Jazz got me through college. Not performing jazz, listening to it. It was the background of my life in pharmacy school.
Having a backdrop of music has always been comforting to me. When alone in a room, music helps fill the space. Vocals are distracting. When I was in high school, I could not study with other voices in the room; but silent stillness was worse. I resorted to whatever my parents had lying around the house and found myself in the company of movie soundtracks and Mantovani. Then, in 1969, the year before I graduated, Blood, Sweat, and Tears released their album of the same name. Their cover of "God Bless the Child" was, for me, a Damascus road experience with music. Although it included vocals, it introduced me to jazz and I immediately began the search for more instrumentals in the genre.
Enter Tony Danna. Tony was a fraternity brother in pharmacy school and he was also a drummer. He introduced me to the music of Dave Brubeck whose hit, "Take Five" had already achieved classic status. As the years rolled by, instrumental jazz found a permanent place in my music library and I've even included vocals for when I'm not focused on something else and can pay attention to the lyrics.
In the '60s and '70s high schools and colleges called their smaller versions of the concert bands "pep bands," "stage bands," "dance bands," and other more politically correct monikers since "jazz" wasn't a widely accepted label. Jimmy Buffett was right on target for that era with his lyric that "only jazz musicians were smoking marijuana." Now, it's no big deal, and quite a few bands are know as "jazz ensembles" and many are strongly influenced by the big bands of the '40s and the Tonight Show Band of later years with Doc Severinsen.
Phil Woods formed his group in 1973 and performed as a quartet mostly until the addition of a fifth member in 1982. The group's website points out that they chose to perform without microphones which would suit them for intimate venues — just the way I like my jazz!
Solitude is the third collaboration between Woods and the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble and was recorded in three sessions in Chicago during 2008 and 2009. Three of the ten tracks include long-time members of Woods's team. Joining in for this project are: bassist Steve Gilmore, drummer Bill Goodwin, and former quintet pianist Jim McNeely. Woods composed all ten tracks and arranged the title track along with "Randi" and "Ol' Dude." Chart duties for the remaining seven pieces fell to various members of the DePaul University Jazz Studies department.
Throughout the ten pieces, there are ample opportunities for Woods's sax to interact with the ensemble and yet show his virtuosity in several well timed solos. Various members of the ensemble take turns with solos and make the most of them. DePaul is producing some great talent which bodes well for the jazz genre in years to come. Taken as a whole, it's hard to imagine not listening to all ten tracks in one session — it's like a symphony as the songs are arranged precisely, including the slower title piece just before the finale. Selection five ("Before I Left") has a brisk swinging pace and provides a tantalizing preview for track ten, "Mother Time" as the band wraps up the album on a high note.
With this CD and the others available by the Phil Woods Quintet, it looks like I've got a lot of jazz coming soon for my life's soundtrack!