One of the great advantages of social network topic pages, or focused chat groups or webinars, all to do with the subject of Jazz, is that they can often be a source of new information.

I’m not a completist or a discography maven, so, from time-to-time, I really enjoy the “surprise” of catching up to a recording that I missed when it was first issued by way of a suggestion from someone via online communication.

Such was the case with The Phil Woods Six "Live" from The Showboat.

In 1977 RCA Victor issued a 2LP set, BGL 2-2202 of the Phil Woods sextet performing at the Showboat Lounge", Silver Springs, Maryland in November 1976. The album was the winner of the 1977 Grammy Award for the Rest Jazz Performance By A Group and Time magazine also picked it as one of 1977's Ten Best Records

Despite these high ratings, and a five star review in Downbeat in October 1977, RCA Victor did not deem it important enough to issue the complete contents of the two LP records on CD. Instead, just over half of the recorded music, the first nine tracks, were issued in 1991 on RCA Novus CD 3104-2, "Phil Woods Live" To my knowledge, the balance of the original Lp has not been issued on commercial CD. The second CD in this set, transferred and mastered from Lp to CD by Errol Baker [Auckland, New Zealand], has the remainder of the original RCA Victor two LP album as issued on Japanese RCA BVCJ-3752324 [2006] and more recently on Japanese RCA SICP3992-3 [2014]

THE SIX:

Phil Woods, alto sax, soprano saxophone 

Mike Lellilo, piano

Harry Leahey, guitar

Steve Gilmore,bass

Bill Goodwin, drums

Alyrio Lima, percussion

Phil Woods is certainly no stranger to recordings made either in the studio or in performance, as a leader or as a sideman, in a big band setting or with a combo. In 1987, Paolo Piangiarelli founded the Philology label in Macerata, Italy to record him and many of his contemporaries like Lee Konitz and Chet Baker.

Phil always brings his best to each recorded endeavor but in my opinion, his playing on these showboat recordings is full of surprises and astounding inventiveness.

A few years before these 1976 performances, Phil had disbanded his very successful European Rhythm Machine, moved back to the states from Paris, relocated to California for a while and fronted a group that used electronic keyboards and sound effect devices. He found California to be a wasteland, both professionally and personally [he went through a divorce].

But by 1976, he had relocated to the Delaware Gap area of the Poconos mountains in Pennsylvania, married Jill Goodwin and formed a new group with his brother-in-law Bill on drums which would be together for about 40 years until Phil’s death in 2015.  

His personal life was together and he was happily leading a hot new band; this contentment certainly shines through his playing on these recordings.

It even comes through on the following comments that he and other members of the band offered about this album.

“I've been playing in jazz saloons for nigh on to 30 years- Everywhere from Tony's on Flatbush Avenue to the Chat Qui Pache on Rue St Andre des Arts, and though the hours and noise and bad pianos can be annoying, there is no ambience more stimulating for jazz when all the elements are almost right. And all of the elements were right at Pete Lambrose's Showboat for this live recording. The audience was attentive and intelligent; the piano and sound system were excellent; the dressing room was comfortable; the boss's daughters were cute and the band was fired up   I even dug the stoned cat who yelled "play the blues'" (Thank God not too many requests for Melancholy Baby these days.)

Jazz is a group effort. I am proud to play with this working group that responds to every musical and extra musical challenge with devotion and love. I think that this performance was one of their finest shining' hours   And sneaking of group effort and love, no team in the biz can equal the superior talents of Keith Grant, Dale Ashby and Father, Mary, Arlene, Jill, Nat and especially my good friend Norman Schwartz. I thank everyone who helped make this a truly memorable gig. And to the cat who wants to hear the blues- maybe next time.”

  • Phil Woods

Other band members also waded in with comments:

“What an experience... playing and recording with this great band. In the beginning I felt an overwhelming nervousness, but that feeling disappeared the more we played. By the time the last night of recording came around, only the music mattered. What a great feeling. The only words I can think of to describe it lie in the title of Mike Melillo's tune A Little Peace.

  • Harry Leahey

“Playing at the Showboat was an experience for me, since it was my first "live" record date- quite different from studio work   It was a touch nerve-wracking because you really can't stop and start as in a studio, yet somehow relaxing at the same time since it's an environment very familiar to me - working in a club - something I've been doing all my life. It's a real thrill working with four other guys who are dedicated to serious acoustic music, and who feel the rhythm in the same place. Phil, of course, played brilliantly throughout.” 

  • Steve Gilmore

It's a great pleasure to see Harry Leahey, whom I've known for years as one of the greatest players of the world, get this much belated opportunity to be recorded. I also feel fortunate that Phil Woods has shown no aversion to attempting some of my compositional efforts, as well as to deciphering my occasional "derrangements" of other runes, i.e. Cheek To Check, Bye Bye Baby.

In addition, no manner of adversity seems to star "strum" and "drum" (Gilmore, Goodwin) from their appointed rounds  They just keep a-strollin' along.

In short: "Tank-a-you-a-fellas."

  • Mike Melillo

The band has travelled far from its beginning in Mike Melillo's music room over three years ago   We've gone from New Jersey jazz clubs to New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Amsterdam and Antwerp, and in the process the music has grown and changed. With Harry Leahey's addition six months ago, we have expanded and changed again. The music is always fun to play and each musician has complete input at all times. For me it is a culmination of 20 years experience each time we play. Thanks Steve, Harry, Mike and Phil for the music and friendship. To the listener: Enjoy! Then, see THE PHIL WOODS QT “live"! You won't regret it.”

  • Bill Goodwin

Here are the liner note to the original RCA Victor LP album.

“To me, Phil Woods is very much like any really fine actor who must periodically return 10 the stage in order to reestablish his relationship with an audience and, in fact, with himself, his language and his craft, it is not surprising, therefore, to find, at this point in time, that Phil Woods wanted to record his little repertory group as they appear before audiences.

We began to think about this recording in April of 1976 when Phil and I, together with Lena Home and her manager, Ralph Harris, were in London recording "Lena - A New Album" and Phil's "Floresta Canto", in which Chris Gunning did a great deal of composition and orchestration. These, along with the weight of the previously released "Images" album, done with Michel Legrand, and "The New Phil Woods Album" featuring Phil's orchestrations and some of his compositions, left us with the feeling that perhaps the next project should be a small group effort in which Phil's voice was the central core and in which a demonstration of his virtuosity as a player would be the primary objective.

We didn't really do anything about the idea until late summer of 1976, Phil had just spent four months on the road with his group; they went to Japan for two weeks and then travelled from Los Angeles to Chicago to Washington to Boston - returning to New York with a fistful of great reviews and comments about the excellence of his little company of players. And so we decided that the time was right.

We found a room that had a good sound, that was run by pleasant people, and in which we could record the essence of a small group experience. Jazz, if you can define the word, does not only mean improvisation and someone playing a mess of notes around a melody; it's an attitude, it is the American music of the street; it is an art form into which the performer can bring special meaning to an existing piece of music in much the same way that an actor brings his special feelings into his interpretations of Shakespeare or O'Neill. The essential difference between a studio recording and an in-person, live recording is in the feedback from the audience to player and player to audience - a direct parallel to the actor when he mounts a stage to do the same lines night after night and yet, through his relationship with the other players and the audience invests every performance with new and different colours and meanings.

Phil and I both feel strongly about the need for composition and arranging in the development of the jazz idiom. Every album we do in the studio contains at least one long work that can be played by high school and college bands in which young people are able to develop new insights into jazz and the elements  To this end, we have just completed recording Phil's next album, a comprehensive sixty-minute work entitled "The Seven Deadly Sins Circa 1977.” 

This live recording, however, is something else. It is Phil as he relates to his little group and as they relate to him. Phil's musicians are special in that four of them have been together for some time; only after a great deal of searching and consideration did they add the fifth member. For this performance, a sixth player was added, as you will hear at the closing when Phil introduces the company. From the top, it is evident that the group really works together and is, in the idiom of the jazz community, "tight."

This is not just an album of songs and aimless improvisation, there is a great deal of composition in evidence in much of the material   Brazilian Affair, for instance, is a full-length work designed for a small group, but one which will be expanded for larger ensembles and can be made available for concert performances.

Working with Phil Woods and his tremendous virtuosity enables me to fulfil some of my dreams of being able to participate in creating a body of music that will be listened to and played after both Phil and I are long gone.”

  • Norman Schwartz

And lastly, from DOWNBEAT 20 October 1977.   Rating .*****

“This normally jaded pundit isn't normally moved to superlatives Yet in the light of what I've been doing for nigh the last two hours- digesting this most tempting meal of an album - I’ll have to whip out the praise.

We've seen live Phil Woods albums before, and insofar as this sextet is concerned, we've heard most of them previously. The unit has not been exposed to such a creatively enticing set of circumstances before however, this 115 minutes of vinylizing occurs at the Showboat, a most hospitable jazz club near Washington, D.C., where musical subtleties are immediately appreciated by an uncommonly perceptive audience.

It seems as though everything was working right on this night. The Six exceeds its own lofty standard of excellence, glorying in wave after wave of musical triumph   This band plays with a clarity and sense of unity that the overrated European Rhythm Machine never came close to attaining.

Woods, at the centre of things, is consummately masterful. On each of the tracks he does something just a little bit different. From the pretty, rote reading of the self-scribed Lady J to the raw, high notes and screeches of Randy Western's Little Niles he covers all the bases. Phii even busts his rump on soprano sax, contributing a frantic soio during I'm Late, from the classic Alice In Wonderland movie.

Hardly greenhorns, his fellow musicians are of a fairly common background; they are studio men and teachers who have finally been provided with a forum whereby their talents can be noticed by the masses. Drummer Bill Goodwin, for example, has played with jazz and rock acts who are household names, yet his brilliant cymbal work on High Clouds makes one wonder why he hasn't received more acclaim. Ditto bassist Steve Gilmore, he of the invisible fingers, whose digitals go so fast they can barely be seen. On the other side of the coin, Gilmore's bowing technique during Rain Danse is most welcome for its lyricism, an unusual grace in these days when most bows sound like hacksaws.

There is an essence of excellence here; the six members coalesce into one symbiotic squad, interdependent on each other. Not forgetting the Djang-oish guitar of Harry Leahey, the lyrical keyboards of Mike Melillo and percussionist Alyrio Lima's seemingly endless array of percussive tinker toys, this ensemble has the potential to continually define new vistas in team-work.”

  • Russell Shaw

Needless to say, having discovered the joys of this splendid set of in-performance music, I’m hoping that after reading the above, you’ll check out The Phil Woods Six "Live" from The Showboat for yourself. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

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