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PHILIP WOO started playing music at the young age of five.  He grew up in a very artistic, musical environment which shaped his future.  “I am honored to be asked to share my thoughts.  I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington in 1956.  I moved to New York in 1976, and then to Tokyo in 1998.  I presently live in Tokyo.  I am Chinese American and part Native American.  I love life and believe  that my ancestors watch over me, guiding and protecting me and my loved ones.”

Philip, what a pleasure doing this article with you is, let’s get right to it in this part one.

No. 1)  What is music to and for you?  (generally and personally)

1.Music is my savior.  Music is my entire life.  It is a soundtrack to my existence.   It is sometimes a burden and a task , when I am faced with my limitations.   It is a puzzle, it is a maze.   It is a hobby.   Music is a never ending quest.   I cannot even imagine not being a musician.

I learned to play by myself and from other musicians.   I was also fortunate to have been inPhilip Woo from fb 1 school at a time when funding was available for music education.  Tragically, that no longer widely exists.

I listened to records and learned songs, chords, scales and improvisation through listening.  Later I taught myself to read chord symbols, then the notes themselves.

The feelings that the combination of melody, lyrics and harmony can bring out were always attractive to me.  Beginning with my mother’s records, which spanned from Jazz to classical and Broadway and movie soundtracks, and continuing with The Beatles, Motown, all the great soul artists, to British and American rock, then Jazz and funk.  I was born in a golden era of music in the world.  

It was a time when one could hear songs that touched your heart and soul, songs that made you dance, or could make you cry.  Songs that made you think.   Here are a few examples;  Aint No Way (Aretha Franklin) Someday We’ll All Be Free (Donny Hathaway) Were a Winner, People Get Ready (Curtis Mayfield) A House Is Not A Home (Dionne Warwick)  You’ve Got A Friend (Carole King) .   I love the music from this era.  I could feel the artist’s message.

That was the soundtrack to my life.

I consider myself to be unbelievably lucky to have experienced a life full of music, and to have shared the stage and studios with so many incredible artists.  People who are my idols.  There is much more I wish I had done, but there is no room to look back in such a way.

Music to me is capturing the essence and sharing it.  The feeling that is soulful, emotional, jazzy.  Watching the listeners face light up when it gets good onstage.

Music is also camaraderie.  Making friends.  Delighting in musical chemistry between yourself and others.

Philip Woo DSCF1798No. 2)  What inspires you?

Artists inspire me. I love singing, though I dont sing.  I was especially inspired by Donny Hathaway. I first heard “The Ghetto” when I was 13. The soulful, emotive, raw, urban feel was irresistable to me. I love soul and Jazz mixed.  And it is an instrumental song, basically!  A person who can make you excited by playing their instrument, that is what that song made me want to be.  When I bought Donny’s album “Everything is Everything”, it totally floored me.  His voice soared. “Thank You Master For My Soul”, reminded me that each of us has a personal relationship with God.  Donny was also a brilliant organist, and gifted arranger.   

Stevie Wonder was another inspiration.  His transformation from a teen idol into a world-changing force was a wonder to witness, album to album.  His lyrics were masterful.  Songwriting!

Roy Ayers was an inspiration, and he became my mentor.  In order to tell you all of my inspirations, I must tell you my life story, but a little later, OK? Then you will understand how lucky and blessed I actually am .

There were many influences, but they all shared the fact that they just excited me.

Nature inspires me. People watching inspires me. Beautiful women inspire me. Reading inspires me.  Great writers make you think.  Walking inspires me.  Rivers, lakes and oceans inspire me.  Travel is a great inspiration.

No. 3)  When you are playing, creating, where does it take you? Where doesPhilip Woo DSC09783 your mind travel?

 When I am performing , I try to live the song.   In this way, the direction of the song is mine.  If I am with my band, I might push the song in a new direction, create a new feel.  Sometimes they get thrown off, because they set the picture in their mind, and the size of the song is already decided.  This in one thing I don’t like about Japan.  Most everyone reads through a gig, and do not expect a variation.  It tends to be the same each time a song is played.  I come from a school where nobody could read, and we paid attention to each other, and not the chart.

When I am playing a solo, I try to express emotion rather than technique.  I want it to be exciting and soulful.   I dont think of what to play.  I let my solo come out as a story.  I tell my students this.

When I am writing, I keep searching for a feeling.  When it feels right, I record it.  I know when it feels good, and that the other components will fit into the song’s foundation.  My mental reference is the zillion songs that I have heard that just sound good.  I remember songs that I heard as a child, teen and onward, good bits that shape who I am.

No. 4)  Do you feel music, painting and health are related, and if so, how?

Music and art are intertwined.  My family has 2 genetic sets, music from my mother  who played piano and loved music, and art from my father, who was an architect and all around genius of sorts.

Philip Woo 1My sister and I got the music genes, but also that art genes.  She is now a graphic artist/musician.  I was for many years into origami and paper art. The symmetry of origami is very similar to musical patterns and expolations.

Health is related to everything.  One thing I can think of is that music is fun to play, and consequently the stress of the job is different than compared to the life of another job.  Not many musicians “go postal”, after all.  One can party too much,however!

No. 5)  How do you feel when you are playing?

I feel great!  I love the interaction between the stage and the audience. When the people are feeling good, and they show it, there is no better feeling!  That is live music.

I have always been a little shy, and not a frontman until recently.  In this era of social networking, I am surprised and delighted that I have fans from all corners of the globe.  It really warms my heart, as I did not picture myself this way.  I was always part of a team. I did get some attention, being the only Chinese American who was onstage with so many black artists, but I wasn’t seeking that attention.

My memories of all the great times I had onstage those years are very dear to me.  I played what I was feeling , and I was carefree.  The people loved the music, and that feeling is a treasure to me, seeing people happy, dancing, swaying and grooving.

The world changes, and new generations have their own favorite music.  I can’t complain about today’s music, because it is what it is.  I still getcommissioned to write and produce and play with young people today, and I’m grateful for the privilege.

No. 6)  Under what conditions do you work best?

That is a good question.  I try to do my best no matter what the conditions. They will vary from day to day, and from job to job.

Ideal conditions are when the employer cares about you, and cares about doing goodPhilip Woo Motion Blue business.  If the employer is an artist, for instance, hiring you for a tour,  that person will try to make sure you are comfortable.   Some artists are wonderful, generous people.  I have been fortunate to know many of them.  Some people just fulfill the basic conditions.  That is also fine.   But some people go much further, and it is a pleasure to work with such people.

If the employer is a promoter, and you are a leader, it is great for them to care about details that will allow you and your musicians to work in comfort.  Knowing what to ask for, for instance if you are doing an event, a concert or club date, is a good policy.  For instance, a dressing room, food, water on stage, a realistic time schedule, transportation.  Most of this is common sense and can be taken for granted.  As long as things run smoothly, that is fine.  Try to think ahead.  However, there have been times where an organization,  promoter or tour manager is inexperienced, and the situation turns into a fiasco.  When this happens, dont freak out, or blow up.  Be businesslike, and dont give anyone an excuse to act stupid.  Just try to get through the day.

One example of a fiasco: Traveling to London. The artist’s manager had not obtained a proper working visa.  He got angry and blew up at the immigration official, fruitlessly.  The immigration official gave us 2 choices.  Leave the country on the next flight or, until the papers were put in order, go to Immigration Detention, which is, basically, a jail. We took our chances with the detention.  The manager returned to the USA.  A member of Parliament intervened, and we were released the next day.  The stay was not really that bad…we had a great tour, and a private tour of  Parliament and The House of Lords.

A recent example: A Christmas contemporary gospel concert for a vocal school.  The concert took place at a college.  The sound staff  and stage crew were employed by the college, and consisted of students, who had no professional experience, and no idea how to set up a stage, much less for 30 members. It took all day, in stages, while we asked for what we needed, request by request.  I live in Japan, and everything happens politely(usually) and formally(usually).  Translate: slowly  The monitors,once they were connected, mysteriously kept losing individual instruments, or sometimes one thing or another would become unbearingly loud.  It was frustrating, but everyone onstage patiently kept their cool, and we finished soundcheck rehearsal just 10 minutes before showtime.  The moral of this story is keep your cool.  There were many opportunities to blow up and curse people out for incompetence, but it wouldn’t have helped.  After the show, the early part of the day was forgotten. The audience enjoyed a great show!

Philip Woo Nixon PoseOne example of great conditions, and this time I can name names…Jeffery Osborne, an ideal example of a gentleman.  In Las Vegas, he stayed in Elvis’ Penthouse suite and hosted parties for the band every night. Every night at dinner, he would take the band members to dinner at the finest restaurants in the complex.   He treated everyone with respect and as an equal, though he is very well off.  Every part of working with him was a great pleasure.  I love you Jeffrey!

I could say more, and there are many, many kind and generous people in my life,but on to the next question.

Thank you kindly, Philip for sharing so much with us in this part one of your wonderful article.   Part two will be published next week!


Please make sure to stay tuned for part two next week!  You are cordially  invited to visit Philip’s links.  As always, your comments are much appreciated, thank you so much!  Enjoy!

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Filed in: MUSIC • Saturday, September 1st, 2012

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My name is Michele Andree. I am an artist, I paint musicians in action. I think I’m a musician at heart, my instrument being… a brush, so I play…brush and I paint… music.
I love jazz. I call it freedom music. It promotes special values. I love intelligent people and good conversations.

Some people ask me how music relates to art. Personally I find they go hand in hand. Music is what turns me on to painting. It makes me see colours