The collaboration between alto saxophonist Phil Woods and the iconic producer, composer, and arranger Quincy Jones is a significant chapter in the annals of jazz history. For professional saxophonists, this partnership provides an exemplary case study of how a saxophonist can effectively contribute to and thrive in diverse musical settings, under the guidance of a masterful producer.
Phil Woods, known for his remarkable technique and deep roots in bebop, first crossed paths with Quincy Jones in the 1950s. This period marked the beginning of a fruitful relationship, as Jones was rapidly making a name for himself as a groundbreaking arranger and producer. Their early collaborations included tours and live performances, where Woods’ saxophone prowess seamlessly blended with Jones’ innovative arrangements, creating a dynamic and forward-thinking jazz sound.
The collaboration between Woods and Jones took on a new dimension in the studio. One of their notable joint efforts was on Quincy Jones’ 1961 album “The Quintessence.” This album, showcasing Jones’ unique blend of big band jazz with modern sensibilities, featured Woods’ alto saxophone prominently, allowing him to demonstrate his versatility and adaptability in a large ensemble setting.
Another significant collaboration was on the soundtrack for the 1965 film “Mirage.” Here, Woods’ saxophone was integral to the atmospheric and moody compositions penned by Jones, further highlighting the saxophonist’s ability to contribute meaningfully to cinematic music.
For professional saxophonists, the collaboration between Phil Woods and Quincy Jones serves as a prime example of the importance of adaptability and the ability to contribute to various musical contexts. Woods’ ability to fit seamlessly into Jones’ diverse arrangements—ranging from big band settings to film scores—demonstrates the value of versatility in a saxophonist’s career.
Not only were Woods and Jones musical collaborators, they were close friends. Said Quincy on Phil’s death, “There was a very specific reason Phil played on nearly every album I’ve made since 1956, because he not only was the best jazz alto sax players there was, he was a truly beautiful person and epitomized what Nadia Boulanger meant about ‘your music never being more or less than you are as a human being.’ Phil and his family were my family, and I will miss him like the brother he was to me. He will be eternally in my soul.“