Jazz saxophone great Phil Woods dies at 83

In this July 22, 1998 file photo, US jazz musician Phil Woods performs July 22, July during a concert at the 38th Jazz Festival in Antibes, France.
In this July 22, 1998 file photo, US jazz musician Phil Woods performs July 22, July during a concert at the 38th Jazz Festival in Antibes, France. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Phil Woods, a saxophonist seen as a Charlie Parker successor who took jazz from its golden era to its incorporation into pop, has died. He was 83.

Woods had been diagnosed with emphysema and announced at a Sep 4 show in Pittsburgh that the performance - in which he played Parker's work - would be his last, the Pittsburg Post-Gazette reported.

His New York-based booking agent, Joel Chriss, confirmed that Woods died on Tuesday.

The alto saxophonist, who lived in Pennsylvania, at an early age developed a proficiency at the fast-paced bebop style popularized by Parker.

Woods had been seen as taking the mantle of the jazz legend. He played with him only a couple of times but wed his widow, Chan Parker, soon after the troubled saxophonist died in 1955 at age 34, although the marriage ended in divorce.

In contrast to many jazz musicians, Woods was formally educated, having studied music at the Julliard in New York. In another rarity at the time, he was a white artist in a genre rooted in African American heritage.

Woods won praise when he effectively became the new Parker on a global tour led by trumpet giant and former Parker collaborator Dizzy Gillespie. The tour was organized by the State Department to promote US culture.

Quincy Jones, who helped put together the tour and later became one of pop music's most successful producers, identified Woods as a talent early on.

"It is an understatement to say Phil Woods was one of the greatest jazz alto saxophone players to ever set foot on this planet," Jones wrote on Facebook.

"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," he wrote.

Woods "epitomized what Nadia Boulanger meant about 'your music never being more or less than you are as a human being,'" he wrote, quoting the influential French music instructor.

Thanks in part to the connection with Jones, Woods branched out into rock and pop, a decision that came under criticism from some jazz purists.

Woods notably performed the memorable saxophone solo that ends Billy Joel's 1977 hit "Just the Way You Are." Woods won four Grammys including for the 1975 album "Images," in which the saxophonist showed his Parker-like prowess at intense improvisation but also demonstrated his classical training as he plays with a band led by French composer Michel Legrand.