Wednesday night 20-year-old alto saxophonist Roger Woods expects to be in fast company during the unveiling of the brand new Howard University Jazz Repertory Orchestra. He'll be sitting between local legend Buck Hill and Charlie Rouse (Thelonious Monk's longtime saxophonist). "Yeah, there's no other way to describe it," Woods admits. "It's hot. In fact, it has me a little nervous."
The Howard senior, a native of Baltimore, can take some courage by looking at the Down Beat Magazine award given to him last year as the best collegiate soloist. It was the second year in a row that a Howard University student won the prestigious award; the 1980 winner, Wallace Roney, brings his quintet to Blues Alley tomorrow night. Three other Howard students also won awards from Down Beat, and Woods says that, while schools like Berklee and Eastman gain most of the attention, Howard's undergrads "are finally starting to get some recognition."
Woods, who is also a member of the Howard Jazz Ensemble, spent last summer playing with Charlie Persip's big band in New York. It was in earlier studies that Woods first encountered the immense contributions of the Billy Eckstine Big Band, the mid-'40s unit that served as incubator for the revolutionary bebop movement; Wednesday's free concert at Cramton Auditorium will revive music associated with that band. "I knew of the great players who had come out of that band -- Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie." Another Eckstine grad, Dexter Gordon, opens a week-long run at Blues Alley on Tuesday.
Among the all-stars playing are Ron Carter, Curtis Fuller and John Malachi. Says Woods, "I'm looking forward to playing in their company because I'll have a chance to really listen to how the music's supposed to be played."