Document Type

Honors Project

First Advisor

Dr. Tim Weir

Degree Award Date

Spring 2009


Improvisational Approaches, Phil Woods, Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano - Movement One


Music | Musicology


The Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano by Phil Woods is considered by many to be a landmark piece of literature for the modem concert saxophonist. While many may know Phil Woods from his numerous Grammy Award winning recordings and albums, his iconic solo on Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" or his earlier days with the European Rhythm Machine, Quincy Jones, or Dizzy Gillespie, Woods is not just an important jazz performer, but an equally innovative composer of both jazz and concert music. His Sonata, is one of the most historically significant and groundbreaking works for concert saxophone repertoire composed in the past fifty years. Woods' compositions commonly require its' performers to synthesize stylistic elements of both jazz and concert playing. Woods' Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano is no exception, featuring a prominent use of jazz articulations and style, as well as several improvised solo sections in conjunction with an overarching classical formal structure. It is the first of these improvised solo sections which provided the impetus for this research project.

The goal of this paper is to discuss and analyze three distinctly different approaches to performing and improvising the solo section in Movement One of Woods' Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano. In addition to discussing the significant historical contributions of Phil Woods as an artist and composer, this paper will summarize, analyze, and synthesize the author's research as related to the formal and harmonic structure of the "solo" section, as well as select theoretical and improvisational devices and "extended techniques" used by the artist being studied. In addition to a solo transcription and analysis of each artist's improvisation over this section, a brief artist bio 4 has been provided to help bring to light relevant background information that has influenced their career, playing style, and approach to improvisation and performing in general.