Phil Woods was a bop alto saxophonist, composer and bandleader who came to attention in the mid 1950s. The speed and fluency of his playing led to comparisons with Charlie Parker, but Woods was a talented and creative soloist in his own right. Woods played with Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman and Quincy Jones but by the 1960s he was focussed on leading his own groups. Primarily known for his bebop playing, Woods also led the experiment group, European Rhythm Machine, from 1968-1972. Most famously, Woods played the saxophone solo on the Billy Joel song "Just the Way You Are." Jazz education was also important to Woods, he taught master classes and helped found an annual arts festival in Delaware Water Gap. Woods continued to perform, often bringing an oxygen tank with him on stage, until his death in 2015 from emphysema.
Phil Woods was named a NEA Jazz Master in 2007. Phil Woods was married to Chan Parker, the late Charlie Parker's wife, for 17 years. Phil Woods' album "The Children's Suite" is a tribute to the children's book "Winnie the Pooh."
Phil Woods was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1931. He inherited a saxophone from his uncle and started playing it when he was 12. As a teenager Woods took the train to New York City for music lessons and would stay until the early morning listening to jazz. Woods studied music at the Manhattan School and then at Juilliard, where he majored in clarinet, since saxophone was not offered. He graduated from Juilliard in 1952 and began playing with George Wallington's group before being asked to join Dizzy Gillespie's world tour.