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Britt Woodman
Britt Woodman
October 13, 2000
Age 80 
Respiratory Illness 
 
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Britt Woodman, Noted Trombonist For Duke Ellington, Dies At 80

                     Trombonist Britt Woodman, who was one of the sturdy pillars of the Duke Ellington big band in the 1950s, died Friday (Oct. 13) in Hawthorne, Calif., after a battle with respiratory illness.    He was 80.  

                      In 1951, Woodman replaced the highly-regarded Lawrence Brown as first trombonist in the Ellington orchestra, and earned the respect of his bandleader, his fellow musicians, and jazz fans for generations to come.  

                     "He was always one of my inspirations, a good friend," says trombonist Steve Turre, who featured Woodman on his albums Steve Turre and Rhythm Within. "As far as playing the trombone goes, he was top shelf. His chops were ridiculous. He was a grand master, and just a sweetheart."  

                     Trombonist Wayne Goodman, who played beside Woodman in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, recalls Woodman's reputation among the younger players. "If he wasn't like a father-figure, he was certainly like a grandfather figure," says Goodman. "Ever since I found out who Duke Ellington was, I found out who Britt Woodman was, and he's always had that kind of special ranking to me. Listen to any one of those records that he's on with Duke, and hear him play -- and that's enough."  

                     Britt Bingham Woodman was born in Los Angeles June 4,  1920, to a musical family. The teenaged Woodman, who played piano, tenor sax, and clarinet as well as trombone, joined a family band with his brothers. His first few years as a professional musician were interrupted by military service during World War II, but in 1946, he joined the innovative orchestra of Boyd Raeburn. Gigs with Eddie Heywood and Lionel Hampton followed, before Woodman attended Los Angeles' Westlake College from 1948-50.  

                     During Woodman's tenure with the Ellington orchestra, he appeared on Blue Moods, an unusual, one-off Miles Davis recording date for Charles Mingus' Debut Records, where Woodman backed the trumpeter along with Mingus on bass, Teddy Charles on vibraphone, and Elvin Jones on drums. In a career that spanned many decades, Woodman was featured on albums by Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Jimmy Smith, Sarah Vaughan, Rosemary Clooney, and many  others.  

                     Woodman joined up with Mingus in 1961, and later played in the ensembles of such leaders as Benny Goodman, Quincy Jones, Benny Carter, Chico Hamilton, Oliver Nelson, Nelson Riddle, and the Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin big band. Woodman, who alternated between living in New York and Los Angeles, remained highly active through the 1990s, where he appeared with such bands as the LCJO, the Mingus Big Band, and David Berger's Sultans Of Swing.

                     In recent years, Woodman had returned to his family in Los Angeles as he coped with the respiratory problems that would ultimately claim his life. A widower who had no children, Woodman is survived by his brothers, Coney, William, and George Woodman.  

                                                          -- Drew Wheeler

    
                                            Britt Woodman; Key L.A. Jazz Figure Played  Trombone With Duke Ellington  

                                            By JON THURBER, Times Staff Writer 

Britt Woodman, an important figure in the growth of the vibrant Los Angeles jazz scene in the 1930s and '40s, who became more widely known for his work as a trombonist with Duke Ellington's Orchestra a decade later, has died.  
  
Woodman died Friday at Robert F. Kennedy Medical Center in Hawthorne, according to his niece Beverly Woodman. He was 80 and had been suffering from severe respiratory problems.  In a career that encompassed one of jazz's most unusual musical journeys, Woodman was active in the late '30s in such swing-oriented ensembles as the Les Hite Band.  
  
He also played with the iconoclastic Boyd Raeburn Band of the mid-1940s before becoming a stalwart of the Duke Ellington Orchestra trombone sections in the 1950s. With Ellington, he was featured on numbers such as "Sonnet To Hank V" (from "Such Sweet Thunder") and "Red Garter" (from "Toot Suite").  
  
Woodman's versatility was such that he was comfortable in almost any setting. He recorded with Miles Davis; worked frequently with Charles Mingus (he is present on the classic recording "Mingus, Mingus, Mingus"); was a member of the brass section for John Coltrane's "Complete Africa/Brass Sessions;" played in a long list of big bands, including the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra; and was active in the studios as well as in orchestra pits for theatrical musicals.  
  
"Woodman was a consummate sideman, his professionalism apparent in his capacity to deal with such a wide array of musical demands," said Don Heckman, The Times jazz writer. "But he was also a first-rate improviser, with a highly personal style."  
  
Born in Los Angeles on June 4, 1920, Woodman grew up in Watts as a member of a musical family. His father, a trombone player, believed that as the country entered the Depression, the best financial opportunities for his sons would come from making music.  
  
Britt Woodman started playing piano at age 7. A short time later his father gave him a trombone, and then a saxophone and a clarinet. By the age of 15, Woodman was playing professionally in a group with two older brothers: the Woodman Brothers Biggest Little Band in the World.  
  
They were so versatile and proficient as musicians that they often traded instruments in the middle of a set. It was not uncommon, for instance, for Britt Woodman to begin a set playing alto saxophone and then switch to trombone and finally to clarinet.  
  
His older brother William--who had a professional career as a tenor saxophonist--also played clarinet and trumpet. A third brother, Coney, played piano and banjo. Their father managed the group, handled the bookings and arranged the music.  
  
In the book "Central Avenue Sounds," a history of the flourishing jazz scene near Central Avenue around World War II, William Woodman Jr. recalled that he and his brothers were well known among local musicians.  
  
"We were recognized because we were the only musicians who doubled on three instruments," he said. "You didn't hear of anybody doubling on brass."  
  
After the band split up about five years later, Britt Woodman played in a variety of clubs on Central Avenue, including the legendary Club Alabam.  
  
One of the clubs he worked in, he recalled in "Central Avenue Sounds," was owned by the gangster Mickey Cohen. "Our payroll checks were signed by him," Woodman said.  
  
Woodman served in the Army during World War II and studied music on the GI Bill at Westlake College after his discharge. He joined Ellington a few years later and lived for the better part of his career in New York City. When Woodman married in the mid-1950s, Mingus was the best man. His wife, Clara, died in 1991. They had no children.  
  
He was active professionally until 1997 when his health declined. He returned to Los Angeles earlier this year. Funeral arrangements  were incomplete. ~ LA Times 
 

 
 
 

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All-Music Guide
 
b. 4 June 1920, Los Angeles, California, USA.  
d. 13 Oct. 2000 Hawthorne, CA 
  
 An extremely versatile trombone soloist, Britt Woodman led Duke Ellington's section in the '50s and was flexible enough to record with Charles Mingus and Miles Davis. Woodman had range, fire and the harmonic knowledge to handle sophisticated big band and swing dates, and Mingus' futuristic, challenging arrangements. Woodman and Mingus were boyhood friends as well as longtime musical associates. Woodman played with Phil Moore and Les Hite in the '30s, then with Boyd Raeburn and Eddie Heywood in the mid-'40s before joining Lionel Hampton in 1946. He studied music at Westlake College in Los Angeles from 1948 to 1950, then joined Ellington. Woodman replaced Lawrence Brown and remained with Ellington until 1960. In 1955 he also recorded in a band led by Miles Davis that included Mingus. Woodman worked in several Broadway shows in the '60s, and also recorded with Mingus on three sessions ranging from 1960 to 1963. He then returned to California in 1970, where he recorded, leading an octet, and played with the Akiyoshi-Tabackin, Capp-Pierce and Bill Berry bands. Woodman toured Japan twice with Benny Carter in the late '70s, then returned to New York in the '80s, where he played with swing and bebop bands. -- Ron Wynn
 
 
  
 
 

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