Woody ‘N You: A Critical Analysis of Covers

“Woody ‘n You” was written in 1943 by Dizzy Gillespie as an homage to Woody Herman (credit where it’s due), a clarinet and sax player and band leader. “Woody ‘n You” was one of three tunes that Gillespie wrote for Herman, and Herman apparently played the tune live, but its first appearance on record was in 1944, on Coleman Hawkins’ recording date. That recording was later added to Hawkins’ Rainbow Mist album.

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This first recorded version of the tune has Hawkins on sax along with Vic Coulsen, Dizzy Gillespie, and Eddie Vanderveer on trumpets, Leonard Lowry, Leo Parker, Ray Abrams, Don Byas, and Budd Johnson on assorted saxophones, Clyde Hart on piano, Oscar Pettiford on bass, and Max Roach on drums. The tune starts with a bass and piano introduction, followed by a brief unaccompanied statement from the bass. A descending piano line brings the rest of the band back at about 0:11 for the horns to state the tune’s theme. It’s difficult and probably impossible in 2014 to hear this as it must have sounded in 1944, but for some context, go check a popular tune from Woody Herman, “Golden Wedding”… anyway, coming back to “Woody ‘N You” here… Hawkins’ distinctive sax playing takes the lead in front of the full harmony from the saxes and trumpets behind him here, getting some punchy brass behind him starting at about 0:55 or so. At about 1:30, a trumpet solo begins, likely from Gillespie. After a bright and brief trumpet solo that still sounds fresh 70 years later, the theme returns at about 2:10 or so, again with Hawkins taking the lead. At 2:45, they bring the tune to a close. Great solos from Hawkins and Gillespie – unfortunately shorter than we’ve become used to, presumably because of the recording limitations that kept tunes to about 3:00.

Gillespie kept “Woody ‘n You” in rotation as a leader of his own bands (occasionally calling the tune “Algo Bueno”), and so we’ll jump forward here to the Newport Jazz Festival in 1966. The band led by Gillespie on trumpet also included James Moody on sax, Milt Jackson on vibes, Thelonious Monk on piano, Percy Heath on bass, and Max Roach on drums (!). Here, they start the tune with a brief drum introduction before the melody comes in at about 0:10. The band sounds less tight than on the version above led by Hawkins, probably a result of them coming together for this festival concert. That said, Roach’s cymbals crash along through the head, with the vibes and trumpet playing the theme over Monk’s stabbing chords. At about 0:45, Moody takes the first solo on sax over emphatic drums from Roach, more stabbing chords from Monk, and a great walking bassline from Heath. Moody’s killing it in here and I have nothing else to add about that. At 1:50 or so, Jackson begins a vibes solo over some really cool comping from Monk’s piano, reharmonizing the introduction of the tune, with Monk’s piano playing the part that Jackson’s vibes played in the introduction, but then it sounds like Monk sort of steps on the solo and cuts in. By about 2:15, Jackson has dropped out and Monk continues on with a piano solo. It’s a fine Monk solo full of lots of little Monk-isms, and comes to a close around 3:30. Jackson returns on vibes, opening his solo with an echo of Monk’s last phrase and then continuing (noticeably without any piano comping this time around). It sounds like a very awkward edit on the tape at about 4:40, but I suppose it can be forgiven because it leads to a solo spot for Roach on the drums. Roach has been impressive behind the solos until now, and continues with a high-energy drum solo. Maybe the drum solo goes on a little long, but it’s never lacking fireworks and then the band returns around 6:05 to reprise the “Woody ‘n You” theme. They play through this much the same way as in the opening, with Gillespie’s trumpet taking the lead and adding some phrases on top of the chords in here from Monk and Jackson. At about 6:45, they bring this to a close – Gillespie plays an unaccompanied phrase on trumpet, and then the rest of the band re-joins to bring it to a close. This isn’t really the definitive version of the tune, but it’s plenty interesting – it would’ve been great to hear a solo from Gillespie, but he gets a chance to shine during the song’s theme. It’s too bad that what sounded like it was to be Jackson’s solo didn’t continue, as his interplay with Monk there sounded really great. That said, fine solos from Moody, Jackson, and Monk here and a really great drum and bass backing everybody up from Heath and Roach.

The list of musicians who have recorded versions of “Woody ‘n You” reads like a list of jazz royalty – Miles, Mingus, Rollins, Bill Evans, Red Garland, Stan Getz, Bud Powell, and Ahmad Jamal, to name a few (not to mention the incredible musicians on the versions above). This column won’t look at all of them, but we’ll hit quite a few of them.

We’ll start out with Bud Powell’s version of “Woody ‘n You” from 1953, recorded live with Powell on piano, Charles Mingus on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums. This version is from Birdland 1953 – The Complete Recordings (for what it’s worth, the YouTube clip here lists the musicians incorrectly – it’s indeed Mingus and Haynes on bass and drums). Powell opens the tune over what sounds to be Haynes’ hand-drumming. Mingus’ bass is unfortunately very low in the mix here, but the walking line is audible underneath the piano solo starting around 0:40 or so as Haynes moves over to his ride cymbal. Powell’s solo is absolutely killing. Starting somewhere around 2:00, he almost returns to the head, but only sort of plays around with it. Then around 2:15, they return to the head outright, with Haynes returning again to his hand drumming. They play through this here at the end and there’s a fadeout as the applause just becomes audible. The sound quality on this isn’t perfect, but yikes, Powell’s piano solo is indeed perfect.

Next up is Miles’ version of the tune, from his 1957 Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet album. The quintet here is Miles on trumpet, Coltrane on sax, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. Garland’s piano opens this version before the trumpet and piano state the melody in unison. Miles adds some phrases from his perfect-sounding trumpet between the theme’s phrases, and then moves into a trumpet solo after the head (the solo starts around 0:35). Jones’ ride cymbal behind this sounds so good here… Garland plays pretty sparsely behind this solo, mostly letting Miles play over just the bass and drums, and there’s plenty of momentum to carry this through to Coltrane’s solo starting at about 2:10. Garland’s comping is still pretty minimal here, and it’s great to hear Coltrane’s sax before the full-on ‘sheets-of-sound’ approach he would develop later on – the sound he gets is still so distinctively Coltrane, there’s no mistaking it. He’s really getting in some great licks here, and then brings it to a close around 3:30. Miles’ trumpet comes back in then, playing around with the “Woody ‘n You” melody briefly, leading up to a drumbreak at about 3:55. After this brief drumbreak, the quintet returns to another composed part of the tune, moving back to the “Woody ‘n You” theme at about 4:30. They take this out with Jones’ insanely good ride cymbal/snare pattern over a bass pulse and Garland’s piano, just ridiculous – no one else could do that. It seems like whenever Miles touched a tune, he could make it his own, and this is no exception. Everyone sounds great on this, and the whole band sounds great together. Very recommended.

Red Garland revisited “Woody ‘N You” that same year as a leader of a quartet featuring Coltrane’s sax again, along with Donald Byrd on trumpet, George Joyner (aka Jamil Nasser) on bass, and Art Taylor on drums. They recorded “Woody ‘N You” for the 1957 album Soul Junction. The piano introduction to this version of the tune is almost an exact replica of the introduction to Miles’ version above, but then the horns come in to play the theme and they sound a bit distant, the tempo a little slower. Whereas Garland played fairly minimally on Miles’ version, though, here Garland takes the phrases in between the theme’s statements in the head. After the head, Byrd takes a trumpet solo in an arrangement that is so far very similar to Miles’. Byrd gets in some nice soloing and sounds very good around 1:20 or so, going back and forth a bit with Taylor’s snare drum before Garland’s piano chords come in behind the trumpet solo, a bit bigger than on the version above. Here, Garland and Taylor are perfectly locked in, with the drums reacting to every piano chord. The trumpet solo ends at about 2:15, moving into a sax solo from Coltrane, whose soloing again sounds fantastic again on this tune. Just as it was underneath the trumpet solo, Taylor and Garland add some punchy drum/piano combinations underneath Coltrane’s sax here. Coltrane hardly reacts, it seems, with his solo carrying more than enough momentum on its own without the rhythm section’s additions. At about 3:45, there’s a great transition from the sax solo to a piano solo from Garland, with the piano playing underneath the very end of the sax solo. Garland’s piano lines in here are fantastic, with minimal accompaniment from his left hand. At about 5:45, Byrd’s trumpet plays a bit before an open drumbreak, followed by Coltrane, then another open drumbreak. Byrd and Coltrane trade off one more time like this, leaving spaces for Taylor, and then the quintet returns to the tune’s head. At about 6:30, the space between the head’s phrases in this case is left open for the walking bassline. They play through the theme one more time and then bring it to a close – unlike Miles’ version, there’s no vamp at the end here. It’s tough not to compare this with Miles, given the reappearance of both Garland and Coltrane, and in that regard, Miles’ version has more going for it, but it’s great to hear Garland get in a solo spot on this tune, and Coltrane’s solo in particular was excellent on this version.

That same year, in 1957, Charles Mingus recorded “Woody ‘N You” for his A Modern Jazz Symposium of Music and Poetry (though it’s listed as “Wouldn’t You”). Mingus’ band here included Jimmy Knepper on trombone, Shafi Hadi on sax, Clarence Shaw on trumpet, Bob Hammer on piano, and Dannie Richmond on drums. Mingus’ unaccompanied bass opens the tune before some very cool drums join in and the horns state the theme. After they play through the head, Hadi takes a sax solo starting around 0:40. This bass-heavy recording puts Mingus’ walking bass up front in the mix, locked in with Richmond’s drums. This band is phenomenal, and Hadi’s sax solo is great as well. Around 2:00, he gets into a really nice little groove, then finishes his solo shortly afterwards and hands off the reins for a piano solo. Hammer’s piano playing is similarly excellent here – in the groove and high-energy without losing control at any point. It’s interesting to note that this is Hammer’s only appearance at the piano with Mingus, but he also worked as an arranger on several other Mingus albums – this band had a little bit of musical chairs going on at the piano, as they recorded with Bill Evans on East Coasting before this album, and with Bill Triglia on Tijuana Moods before that. Anyway… following Hammer’s piano solo is an excellent trombone solo from Jimmy Knepper, which leads to a bass solo from Mingus starting at about 5:30. The drums and piano continue behind Mingus here, at a much lower volume. Mingus’ finger fly over the strings on this always incredible bass solo from the man. The bass solo is followed by an open drum solo from Dannie Richmond, and then the horns return just after 6:30. There’s some nice back and forth between the sax and trombone in this section, and then they return to the “Woody ‘n You” head at about 8:10, again with this great drumming behind the head. Mingus’ bass takes the lead in between statements of the theme here, and after playing through the head, this comes to an abrupt halt. A cool version with great playing all around, an excellent bass solo from Mingus, and a nice added back-and-forth between the sax and trombone before returning to the head at the end of the song.

Like I said above, “Woody ‘N You” has been done by many, many different musicians. I won’t go through all of these here, but do check out versions from Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, and Sonny Rollins, Keith Jarrett, to name a few. In the meantime, we’ll jump ahead here to some recent versions of the tune.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s 1993 album Diz, with Rubalcaba on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Julio Barreto on drums, included his version of “Woody ‘n You.” They take this tune with a very Latin feel in the brief introduction before moving into a swinging piano trio version of the tune, with Barreto’s drums getting something of the feel from Mingus’ version above at about 0:30. After moving through the head, Barreto’s drums drop out briefly and Carter’s walking bassline moves to the front. This is a very cool transition into Rubalcaba’s piano solo here. Rubalcaba takes his time, and Barreto’s drumming is very understated here as Rubalcaba picks up some steam. It’s an interesting solo with lots of space – Rubalcaba will play a fast run, then punctuate that with a chord and some negative space. Throughout, Carter keeps the tune moving along on the strength of his walking bassline. At 2:30, Rubalcaba briefly touches back on the “Woody ‘n You” melody, which seems to energize him, as he moves from there into some fast runs from his right hand. A bit of dissonance starts to creep into this piano solo starting somewhere around 3:15, and continues in places, though the solo is hardly dissonant – Rubalcaba just plays with it a little bit in here. Wow – crazy stuff from the piano starting at about 4:30 – wild! At about 5:05, Rubalcaba starts to come back to the main theme. Then at 5:30, after a false ending, they move into a Latin vamp that touches back on “Woody ‘n You” (check around 6:20 or so). This continues, with Rubalcaba’s high-energy piano soloing, until this version of the tune fades out. Fifty years after its first appearance with Coleman Hawkins’ band, Rubalcaba gave “Woody ‘N You” a very interesting new feel here – lots of Latin jazz incorporated, but also generally a very modern feel to the tune. The move from the tune’s head into Rubalcaba’s piano solo was especially cool, and there was some pretty incredible piano playing in this.

The OAM Trio (Omer Avital on bass, Aaron Goldberg on piano, and Marc Miralta on drums) included their take on “Woody ‘N You” on their 1999 album Trilingual. The tune opens with a quick little drumroll before the piano and bass join in to play through the melody. They give this a cool sort of push-pull feel, with the rhythm seeming to slightly slow down and then speed back up. Goldberg’s piano plays through the head and then starts a solo at about 0:50. The rhythm on this stays very interesting throughout – Goldberg’s piano playing is smooth, lots of great runs up and down the keyboard, while Avital and Miralta keep the rhythm quite loose underneath, with a bit of a stop-start feel in parts. A little bit of a hint of some Latin jazz at about 2:45 from Goldberg’s piano, and then at about 3:15, he sets up a really nice arpeggio, ending his solo shortly afterward at about 3:30 and handing the reins to Avital for a bass solo. Omer Avital gives an always impressive, melodic bass solo here, backed by the drums and some light piano chords. At about 5:15, Avital returns to the “Woody ‘N You” melody, then some more Latin jazz chords from Goldberg before some open drum breaks for Miralta. Some very nice drums in here, and then the trio returns to the head at about 6:30, with some more of that push-pull feel from the opening. They end it with three big chords. Another cool piano trio version of this tune, with fine solos from Goldberg and Avital, some nice open drum breaks from Miralta, and a fresh take on the tune’s head.

Jumping ahead to 2012, Omer Avital also appeared on Triveni II, the album from Avishai Cohen’s trumpet trio also featuring Nasheet Waits on drums (full disclosure: I can’t get enough of Triveni). Here, Avital and Waits introduce the tune with a drum-bass duet. Avital’s bass hints at the melody starting around 0:20, and then Cohen’s trumpet joins in to play through the melody at about 0:30, jumping between registers. Starting around 1:00, Cohen takes a trumpet solo. As on the OAM Trio version of this tune above, there’s a little bit of a push-pull feel to the rhythm here, courtesy of Omer Avital and Nasheet Waits, though Avital’s bass is more up-front in the mix here and he’s mostly sticking with a walking bassline behind Cohen’s excellent trumpet solo. Nasheet Waits’ drums really make this happen – he’s supporting and adding so much to the melody, complementing Cohen’s trumpet and also locking in with Avital’s bass perfectly. At about 2:30-2:45 or so, Cohen returns to the “Woody ‘N You” melody, and then at about 3:00, the trumpet drops out briefly for an open drum break from Waits. After that short drum break, they return to the “Woody ‘N You” melody, but this time through leave a long vamp after stating the theme. Then Cohen’s trumpet plays the final line of the tune and they bring it to a close. The chordless setup of this trio lets them deconstruct whatever tune they take on, and all three musicians here more than capably carry the melody, harmony, and rhythm – very recommended.

Also in 2012, Yotam Silberstein led a guitar trio through “Woody ‘N You” at Bar Next Door. The band here is Silberstein on guitar, Matt Penman on bass, and Jochen Rueckert on drums. Silberstein’s guitar tone here gives the tune a laid-back feel, but the tempo is fairly fast, moving through the head at a brisk pace and into a guitar solo at about 0:30 or so. Penman’s excellent walking bassline hooks up something lovely with Rueckert’s drums here, and Silberstein sounds great on top of this, taking a nice and relaxed solo. He’s playing relaxed, but that’s not to say there aren’t some pretty amazing runs in here – say, around 1:45. Rueckert moves from the brushes to drum sticks, which increases the volume and intensity a bit, with Silberstein continuing to reel off some great guitar lines, followed by some breathing room (similar in a way to Rubalcaba’s piano solo on the version above from Diz). At about 4:45, Silberstein’s guitar solo comes to an end and Penman moves from the walking bassline support to the melodic lead. He starts with the “Woody ‘N You” melody before moving into an improvisation on the melody, backed again by Rueckert’s brushes and some chords from Silberstein. At about 6:10, an open drum break for Rueckert, who stays with the brushes for this extended solo. Rueckert’s solo is nicely tied to the melody, which he re-states on the drums at about 7:30, moving back into the tune’s head, led by Silberstein’s guitar. They play through the head and then add a little tag onto the end to bring the tune to a close. Wow – I can’t say I was familiar with Yotam Silberstein, but this is an impressive version of “Woody ‘N You,” with great solos from everyone and a great trio sound.

George Colligan and Helen Sung got together at the 2014 PDX Jazz Festival in Portland, OR to do a piano duet version of “Woody ‘N You.” After playing through the tune’s head, Sung takes the first solo starting at about 0:40 here. Really nice line, a fast run at about 1:15… it’s not always clear who is playing which part in this recording as the two pianos mesh for one sound, but at about 1:45 or 1:50, there’s a smooth transition from Sung’s solo to Colligan taking the lead. Shortly after 2:30, Colligan is really digging in, enjoying himself with a big solo. At about 3:00, the lead is passed back to Sung, and then Colligan and Sung go back and forth, trading impressive phrases while keeping the chord structure going underneath all this. At about 4:15, they return to the head. They play through this much the same as in the opening, but at about 4:30, there’s a really cool section where they quiet down a little and play some really impressive stuff on top of that. Shortly afterward, they come to a close and the video comes to an abrupt end.

This could go on – there are many, many versions of “Woody ‘N You” out there. I’ll also just mention a few more recent versions of the tune here – versions led by John Scofield, Mike Moreno, Arturo Sandoval, and (reaching back to 1978 here) Hank Jones will keep your ears plenty busy. Now over seventy years since the tune was first recorded for what became Coleman Hawkins’ Rainbow Mist, “Woody ‘N You” has continued to fascinate jazz musicians and to evolve in exciting ways. I want so badly to make a terrible pun here about how today’s jazz musicians are adding the ‘next’ to this great bop tune from Dizzy Gillespie, and so this sentence will have to suffice. Keep listening.

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