Saxophonist Grace Kelly to Pay Tribute to Late Mentor Phil Woods at Barrington Stage

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

(PITTSFIELD, Mass.) – Alto saxophonist Grace Kelly will front the Phil Woods Quintet in a memorial concert paying tribute to the late jazz saxophonist, one of her mentors, at Barrington Stage Company on Saturday, May 14, at 8 pm, in a presentation by Berkshires Jazz. The tribute will be performed by a gathering of the NEA Jazz Master’s quintet, with Brian Lynch (trumpet), Bill Mays (piano), Steve Gilmore (bass), and Bill Goodwin (drums).

Woods, who died last September at 83, was “revered in jazz circles for his bright, clean sound and his sterling technique,” wrote Nate Chinen in his New York Times obituary. A native of Springfield, Woods’s career spanned more than 65 years. He performed as a leader or guest artist with the royalty of jazz, from Charlie Barnet to Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich to Quincy Jones, plus with wide-ranging leaders like Michel Legrand, among others. He was also heard on a variety of recordings with popular artists like Paul Simon and Billy Joel. He was the recipient of four Grammy awards, and in 2007 was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Woods introduced the 14-year-old saxophone prodigy Grace Kelly to Berkshires audiences at the second annual Pittsfield CityJazz Festival in 2006, when he was guest soloist with the U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors big band. Having mentored Kelly at a jazz workshop, Woods invited her to the stage, an event that has become part of jazz lore.

Phil Woods and Grace Kelly

Phil Woods and Grace Kelly

“It was not lost on the audience that there was nearly a sixty-year age span between the two, yet they jammed as if they had been performing together for years,” said Ed Bride, president of Berkshires Jazz, Inc., sponsor of the Pittsfield CityJazz festival. “She played older than her age, he appeared much younger than his.”

Woods always performed wearing a leather fisherman’s cap, and when they were exchanging choruses on “I’ll Remember April,” he removed the cap from his head, placed it on hers, and it became an iconic passing-the-torch moment. The clip has had nearly 150,000 views on YouTube.

Kelly commemorated the 2006 Pittsfield debut with Woods exactly five years later with a CD –and original composition– called “Man With the Hat.” The Pittsfield anecdote is told in the CD liner notes, and she often still wears the cap on gigs, relating the event that has brought so much attention to the special relationship that she and Woods shared. That CD, on which Phil is the guest artist, is considered by many to be one of the finest recorded appearances of his later years.

“Phil and Grace had a special relationship that evolved from mentor to collaborator to friend,” said Jill Goodwin, Woods’s wife and business manager of 40 years. “From the moment they stepped on stage in Pittsfield, and especially after he passed the torch by putting his cap on her head, their relationship grew. Phil was proud to be a part of ‘Man With the Hat,’ and they appeared together at major festivals around the world. Phil and Grace were in touch frequently, up to the day he died. Joining Phil’s group again will be a very special moment for all of us.”

The May 14 gathering in Pittsfield will be the first reassembly of Woods’s legendary quintet with Kelly in the alto chair.

A native of the Boston area, alto saxophonist Kelly had three CDs to her name before she was 14 years old. She has studied with Lee Konitz (with whom she has also recorded) as well as Phil Woods. Original compositions are the mainstay of her recorded works, which span the musical spectrum from blues to jazz to inspirational instrumentals and vocals.

While a current Kelly concert might delight jazz purists with “Great American Songbook” standards, it could just as easily inspire mainstream listeners with Kelly’s takes on the likes of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Coldplay’s “Magic” or Sia’s “Chandelier.” In December 2015, Jon Batiste snagged Kelly as a regular on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s band, Stay Human, playing multiple reeds and singing.

Woods was a disciple of bebop pioneer Charlie Parker. “He had Parker’s dazzling fluency and speed; and he had the master’s penetrating, blues-steeped tone,” said his obituary in the Guardian (U.K.). “A series of brilliant albums for the Concord label, including Bop Stew (1987), Bouquet (1989) and Flash (1992), confirmed Woods’s elevation to the front rank of the world’s jazz soloists, a position he had deserved long previously.”




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