Wind and Skins

Saxophonist Phil Woods and drummer Charli Persip will be honored at the Don Redman Heritage Concert Saturday.

Saxophonist Phil Woods and drummer Charli Persip will be honored at the Don Redman Heritage Concert Saturday.

June 25, 2009|By JULIE E. GREENE

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. -- Saxophonist Phil Woods and drummer Charli Persip had met at jazz events, but really got to know each other in 1956 when they went on tour to the Middle East and South America with the Dizzy Gillespie Band.

"It was wonderful. To be on Dizzy Gillespie's Band with an all-star cast, it was thrilling," said Woods, 77, of Delaware Water Gap, Pa.

Persip was a guest artist on Woods' album, "The Young Bloods," released later that year, and the two played together at a Pennsylvania festival in the 1980s.

The jazz legends will get together again this Saturday at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, where they will be honored and will perform during the eighth annual Don Redman Heritage Awards & Concert.


Todd Bolton, the park's branch chief for visitor services and organizer for the event, said Woods and Persip will be honored for their careers and their contributions to jazz education.

Persip, who lives in New York City, was involved for almost 25 years with Jazzmobile, which provides free jazz performances in various neighborhoods. He has taught at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in Manhattan since 1994.

Woods is a co-founder of the Delaware Water Gap Celebration of the Arts nonprofit, which aims to foster jazz appreciation and the genre's relationship to other artistic disciplines, according to

Phil Woods

Woods credits several teachers, including his first, the late Harvey LaRose, for his success with the sax.

"I was faking it in the beginning. I wasn't even practicing," Woods said. LaRose recognized Woods' ear for music and instilled discipline in the youngster, to the point Woods practiced "26 hours a day," he said.

Woods' first saxophone was left to him at age 12 by a late uncle. He's not sure why, though it might have been because his uncle found out Woods had discovered the sax under his grandmother's wicker chair.

"My desire was more nefarious than performing," Woods said.

He was eyeing the sax for its metal. There was a shortage of lead during World War II and Woods' main passion was melting lead to make toy soldiers. Woods said when he saw the brass sax, he thought, "If I melt this sucker down, I'd have a golden horde of warriors to vie (with) Genghis Khan."

"I never did melt it," said Woods, who practiced on that sax under LaRose's tutelage.

Woods studied clarinet at The Juilliard School, even considering becoming a classical clarinetist. But his true passion was playing the sax.

In 1959, Woods performed with Quincy Jones in Paris. In 1968, he returned to Paris, where he formed the European Rhythm Machine quartet (1968-1973).

Back in the states in 1974, Woods formed the Phil Woods Quartet, which soon become a quintet. He still leads the group.

Woods also is a composer and arranger, and has several projects he's working on. He recently released a CD, "The Children's Suite," featuring poetry by "Winnie the Pooh" author A.A. Milne. The poems have been set to jazz music. The DVD version will be released in 2010.

He also has performed with Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, West Coast alto player Bud Shank, Gene Krupa - father of the jazz drum solo - and Tony Bennett.

His most commonly heard performance? Probably his solo in Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are."

Charli Persip

Persip, 79, first showed talent with the drums when he was 4 years old. He was into marching band music, despite his teenage sister's fondness for playing swing records.

At age 10, he started going to Newark, N.J., theaters that would provide, for as low as 55 cents, a show that included a movie and a big band performance.

As a teen, he was part of a high school band that performed for a war bond show that featured other school bands playing swing. This inspired him to become a professional drummer.

He joined the musicians union, played gigs around Newark, got some formal training and started playing doo-wop music on the chitlin circuit in the South.

This was during segregation in the 1950s, so most clubs did not permit black performers, Persip said. The chitlin circuit featured performances in theaters as well as tobacco barns and warehouses large enough to accommodate dances and concerts.

During his international tour with Gillespie, Persip said he soaked up native rhythms.

In 1980, he started a big band, now called Supersound, which he said redefined big band tradition. For one thing, big band drummers tended to get stiff, thinking they had to keep time for the other band members, Persip said.

"I don't believe in that. I believe that everyone should have their own time," said Persip, the band's leader. "I tell my band, I don't use the rhythm section, I enjoy the rhythm section, so play looser."

If you go ...

WHAT: Eighth annual Don Redman Heritage Awards & Concert featuring drummer Charli Persip and saxophonist Phil Woods

WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday, June 27

WHERE: On the lawn of the Mather Training Center, on the campus of Storer College, Fillmore Street, Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

COST: Free admission

CONTACT: For information, call 304-535-6298 or go to on the Web.

MORE: Seating will be provided, but concertgoers are welcome to bring lawn chairs and blankets. If it rains, there will be covered seating. Soft drinks and bottled water will be available for purchase.

EVEN MORE: For more information about Phil Woods, visit . For more information about Charli Persip, visit

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