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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.”

Here’s is part two of Philip Woo’s article. 

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 good 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, aPhilip-Woo ( 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!

One 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.

No. 7)  Do you identify with your music and if so, on what level?

Yes. Actually I AM my music.  Because I am not a solo artist,at least not in the form of my own CD’s yet, my artist is what you see when I play with whomever I share the stage.  I have been formed by a lifetime of absorbing music.  I started playing at age 5.My mother played piano, as did my sister, so there was a piano in the house. My mother was a music buff, and a fan of Harry Belafonte, Dinah Washington and the popular Broadway plays at that time. We listened to classical music, and albums like “West Side Story”, “The Sound Of Music” , “Camelot” ,”Funny Girl” … my mom was a big Barbra Streisand fan, and we 5 kids listened to these albums, again and again, until we could practically sing every note. My grandfather was a classical music and opera buff. Every Sunday we would go to our grandparent’s house and listen to records while the grownups socialized.  My mom’s brother was a Jazz freak,and he would bring the latest albums over and insist on playing them.  I remember “Take Five” and  “Blue Rondo A La Turk” being played again and again.  I was just 5 or 6 years old. I would play Beatles tunes by ear. Dave Clark Five, The Animals, Yardbirds, Elvis.  I loved the British invasion.

We lived in Seattle’s  Central District.  It was a unique time in histor, in that the government was lax on vice,so I hear. There were clubs, vice, gambling  and prostitution flourishing at this time in the early 60’s.  The Central District was the black neighborhood.  Jimi Hendrix’s family lived nearby, as did Quincy Jones. My aunt was a classmate at Garfield High School. Bruce Lee was an alumnus, as was Jimi Hendrix. I swam with Quincy’s nephews at the local YMCA.  Bruce Lee was living with my “Auntie Ruby” , owner of Ruby Chow’s restaurant. She was a close friend of my father, and became a very influential local politician.

In the CD as it was known then and now,  music was all over.  Seattle was known as  a party town, and there were black clubs over a stretch of Jackson Street from the black neighborhood all the way to Chinatown.

Ray Charles evolved there,with Quincy.  Bands rehearsed in houses…Later from my house. You could walk down the street and head a big philipband rehearsing in someone’s house. A crowd might gather in front. You could hear an organ combo,R&B Soul bands, avant garde Coltrane -style grooves. Musicians left Seattle, played with Charlie Parker, Sam & Dave, Motown artists, and returned home to tell about it.

Back then, a way for a 10 year old to hear bands was to go to auto shows. Northwest Rock was big then.Paul Revere and the Raiders,T he Wailers(Larry Coryell was a member), The Sonics, The Kingsmen (Louie,Louie)  Jimi Hendrix was heavily influenced by this. His song “Spanish Castle Magic” is a nod to a famous club.

In the 60’s as I turned 12 , the hippie movement spread to Seattle. Most of the bands that played at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, came to Seattle’s Eagles Auditorium next. My sister Teresa asked Papa if she could take me for my 12th birthday to Eagles. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was playing that night. The Electric Flag horn section was with them, and David Sanborn was playing sax. It was the most awesome thing I had ever seen. I started playing harmonica then. From then on I went to dozens of shows  at Eagles. I saw Muddy Waters, James Cotton, BB King, Taj Mahal, Joe Cocker, Spirit, Charles Lloyd (with Keith Jarrett) The Steve Miller Band,Chicago, Jethro Tull, Cold Blood and many more. The shows were unbelievable.In later years, after  the place closed down, I saw Jimi Hendrix, Sly & The Family Stone, Donny Hathaway, Santana, Stevie Wonder, Rufus & Chaka Khan, Earth,Wind and Fire, Mongo Santamaria, Freddie Hubbard, George Benson, Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, The Crusaders, Hugh Masakela, Roy Ayers…it was a great era to be a young man.

I started playing as much as I could with as many people as I could.I sat in with bands at hippie house parties. I started playing jazz, as much as I could pickup by ear. That is why funky things came more naturally to me.I could hear what pianists like  Horace Silver, Les Mc Cann and Ramsey Lewis were doing. Organists like Jimmy Smith, Jack Mc Duff, Jimmy Mc Griff, Brian Auger…I could figure it out by ear. Without jazz lessons, I couldnt hear what McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock were doing. Not at  age 14. At that time my aunt became secretary of the Seattle Jazz society. They had a club, and she would take me there to hear visiting musicians like John Handy. She took me to see Herbie Hancock’s seminar. I played with Jimi Hendrix’s cousin , Eddie Hall.

I started playing in local bands while in High School. I had transferred to Franklin High, because Garfield had become too rough, too many gangs. I joined the Franklin Jazz Lab big band, and participated the competitions. Kenny G was the first chair sax. I learned a lot from that experience, and from the arranger James Gardiner. The band became #1 in the nation. After high school, I took Kenny and the drummer Lee Turner, and together we joined a Funk and Soul band named  Cold, Bold and Together. We cut some 45 records, that ran up the local black chart. We were local stars!

This is a long-winded answer, but I want to make the point that every experience, and everyone you interact with has an influence on you.   

I met Roy Ayers while in high school. He invited me onstage at a small club, on a night when there were few people in the crowd. The next time we met, he recognised me, surprisingly, and invited me onstage again. This time ,however,he had just parted ways with his pianist. He asked me,”Do you know any of my music? I replied , “I know ALL of your music.”  I ended up playing there for 2 weeks with his band… At the end of the run,he asked me to join his band and move to New York.  He became my mentor, and propelled me into the world. The musicians that he put me into proximity with taught me, shaped me, and led by example. The drummer in his band was Ricky Lawson, the bassist Byron Miller, and the guitarist Ronnie Drayton.

To illustrate how awesome this experience was for me, I will tell you about my first night  away from home.  I had never flown in a plane. I was 19. I flew to Chicago and went to Ratso’s on the North side. After sound check I met Kenny Burrell at the bar, and had a nice conversation. In the middle of the show, Flora Purim walked onstage and sang. Steve Cobb sat in on drums. When the show ended, we walked into the dressing room and Donny Hathaway was sitting there! I was floored. I had listened to him for years , over and over. Such a giant to me, and there he was. He spoke to me with eloquence, and needless to say it was the climax of a very exciting day.

Roy’s band was a ladder that led to great things for so many musicians. In that band I playedPhilip-Woo-from-fb-1 with Dee Dee Bridgewater, Merry Clayton, Bernard Purdie, Dennis Davis, James Mason, Justo Almario, Jimmy Haslip, Greg Moore, Omar Hakim, Chuck Rainey …

That period of music was free and exciting. I met nearly all of my idols and more. I played on the same bill with almost every black R&B and Jazz act that you can name, in concerts, festivals, stadiums…that experience was also very influential.  I went on to play with many, many wonderful artists and groups, and recorded alongside some of the greatest musicians of that era.

Each artist and each song I performed with them, each musician that made up the team, each album that I recorded became a little part of what I am now. I identify with my music, because I AM music.  I still play the blues, rock, funk. folk, jazz, pop as I absorbed it.

No. 8)  Does playing music help you connect with your higher-self whatever that is for you?  (This one also is referred to in all your answers, but…)

Sometimes when I am praying, music comes into my head. I want to run into my studio and record it right away, but it is like a dream that fades away before you can write it down. I dont want to say that I pray all the time ,but I do sometimes!  Sometimes a solution to a song will arrive while I am sleeping. That will retain itself.  I’m a firm believer that we are channelers. The music is there  in the air all the time and one must open up and receive it. I always knew I wanted to be a musician, from age 5 or 6. When I saw the Beatles and other bands on The Ed Sullivan Show, I said to myself “Thats what I’m gonna be”. I think I was destined to me a musician.

Reaching for that channel, that is a challenge. We are humans, and must pay for our existence. We must put the time in to support our families. We use a lot of our lives just making money.   Still,the connection to higher planes,is a form of sustenance.

No. 9)  What about the public school systems, how do you feel about creativity in those institutions?

It is a damn shame that there are insufficient funds for music education!  Even in my schools which were in the poorest area of town, we had music programs. Funds from Model Cities, a federal education program paid for pianos, quality instruments, good teachers. It was a source of great pride to have an excellent Jazz band, a gospel choir, an African drum ensemble, a Jazz combo, marching band, drama department. We had all of these. The community contributed with fundraisers to pay for our trips, charter buses, pay for motels. I learned so much from the free piano lessons that were part of my school day. We had a Jazz appreciation class in High School !

The results of these programs were musicians who went on to become artists, form bands, make records, change history. What do we have now? 

The arts are important!

Young musicians are not as plentiful as before. The are few venues to offer a band a job. Computers and the internet cannot replace face time. You cant measure yourself. You cant feel that spark the same way. You cant go to public school and play music. Berklee is a great school, but I could never come close to affording the tuition, even in 1974. There are gifted young musicians being formed today, and also in the church. But the church is not the same somehow. It is great  but not the same.

Creativity can be nurtured, creative young people are easily recognizable. School programs stimulate the world’s future artists.  Well worth the investment.

Philip Woo Tokyo 1No. 10)  In your opinion, what could be a simple solution to improve creativity in the public school systems?

Spend the mone. Seek out the right teachers. Teaching has become the “something to fall back on” for many amazing musicians seeking income that has dematerialized in this present day. You would be surprised.

Today’ s computerized methods of creating music can be taught in tandem. The computer is a great learning tool in every aspect of music. There are tons of material that is shared for free.

Hip Hop, Rap, today’s R&B all owe their roots to the body of music that was created before it’s time. The history of music is a rich palette that has volumes to speak.  It’s interesting!

No. 11)  What is jazz to you?

Jazz is a never-ending challenge for me. Growing up on the west coast, the young funk musicians were into Sly & The Family Stone, Tower Of Power , Graham Central Station, Santana, Cold Blood…and listened to jazz like the Crusaders, Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, Chick Corea, CTI label jazz, Horace Silver, Les Mc Cann. Not really playing bebop.

When I moved to New York at 19, I found out that the young musicians my age were raised on a lot of the same music, but they also could play Jazz and be-bop ! They had the High School of Music and Art, and many local mentors who taught in the high schools. Billy Taylor, John Lewis…They had Jazzmobile. All the clubs featured just about any artist you could think of , and regularly!

I was extremely intimidated. To this day, I dont have that kind of foundation that I envy those players for… Ray Chew… Kenny Kirkland, Bernard Wright, Don Blackman, Terry Burrus…

Ray and Kenny became best friends, and taught me freely. I couldn’t understand why I got hired so much…I felt really small around a lot of those guys. I just had my thing, and if people liked it,more power to me! 

Jazz to me is my personal preferences.  I love Clare Fischer, Joe Zawinul, Don Patterson, Larry Young, Ronnie Foster, Cedar Walton, Bobby Hutcherson, Bob James, Freddie Philip Woo Tokyo 2Hubbard, Les McCann…  I purposely avoided trying to study Herbie Hancock and Chick  Corea, because every young keyboard player was trying to sound like them ! I wanted to have my own style.

I play more Jazz these days.  Once in a while I will run into a musician who has a snobbish attitude about Jazz. I get really turned off.  What IS Jazz?  There are so many permutations of the the music,  that it is impossible to say what it REALLY is.  Jazz standards?  Miles? That argument does not hold water,because Miles broke the mold many times!  When I met Miles, he told me that he loved what I was doing with Maze featuring Frankie Beverly and he loved Cyndi Lauper.Go figure,when you want to freeze Miles in the bebop era.  There were always jazz musicians when I was coming up in New Your who were really dark and bitter, saying that popular forms were not music…but who can really say?

In America jazz has always been the underdog. Jazz has been almost completely wiped off the radio.  Jazz to me is freedom to take the music anywhere you want to, because there are no rules.

I live in Tokyo. Lately, in my performances, I have been emulating some of my influences. One example, songs from the artists on the Black Jazz label. There was a vibe from that label’s artists in the early 70’s that  had a special appeal to me. Not many people know about that today,and especially here,where Jazz usually means jazz standards.  I have also been emulating some of my Hammond organ heroes.

No. 12)  How do you feel about improvisation?

I feel that improvisation is expressing your emotions through your hands. I like to spontaneously create things onstage. It drives my band crazy, because they are not used to that.

I loved playing in my young years. In our bands, we would take a groove into new territory effortlessly, as if it was how it is supposed to be, not glued to a chart. You wouldnt believe it was Kenny G, at that time!  Everyone onstage with the same mind, communicating, moving together as one.

Because I have a blues background, expressive soloing was always what I always wanted to do. Telling a story, a different one every time.  When I heard the jazz version of this, I loved it even more.  Its a more twisty, turney way to take a listener on a journey. It’s such an art, and there are so many great masters of this type of storytelling!  From BB King to George Benson. They are both masters.  Ramsey Lewis to Herbie Hancock. Not to compare musicianship,but I enjoy each one immensely. Larry Dunn, a brilliant improviser.

That is why it is useless to me to be a snob. Brilliance exists on all levels. Jimi Hendrix, Billy Preston, George Duke. Patti Austin, Phyliss Hyman, Dianne Reeves,  I could go on and on,but I will finish now.

Philip Woo Tokyo 3In conclusion, I hope that my words and experience can bring insight to others. Limitations need not stop you from going for it.  Music is not just about being a good player. One must be a good person as well.

Philip, again thank you, you have been so generous in your answers, I’m certain, as I, all our readers will appreciate this very much as it is most enlightening.  Good luck in all your endeavours, my friend, be blessed.


You are cordially invited to visit Philip’s links to learn more about this wonderful musician and person.  And as always, your comments are most appreciated, thank you and enjoy!

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Filed in: MUSIC • Sunday, September 23rd, 2012


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What an awesome interview. When I was in college in New Orleans, i was a waitress at a restaurant that Frankie Beverly and Maze would frequent. Frankie would sometime try to disguise himself. However I always looked for the Asian keyboard player (Phillip Woo)to make sure it was the band. I’ve always wondered what happened to him. I’m a physician/surgeon with an upcoming trip to Asia. I’ll try to stop in and see Phillip in Japan. Again, thanks so much!!

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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