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Jazz Saxophonist Phil Woods Dies At 83

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Jazz Saxophonist Phil Woods Dies At 83

Remembrances

Jazz Saxophonist Phil Woods Dies At 83

Jazz Saxophonist Phil Woods Dies At 83

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Jazz saxophonist Phil Woods was a disciple of Charlie Parker, one of the pioneers of bebop. But Woods reached millions of ears through his playing on pop songs by Paul Simon, Billy Joel and others. Woods died Tuesday at the age of 83.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Alto saxophonist Phil Woods has died. You might recognize his playing on this Billy Joel song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST THE WAY YOU ARE")

BILLY JOEL: (Singing) I want you just the way you are.

SIEGEL: But Phil Woods was mostly about jazz. He played with some of the greats - Thelonious Monk, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie. Woods died yesterday of complications from emphysema. He was 83. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Phil Woods almost never played the saxophone at all, as he told NPR in 1999.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

PHIL WOODS: I had an uncle that left it to me in his will. And I think that when I saw the saxophone at age 12, I was seriously considering melting that sucker down and making my own golden horde of warriors, you know, which would have been probably the hippest army on the block.

LIMBONG: Thankfully, his mom stepped in with some sage advice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

WOODS: My mother said, you know, Philip, you should at least take a lesson; your uncle went to a great deal of trouble to leave you the saxophone. And even at the age of 12, I realized that dying could be construed as a great deal of trouble.

LIMBONG: His life went from music lessons in his hometown of Springfield, Mass., to teenage bus trips to New York City to soak in the jazz scene, then Juliard, then touring the Middle East with a guy he'd later record with - Dizzy Gillespie.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIZZY GILLESPIE & PHIL WOODS QUINTET SONG, "OON-GA-WA")

LIMBONG: Phil Woods was a disciple of one of Gillespie's early collaborators saxophonist, Charlie Parker. Woods carried Parker's speed and technical ability to his own recordings.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHIL WOODS SONG, "GET HAPPY")

LIMBONG: Throughout his long career, Woods upheld the past while keeping a close eye on the future. As a member of the Association of Jazz Educators, he was blunt with young musicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

WOODS: I always tell a kid that if you really want to make it in the music business, play better than anybody that came before. The masters left us such a high watermark in performance that - but I'm afraid that's the reality of any art. You've got to be better than the generation that spawned you.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHIL WOODS SONG, "EVERY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE")

LIMBONG: Even with emphysema, Phil Woods sat in a wheelchair, armed with his saxophone and an oxygen tank and played his final concert earlier this month. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHIL WOODS SONG, "EVERY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE")

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