Phil Woods, a preeminent alto saxophonist in jazz for more than half a century, performing alongside musicians including Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman and featured on Billy Joel’s 1977 hit “Just the Way You Are,” died Sept. 29 at a hospital in East Stroudsburg, Pa. He was 83.
The cause was complications from lung disease, said his agent, Joel Chriss. Mr. Woods had emphysema but continued to perform until shortly before his death using an oxygen tank — his “amplifier,” he said. He announced his retirement less than a month ago at a concert in Pittsburgh, according to the city’s Post-Gazette.
Mr. Woods inherited a saxophone as a boy, trained at the Juilliard School in New York and became a prolific performer and recording artist who worked with many of the most prominent jazz musicians of his era.
Jazz critic Nate Chinen, writing in the New York Times, once observed that Mr. Woods was capable of “bulletlike runs and flurries,” with a sound that was “pinpoint-clear,” and that “he leaned into his notes, giving them a physical presence in the room.”
Mr. Woods received four Grammy Awards — the first for the 1975 album “Images,” made with Michel Legrand, and the last for the 1983 album “At The Vanguard,” featuring the Phil Woods Quartet. In 2007, he was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master.
Mr. Woods was widely regarded as an heir to Charlie Parker, the alto saxophonist who, along with trumpeter Gillespie, introduced the lightning-fast and intricate bebop style in the 1940s. Quincy Jones, the musician and producer, heard Mr. Woods perform in the mid-1950s and connected him with Gillespie, then preparing for a State Department tour abroad.
Jones “discovered me, to make it real simple,” Mr. Woods once told the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger. “I was hired to play second alto, though I played lead on all the bebop tunes.”
Mr. Woods described his association with Gillespie as a “benediction,” the seal of his worthiness as a musician. He later performed with Goodman, the clarinetist and big-band leader known as the King of Swing, on his tour of the Soviet Union in 1962.
For years, Mr. Woods led his own small groups. Beyond jazz circles, he was known for his extended solo in “Just the Way You Are,” a Grammy Award-winning ballad, and his displays of bebop virtuosity in “Have a Good Time” on Paul Simon’s 1975 album “Still Crazy After All These Years.”
Philip Wells Woods was born in Springfield, Mass., on Nov. 2, 1931. He studied jazz under pianist Lennie Tristano and at Juilliard, where he majored in the clarinet and received a bachelor’s degree in 1952.
His first marriage, in 1957, was to Chan Parker, a former dancer widely identified as the last wife of Charlie Parker, although they had not legally wed before his death in 1955. She and Mr. Woods lived for a time in France, where he led a group called the European Rhythm Machine.
“It was hard to be an American in 1968,” he told an interviewer for Jazz Times. “Chan was very active, and we both felt we had to make a statement. But it wasn’t only political dissatisfaction. I was getting sucked into the studio thing and wasn’t playing any music.”
Mr. Woods’s marriage to Parker ended in divorce. He later was married for more than three decades to Jill Goodwin, the sister of drummer Bill Goodwin, who, along with bassist Steve Gilmore, performed with Mr. Woods for many years.
Mr. Woods lived in Delaware Water Gap, Pa. Besides his wife, survivors include a son, several stepchildren and a grandson, according to his agent.
While many listeners found a link between his music and that of Charlie Parker, Mr. Woods was widely admired for having developed a sound all his own.
“I never thought I sounded like Charlie Parker, that’s too hard,” he once told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I’m just a pale reflection of the sun, man, but even the moon has pretty light.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the album “At the Vanguard” was released in 1982. It was released in 1983.