An Appreciation: Phil Woods

September 29, 2015
Devon "Doc" Wendell

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

Phil Woods was not just a musician; he was a force of nature to be reckoned with.

He was tough, full of grit, and always ready to defend the music that he loved and played so effortlessly with all of his might. I’ve seen Phil reduce mere mortals to ashes when they questioned his motives or made some amateur remarks about his immortal music or the music of Bird, Monk, and Dizzy.

I’m not saying he was a mean man, not at all. He had a charm that was irresistible. Woods was a rare breed of human; the kind who had a set of principles that he lived by and some strong set boundaries that fast talking, unknowing fools were forbidden to cross. I knew the first time I met Phil at The Blue Note in NYC in the mid-‘90s that the best thing to do was to let him talk and tell his amazing stories about Monk, Bird, Dizzy, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, and Bill Evans. He was a master story teller, and he was there among all of this great music, adding to it with originality, wit, and depth.

My introduction to Phil Woods’ music was on that incredible live album by Al Cohn and Zoot Sims released in 1959 called Jazz Alive; A Night At The Half Note (on Blue Note). I was in high school at the time and was blown away. After that, I went out and bought all of those fantastic records on Prestige like Pot Pie, Woodlore, and my favorite of that era; Pairing Off with Donald Byrd and Kenny Dorham.

Woods was of course influenced by Bird, as all alto-sax players were that came out of the 1940s and 1950s. You could always hear it in that rich tone and on those early records but he took Bird’s inspiration to new places. His phrasing could at times be tough, hard, and confident, and then be sweet, agile, and supremely lyrical. No matter what setting, Phil Woods always swung hard and he did so both live and on record throughout his entire life. Struggling with emphysema, he only announced that he was retiring a month ago.

His last studio album in 2011, Man With The Hat, was recorded with a newcomer alto-player on the jazz scene; the amazing Grace Kelly. He was so respectful and appreciative of Kelly’s mastery and understanding of the music at such a young age. It invigorated him. The last time I saw him perform was at The Playboy Jazz Festival at The Hollywood Bowl in 2012 with Kelly. After their set, I rushed backstage to see if I could get a few words with him but he wasn’t up to it and that was fine.

My memories drifted back to hanging alongside of the wood railed bar at The Blue Note in New York as he told a crowd of wide-eyed fans (including myself) about Thelonious Monk: “He wasn’t fucking crazy at all. Your generation is so obtuse when it comes to understanding shit like that.” He was right. He then proceeded to tell us of the unbelievable energy, work ethic, and dedication of Monk and Bird and never mentioned any of the tabloid crap that people usually hear first when these masters are mentioned. Phil understood that devotion because he had it in spades.

And so it’s time for this jazz lover to face reality. Phil Woods passed away on Tuesday, September 29, 2015 at the age of 83. In a time of yes men and women who bend so freely to please anyone and don’t stand for anything at all, it’s obvious that no one will replace Phil Woods; not as a musician or a human being.

They truly don’t make them like that anymore, not even close.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

An Appreciation: Lew Soloff, R.I.P.

March 11, 2015

By Don Heckman

I’m still experiencing some of the stunned feelings I had last weekend when I received an email from Bobby Colomby telling me that Lew Soloff had died. And to say that I couldn’t believe it doesn’t at all describe my reaction.

Lew Soloff

Lewie died?! How could that be? This great trumpet player, irresistible humorist, incomparable character gone? But it was true. It is true. And music and the world will both be a little emptier than they were when Lewie was still with us.

Bobby knew Lew longer than I did. Bobby was the founder and the first drummer of Blood, Sweat & Tears. And Lewie was the band’s lead trumpet in their salad years from 1969 – 1973. During which time Bobby and the B,S&T players gathered a virtual book-sized collection of Lewie stories – all of which became told and retold memorabilia, and which will no doubt be with us forever (and probably gathered into what would be an immensely entertaining book).

“Possibly the most beloved person I’ve ever known,” wrote Bobby in another email he sent the day after we got the news,“and most beloved musician. I can only smile when I think of him. It’ll be a while before I’m able to process that he’s no longer with us”

I first met Lew in 1971 when I was co-producing Blood, Sweat & Tears 4 with Bobby and Roy Halee. At which time I, too, became one of the many members of his array of friends and admirers,. And over the following decades I gathered my own Lewie memories – musical, humorous and otherwise — along with my own collection of Lewie tales. At times, he was a little kid in a grown man’s body; at times he was an imaginative jazz trumpeter with the skills and the ideas to place him on the Olympia of jazz greats. But he was always lovable, always humorous, always warm and supportive of young players, and always a pleasure to hear.

Ordinarily, I would have written his obituary for the Los Angeles Times, but budget glitches at the paper intervened, and the obit was written by a staffer. I regret not having had the opportunity to write about some of the real Lewie story, reaching beyond the list of celebrity stars he backed.

Even so, the memories of Lew  Soloff, himself, will always be with me, as they will with everyone –- musicians, fans and friends – who had the good fortune to spend time within his captivating, unforgettable aura.

Brian Arsenault Takes On: Dead (and loses again)

October 25, 2014

By Brian Arsenault

I ‘d like to write something about Jack Bruce dying. But I can’t. “Crossroads” keeps playing over and over again in my head. By the way, he is dead isn’t he? Not a hoax, like one report said.

Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce

I’d like to write something about Jack Bruce living. But I can’t. “I Feel Free” keeps playing in my head over and over again. Guess he’s free of this “mortal coil” now. I’d like to write something about Jack Bruce’s music. But I can’t. “Sunshine of Your Love” just seems so empty now. My head won’t play that one. ‘

I’ll say this. He and Ginger never did get along very well, they say, but I think “they” never heard them play together. Man, it was magic. Over, under, sideways. Just banging off each other and Eric and it was like a frigging 90 piece orchestra. I don’t really care if they didn’t say nice things to each other.

This Wall Street stock trader I know saw one of the Cream reunion shows in New York about a decade ago and said Bruce and Baker yelled at each other between just about every song. Then just nailed it when the next song began.

Jack Bruce taking a photo of the .audience at the  Playboy Jazz Festival

Jack Bruce taking a photo of the .audience at the Playboy Jazz Festival

Yeah, yeah Clapton has gone on to be a mega rock star, but was he ever as good as when Cream was soaring in concert or dazzling in the studio. Cream was one of the last rock “bands,” you know, not just a front man with some sidemen but a fully integrated organism where the disparate parts blended together to create a single identifiable sound.

Individually, Bruce, along with John Entwistle between them developed rock’s lead bass to a fine art form. They could play under but they could also play over. They could follow or blaze the trail. The Ox is gone too. So’s Noel Redding.

Damn, I guess somebody’s gonna die from that era about every month now. Hope it’s not every week. Too damn depressing.

I’d like to write something about Jack Bruce living. But I guess the hoax stories were the real hoax and he really is dead. Damn.

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Photos by Bonnie Perkinson were taken at the 2012 Playboy Jazz Festival, in Jack Bruce’s last appearance in Los Angeles.


A Twist Of Doc: “Where Is The Love?”

October 12, 2014

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

Devon "Doc" Wendell

Devon “Doc” Wendell

Los Angeles, CA.  Okay, so I’ve been a professional music journalist for about 6 years now. I’ve witnessed quite a lot of change in that time in dealing with publicists and well, not all of it has been good.

It’s always been cool to poo-poo the press. Somehow many musicians and artists alike see us as being “The Man” or representing the establishment and not being able to “get the artist.” Recently I even heard the term “jazz police,” which refers to a circle of mostly New York based jazz critics that have control over who becomes big and who doesn’t. Only paranoid, bitter jazz musicians could dream up something so preposterous.

If only we had that power or any power at all for that matter in 2014.

When I first started writing for Don Heckman and The International Review Of Music, the publicists at live venues would adhere to any requests that I would make. I never asked for much, simply a set list and the list of any and all band members of an act that didn’t have that info posted or updated anywhere on the internet. Sometimes I’d ask the artist in person, through Facebook, or their website, and they were just thrilled to help out.

Now all of that has changed. My audience has grown all over the world, but I’ve got to ask you publicists: Where is the love? Even some of the same festivals that I starting covering 6 years ago are now less than helpful and even less than friendly. I won’t name names because they might sick their goons on me and I try to live a safe, goon free life.

With that said, let’s agree that we need each other and yes, I appreciate that plus one so I can bring my girlfriend to the shows. This also goes for you labels out there. It wouldn’t hurt some of you to send me your new releases before the actual release date now would it? Maybe for a blurb or two, remember? Again, I said some of you. Many of you get them to me early and even enclose a nice letter and plenty of info on the CD. But let’s all try a little harder to lift each other up.

Yes, I may sound like an overly optimistic dreamer in believing that this world can change. But that’s just my nature. I’ll hold out for that old time love as long as I can.

A Twist Of Doc: The Dangers Of Writing About Jazz

February 25, 2014

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

In my head I can hear Billie Holiday singing “There Is Music Everywhere.” She sang it with such glee as opposed to her better known and more tortured melancholy recordings. And she was right. It’s all around us at any time.

Devon Wendell

Devon Wendell

Since I became a music journalist several years ago, I’ve tried to write about it all, or most of what has surrounded me and crossed my path. Writing about rock n’ roll, folk, blues, and all forms of music that fits into the beloved boom era- nostalgia soundtrack seems to be the safest route when writing about music, especially today, so I’ve learned. I’ve written pieces on Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and Richie Havens and everyone rejoiced.

Whenever “Purple Haze,” “Blowin’ In The Wind,” or “Hey Jude” has been mentioned with “positive vibes” or enthusiasm (a better choice of wording), I got a lot of readers and no hate mail.

Jazz, on the other hand is a different story. There’s danger and risk involved in writing about jazz just as there is danger and risk in playing the music.

The jazz community seems to love my jazz pieces, especially the musicians and fellow jazz writers. A lot of them can tell I’m a musician writing from a musician’s perspective.

But for some reason unknown to me, I’ve gotten more than a fair share of bitterness, disdain and even bullying threats from a few writers. It seems to come from those writers obsessed with the “counter culture” rock music of the ‘60s. I’d like to make it crystal clear that I love good rock n’ roll. Ike And Tina Turner, Jackie Breston, early Elvis, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Velvet Underground, these artists have been an integral part of my being and musicianship. There have been times in which I’ve criticized the rock ‘n’ roll industry and its dominating power over all genres of music and how dismissive they can be towards jazz and blues unless those genres give into some of the not so clever clichés of rock music to please some of the not so cultured rock fans.

The fact that Led Zeppelin has billions of dollars paid to the band for their versions of songs written by other artists, many of whom died in poverty, also irks me.  But this has more to do with dishonest business practices than the music. And let’s face it, those running The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame could use a few courses in music history. John Coltrane is not rock and Muddy Waters was great in his own right, regardless of who he has influenced in the rock n’ roll world. I don’t subscribe to that precious brand of narcissism.

My criticisms have been misconstrued by a clannish bunch of old hippies who do anything but practice “peace and love.” I didn’t have images of flower children in my head when one of these writers verbally harassed me for not writing the ten thousand and third article on the 50th anniversary of The Beatles arriving in America. This guy couldn’t help but throw how much money he got for his piece and how little I make.

That week I chose to write an educational piece on the jazz tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley instead. I have nothing against the Beatles but I wanted to write about Hank Mobley. Too many have asked “Who is Hank Mobley?” No one has asked me who The Beatles are. They need more publicity like Jay-Z or Beyonce need it. Come on people! The media had already been overly saturated with Beatles articles and memorabilia, making the actual event seem Warholian in its abundance of repetitive images, robbing it of any true meaning and dignity.

After receiving several emails of; “You think you’re so smart don’t you asshole snob?” and “Only a handful of folks give a shit about jazz!” “jazz is dead, long live rock!” and “We changed the world back then man! Write about The Doors!” I knew it was time to break all contact with these psychopaths stuck in a time warp. They’re gone for now and I can breathe easier.

The other danger of jazz writing is a good kind. I remember reviewing Kenny Burrell at Catalina’s in Hollywood. After I wrote my review, the late Mike Melvoin (who was on piano that night) blasted me for not noticing that he had quoted Horace Silver’s “Room 608” during one of his solos. I loved it because although he was a little pissed off, his love of the music came through in his comments. He knew I was younger than a lot of jazz writers and wanted to make sure I really listened to every nuance in a performance. I was upset with myself for missing the damn quote! This also meant he was reading my work and paying attention.

I like that sense of risk which keeps me on my toes. That’s positive criticism, which I can work with. As for the other kind, I’m glad to say it’s quieted down for now and I feel for those rock writers who keep their musical worlds so small and follow the herd for a quick buck. The anger has passed, so there’s been some growth.

So I’ll just keep doing what I do and write not only about jazz, but rock, cumbia, maybe some hip-hop, even klezmer music if the mood should strike me. And I’ll enjoy and learn from the risks. “There Is Music Everywhere.”  Indeed.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

Thoughts: Arts Stimulate More Than The Senses

February 3, 2009

By Michael J. Katz

As President Obama pushes his economic recovery act through Congress, Republicans, with little discouragement from the media, predictably scoff at the inclusion of arts funding in the stimulus package. We hear barely veiled sneers describing them as “wasteful” and “unproductive.” Listen to the rhetoric and you’d think appropriating money to the arts rates up there with sodding the mall and planned parenting.

It is easy to understand how such arguments resonate to the shrinking faithful of the far right. But they couldn’t be farther from the truth.


The Los Angeles Philharmonic at Disney Hall

Take, for example, a symphony orchestra. The Los  Angeles Philharmonic has a roster of over a hundred musicians. Each of them plays a carefully crafted musical instrument, supporting hundreds of jobs in that industry. Each of them has had many, many years of music lessons. They play compositions, some written by contemporary composers, all distributed by music publishing companies. They perform at venues like Disney Hall and the Hollywood Bowl that provided construction jobs for hundreds and continue to provide jobs in maintenance. The concerts are supported by a base of employment that includes public relations firms, concessions sales, ushers, advertisers, shuttle buses, parking lot attendants and the occasional scalper. They record albums which generate jobs for sound engineers, music distributors and more.

Furthermore, there is a ripple effect. The success of the LA Phil inspires children to learn music, which means more kids taking more lessons, buying more musical instruments and attending more concerts. And that is only one orchestra, in one city; multiply that times every decent sized municipality in our country that supports an orchestra.

While a symphony may be the best example, it is far from the only one. Jazz orchestras, dance troupes, musical and dramatic theatre, all support a hierarchy of industry. Even an individual painter, sculptor or photographer supports economies that work their way upwards to every public and private place with a bare wall.

The truth is, if aid to the arts was judged solely by its contribution to jobs and the economy, the return, based on the meager percentage of GNP so grudgingly contributed, would be more than enough to justify the expense.
That, of course, does not even mention the richness to our lives and our society that is the primary reason for the NEA.

So why do so-called conservatives howl in terror at endowments for the arts? Mostly it is political expediency. The radical right can always find some portion of an endowment that went to an artist that offended their sensibilities. Nothing makes them happier than a tatted, pierced performance artist uttering or drawing something offensive or heretical. If they didn’t exist, these folks would happily create them. And, let’s face it; the recipients of arts grants as a group do not exactly fit the profile of today’s GOP, or what’s left of it. Ironically, these are the very people who protest the loudest at lyrics to rap songs or preponderance of graffiti. But try and get them to fund art and music in the schools, so kids can get a taste of classical or jazz, or musical theatre, or any branch of the visual arts, and they are the ones prattling about waste and abuse.

So let’s stop all this nonsense about arts grants being non-productive. Instead, let’s ask our legislative geniuses to make the executives at Citibank as accountable to the public as your local arts administrator.


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