Phil Woods, Jazz Saxophonist Who Played with Dizzy, Michel Legrand, Billy Joel

Phil Woods Live in Paris, 1969

You don’t have to know jazz to recognize Phil Woods, who played on popular tracks by Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Billy Joel and other familiar artists. A Juilliard-trained saxophonist, Woods (November 2, 1931-September 29, 2015) was a favorite of jazz artists, too, and he played with Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry and composer-arranger Michel Legrand. His jazz chops were such that he was sometimes called “the new Bird” after Charlie Parker.

At Yamaha New York with Capitol Quartet

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Woods went to Europe, where jazz still could draw a respectable crowd. He formed the European Rhythm Machine. Upon his return to the US, he was featured in solos for tunes by Paul Simon (“Have a Good Time”), Steely Dan (“Dr. Wu”) and Billy Joel (“Just the Way You Are”). The Joel track made it to the Top 10 and won a Grammy.

With Michel Legrand in Montreal, 2001

Woods was recognized with a Grammy for “Images,” an album he made with Legrand. A winner of four Grammy Awards in all, Woods was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and received a Living Jazz Legend Award from the Kennedy Center.

Jamie Prefontaine, Member of Winnipeg’s Most Hip-Hop Group

“Runaway” by Brooklyn

Jamie Prefontaine (d. September 22, 2015), who went by the stage name Brooklyn, was a member of Winnipeg’s Most, a popular Canadian hip-hop group based in Manitoba. Two of the group’s members are aboriginal artists, and the trio won numerous Aboriginal People’s Choice Awards in both 2010 and 2011.

“Winnipeg Boy” Official Video

The group formed the Heatbag Records, which released recordings for a number of artists, including their own “Goodfellaz” album, “Northside Connection” mixtape and Brooklyn’s “Mind of a Heatbag.”

“All That I Know” Official Video

I don’t normally comment on artists’ passing, but in Brooklyn’s case I’ll make an exception. While some artists I have featured in the past may have died before their time, most had experienced a long and rich career. In Prefontaine’s case, he was just beginning his, which makes his passing particularly tragic.

Ben Cauley, Original Trumpet Player of The Bar-Kays

“Soul Finger” by The Bar-Kays

Ben Cauley (October 3, 1947-September 21, 2015) was a Memphis-born trumpet player who formed The Bar-Kays with fellow students from Booker T. Washington High School. The group had its own hit with “Soul Finger”–a song in which the trumpet takes center stage. The Bar-Kays became a favorite backing band for Stax recording artists Otis Redding, Albert King, Rufus Thomas, Isaac Hayes and others.

With Otis Redding on “Upbeat”

Cauley was the sole survivor of a 1967 plane crash in Madison, WI, which resulted in the death of Redding and four other members of The Bar-Kays. Cauley reformed The Bar-Kays with James Alexander (who had made other travel arrangements on the day of the crash) but left the band in 1971.

Singing “Sweet Soul Music” at Neil’s Bar in Memphis

I’ve been to the Stax Museum in Memphis and it is worth the visit–every bit as interesting (if not more so) than Sun Studios across town. While the facade of the building is a re-creation of the original Stax studio, it remains in the same spot, same neighborhood, down the street and around the corner from organist Booker T.’s house. So much music that remains fixed in our memories came from this humble spot.

Cauley and The Bar-Kays were inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2013.

Guillermo Rubalcaba, Cuban Pianist of Danzón Music

“Guantanamera” with Luis Frank in Sofia, Bulgaria

Guillermo Rubalcaba (January 10, 1927-September 7, 2015) was a pianist known in Cuba and beyond for his mastery of the danzón genre, the official music and dance of Cuba.

A fusion of European instrumental influences with African beats, danzón consists of a four-bar introduction, four bar paseo and 16-bar melody, which, according to Rubalcaba’s obituary in The Telegraph allowed “dancers to walk around flirting with their partners during the first two parts before sweeping them up for sinuous, hip-hugging spins during the melody.”

“Descarga” with Maraca

Rubalcaba was from a family of musicians. His father was a pianist and his sons have continued his tradition as professional musicians. He performed as a guest pianist with The Buena Vista Social Club.

He also performed and recorded with vocalist Luis Frank and several of the videos I feature came from a performance the duo did in Sofia, Bulgaria. With the thawing of relations between the US and Cuba, I hope we won’t have to travel so far to hear the renowned musicians of Cuba. Unfortunately, Rubalcaba will no longer be one of them.

“Chan Chan” with Luis Frank in Sofia, Bulgaria

Sir David Willcocks, Choirmaster of Kings College Cambridge and Rolling Stones

King’s College Cambridge–“The Infant King”

I doubt there are many choirmasters who can list on their resume: performed at a royal wedding, recorded with the Rolling Stones and played piano on the beach during the invasion of Normandy. Those are just three of the remarkable achievements of Sir David Willcocks.

1992 Florida International Boychoir Festival

Long associated with the King’s Choir Cambridge, the Bach Choir and numerous other prestigious choral groups, Willcocks was both a beloved and demanding taskmaster, a director who insisted on discipline and perfection even from seven-year-old choirboys. During rehearsals, choristers were required to raise their hands if they committed an error.

Old Hundredth Psalm Tune, arr. by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Willcocks (December 30, 1919-September 17, 2015) may be best known for “Carols for Choirs,” which he edited with Reginald Jacques. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my mother was an organist and choir director, and I wonder if she used this book in her holiday programs.

Willcocks’ choir performed at the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 and directed the choral singers on the Stones’ 1969 hit “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” He was knighted in 1977.

Gary Richrath, Guitarist and Songwriter for REO Speedwagon

Take It On The Run-Live

Gary Richrath (October 18, 1949-September 13, 2015) was instrumental in perfecting a form of power ballad that helped catapult REO Speedwagon into the charts in the 1970s and 1980s.

As lead guitarist for the band from 1970-1989, he contributed to such #1 hits as “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Keep On Loving You.”

Can’t Fight This Feeling

Songs would typically begin quietly, with the near choirboy vocals of Kevin Cronin, only to build to screeching guitar solos on Richrath’s sunburst Gibson Les Paul.

It was a style that had something for everybody: sensitive lyrics about the highs and lows of young romance, balanced by the testosterone-infused fretwork of Richrath’s blazing guitar.

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