founded on instrumental music, great music, decides that it doesn't sell anymore.

I am mad as hell and will continue to rant and rave about these things until my last breath. Culture in America is going to hell in a hand basket. (I love that saw - don't know what it means but love it still.) Keep the song alive. Until next time stay well. And thank you for being a part of my thing!

Phil Woods

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