“Jazz Monthly Feature Interview” William Woods
Smitty: It give me great pleasure to welcome one of the hippest cats in the business. I am just stoked to have him here for the first time at Jazz Monthly. He’s a friend and a great musician, and he just has a rare flair for great music. You’ve got to hear his latest new CD. It’s called The Hear and Now. Please welcome the incredible and so talented Mr. William Woods. William, how ya doin’?
William Woods (WW): Oh, very well and it’s really an honor to be interviewed by you.
Smitty: Oh my gosh. Well, it’s…
WW: We’ve been tagging back and forth with e-mails for many years and it’s really a pleasure to finally get to talk to you.
Smitty: Thank you, and same here. I really got excited when we finally nailed down a time and everything, and I remember saying that this is just so long overdue with all the great music that you have done over the past few years. I’m still listening to Cobalt Blue and Every Part of Me, and now I’m so excited about this new record, The Hear and Now. But, just take us back a little bit, because you are an oncologist and you deal with cancer patients everyday. What came first? Was it the music or the profession in the medical field?
WW: Music came way, way, way before any inkling I was gonna be going into medicine. I grew up in a musical household, not so much in terms of listening to records or whatever, but listening to my dad play the violin. He was a professional musician, got out of it, went into business for himself, but always had that yearning and that desire to play, so it was a very musical household. They encouraged me from a very early age to take up music and kinda pushed the violin on me briefly. That really didn’t work out.
WW: But I found a home with the piano and just kinda delved into composition and improvisation, which was where my home was.
Smitty: Yeah. But how did the keyboard replace the violin? Because when our parents give us an instrument, sometimes it’s hard to convince them that we want to play something else.
WW: Well, there was a piano in the home. When I hit a note, I knew what note was gonna come out of the piano whereas on the violin, it was always pretty nebulous.
Smitty: (Laughs.) Wow. When you first started to really tighten your chops with the keyboard, did you form a band right away or were you doing a solo thing as far as playing music?
WW: Actually, my background was very much in the classical realm and it was only when I was in my teens that I started getting into rock and jazz came a little later than that even. So I was a little behind on schedule, if you will, but in high school I was in the jazz band at school, I had some friends, we had a small band of our own, but nothing much to speak of there.
Smitty: I remember you saying something about dreaming of being a classical pianist and now you’re just cranking out these great jazz tunes. How did you switch gears?
WW: I guess as a kid, you know, I’d lived through all the 20th century classical composers, you know, (Prokofiev, Rachmaninov) and just in absolute awe of the technical ability that they had and the incredible music that they were pouring out. But then I came to the realization that that era, what was said was said as particularly as it could be said and things had moved on from there and I made a decision that I want to be part of something new, a new means of expression. I mean, music is constantly evolving. Emotions are being expressed in different voices in different ways constantly and the real challenge and the real beauty is putting one’s own spin on it in a way that hasn’t been said before.
Smitty: Yeah, and it’s always beautiful to see those creative expressions happening.
WW: Oh, absolutely. It never ceases to amaze me, even today, just how much new and innovative modes of expression are coming out in music.
Smitty: Yes indeed. And I think that’s such a catalyst for greater music down the road.
WW: Yeah. I’m just praying that there’s always a forum for that music to be heard.
Smitty: Yes, and I think there will be. Just like the music evolves and changes all the time, I think the outlets are starting to do that now, and change can sometimes be a difficult thing, but when we look at the bright side of that, the change is still creating opportunities and maybe perhaps as this change is taking place….there’s some limitations there….but I think in the long run that will expand and start to widen to where we will see other outlets and we’ll see other opportunities and advantages because when the Internet was first invented, it was limited. In fact, it was only limited to certain people, certain companies, and in fact that was the intent, but now look at the Internet.
WW: I was just gonna bring that up. I think that the Internet has been an amazing source of exposure for musicians who otherwise would not have a venue.
WW: And personally, I mean, I have heard a whole lot of music that I otherwise never would have. It’s been very enriching.
Smitty: Yes. So I think as we continue to inspire each other in this business, I think we will see more happening as time goes along, but it takes a little bit of patience to do that because we’re such instantaneous and instant gratification-type people, that we want it now or we want it like it used to be because that seemed to be okay, but sometimes accepting change is a difficult thing, but if we work with the change to create some different opportunities and avenues and vehicles, then perhaps we really become part of the new way of doing business in this whole arena of music.
WW: Yeah, I think if a person accepts change, then the avenues just expand tremendously.
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely. So I really feel like we’ve got some exciting times ahead in terms of music and the outlets and the way we will listen and how we listen.
WW: Yeah, it’s gonna be very exciting watching it happen and, more importantly being part of it.
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely, my friend, yes. So talk to me about the medical field. I mean, most of the time when musicians start out they stick with just one profession. It’s the music and there might be a hobby or something along the way, but you have reached out to a very demanding field and yet you’re still able to kick out a record every year or a couple of records a year, you know? That’s gotta be incredible.
WW: It can be tough and especially because I have a family now. It’s a balancing act, but each one feeds on the other.
WW: The medical profession, especially in oncology, is very demanding of one’s attention, one’s focus and one’s emotions, but the emotions have to be kept in check somewhat to function. If you take every patient, their illness and their outcome very personally, you have a very short life expectancy in the medical field.
WW: So a lot of that gets buried and it comes out with the music. Mostly now a lot of what I’m expressing at the keyboard is sort of the joy for my family, though. I have a young son and he’s been my inspiration for the last CD more than anything else.
Smitty: Yeah, I can imagine.
WW: It’s just a wonderful thing. I’m reliving my childhood through him.
WW: Better the second time or not?
Smitty: (Laughs.) Yes, always.
WW: The really great toys. He’s got some really great toys I never had as a kid.
Smitty: Oh, we can all attest to that, that’s for sure. So talk to me about your first project. I mean, when you cut your first CD, what was that like? Was that a turning point for you or just a stepping stone to the next CD?
WW: Well, it was a combination of a lot of stuff that I had been doing for many years before in terms of daring musical styles, trying to corral all of that into one semi-cohesive thing, and once it was done it freed me up to kind of focus into this certain realm, you know, sort of that Smooth Jazz realm. What was on the first CD, I mean, it represented several years of several different positions in my life….different places. It kind of showed the classical background and the progression into jazz. Looking back at it, there are some really nice moments from that. I wonder where it came from.
Smitty: I know what you mean. Talk a little bit about those profound moments that have really enhanced your career to this point.
WW: Well, for instance, on the first CD, the track “Eye for Wilda” was named after a patient I had when I was back in medical school. An AIDS patient who was losing her eyesight and I kinda bonded with her, you know, she kind of became a friend of mine. It was a very sad case. She was the daughter of the hospital chaplain who got herself into bad stuff like drugs, she was young, I think she was about 29 at the time, and just kinda watching her demise over a span of about a year and a half that I’d known her and the tune was named because she was kinda going blind at the time.
WW: Yeah, that had a very strong impact on me. There was a period of time right around when that first CD came out and afterwards when I kinda felt like I was floundering.
Smitty: I can just imagine.
WW: I didn’t know where I was going in my career geographically, trying to put everything together, and that’s about the time when I started to write all the stuff for Cobalt Blue.
Smitty: Yeah, what a great record. Man, that’s one of my favorites and I can remember when that one first came out and I remember saying to myself, why don’t I know this guy? Where has he been? But we’ve kept up with your great career and we’re just so excited that you’ve cut another album, and I really like this album, and I can see the natural progression in your music from Cobalt Blue to now with The Hear and Now. What a great ride.
WW: I was going to say that it has been a challenge trying to find my place in terms of the musical realm, for a few reasons. Number one, I’m not really a performer. I don’t have the time or the luxury to do that, so to get my music heard I wanted to be somewhat within a genre where I have the forum to have it listened to. Straight ahead jazz, if you get something on the airwaves, it doesn’t have the frequency of play that you get in Smooth Jazz. On the other hand, Smooth Jazz is a more limiting field in terms of expression. Right now I feel like I exist somewhere in between the two.
WW: There seems to be a void there where a lot of musicians seem to live and cry out for an avenue. I don’t know what you’d call it. A new genre? It’s sort of a fusion realm? But again, I’m trying to live in that Smooth Jazz area, but there’s a lot I wanna say yet. Something I realized recently is that what gets remembered is what’s profound and what’s not safe.
Smitty: Yeah. Well, music is such a free expression and your fans want to hear what’s in your heart, what you have to offer, and I think you express that well, especially with this latest CD, and sometimes we wonder when we do anything, any kind of project, we wonder, well, how is it going to be received and let’s see what happens with it. And most of the time we find that there’s a connection between the fans and the artist and the music that we didn’t realize was there, and sometimes it’s almost like having a conversation with someone and finding out you have so many commonalities, and so the music is that voice or that communicative mechanism that connects people all the time.
WW: Absolutely. I guess where I was going with that is that I feel at this point I’m ready to take another leap, to really kinda free up where the music is going.
WW: Harmonically, melodically, kinda go more out there, if you know where I’m going.
WW: I’ve been listening to some Brad Mehldau lately and it’s just been blowing me away thinking, you know, you’re saying a lotta stuff that I’d like to say in a slightly different way but, I mean, it’s that freedom that I think is the next step.
Smitty: Yes, man, well, Brad is quite an inspiration, that’s for sure.
WW: Oh, absolutely.
Smitty: Wow, that’s very cool.
WW: And actually I listened to….have you heard of a Japanese pianist, Hiromi?
Smitty: Yes. Oh yes.
WW: Holy cow!
WW: Oh yeah. You know, I actually stumbled upon her on My Space and never knew she existed and just listening to that opened up my head, opened up my ears and, you know, I see a transition taking place or I don’t know where it’s gonna take me, but I know it’s gonna be a good place.
Smitty: (Laughs.) Absolutely, man. Yeah, that’s great music. Been listening to Hiromi for a number of years now. Let’s see, I wanna say that Hiromi was on the Telarc label. Well, talk to me a little bit about this new record, man. I mean, I love this artwork. Wow! Who was the creative soul?
WW: The graphic artist was Dave Arruda, who is with the Whaling City label.
Smitty: Very nice. Let’s talk about the band. I mean, you’ve got a great band here and well introduced on this record.
WW: The band is fairly similar to the last album with the major exception of the drummer. The drummer on this CD is Derico Watson, who, I mean, we just connected musically. I mean, he just kinda picked up on what I was trying to say and then it became this rapport between him and Chris Kent, the bass player, and just set up this incredible rhythm track. And then Denny Jiosa, I mean, he just really stepped up to the plate with the guitar, background and the solo, and actually I started stepping back, taking away some of the solos that I did, to give him more space to play ‘cause he’s a beautiful guitarist.
Smitty: Yes indeed. Wow. I love his playing as well. And who’s your upright bass player?
WW: Alana Rocklin. She did a really fabulous job.
WW: She only sat in on one of the tunes, “Pensacolada,” but, I mean, she really did that song justice.
Smitty: Yes indeed. It’s a great track.
WW: It’s an ode to my favorite place to hang out.
Smitty: Oh really?
WW: Yeah, Pensacola.
Smitty: Oh yeah, what a great place. I love that white sand.
WW: Oh yeah.
Smitty: That’s one of my favorite tracks and I love “Not Suitable for Children.” That’s a kickin’ track.
Smitty: And I guess my number one favorite has gotta be “Sweet Surrender.”
WW: Wow, interesting.
Smitty: Yeah, what can I say? I love that track. It’s very nice. Well, you’ve got 12 fantastic tunes on here. So much that my favorite track changes from day to day.
WW: Thank you very much.
Smitty: You’re so welcome. And it’s just a beautiful album and I am just enjoying this and can’t wait to introduce this to the world and let a few more people know that William Woods is out there making some great music.
WW: I sure do appreciate that.
Smitty: Yes indeed. So, now, you’ve also done some incredible work with Habitat for Humanity. That certainly is a worthy effort and very admirable.
WW: Yes. I was aware of them for several years, but they really took on a whole new meaning right after Hurricane Katrina. My wife and I were very, very fortunate in having gone out of town right before the hurricane had come to our area and we were sitting out in Phoenix watching all the events unfold on television and it was just amazingly heartbreaking, and even though the hurricane had pretty much gone through, the center of it almost came through our town. We were inland enough so that the damage was nowhere on the same magnitude as on the coast, but feeling so amazingly lucky, number one, that we were safe; number two, that we had a home and knowing that we needed to do something for those people who didn’t, and several people that we knew, their lives were just profoundly affected by the hurricane. I mean, we’ve had friends who’ve lost everything that they’ve had, have lost family members…that’s when charity took on a whole new meaning for me.
Smitty: Talk about some of the things that you’ve done to get involved with Habitat for Humanity on this level after Katrina. Talk about some of your post-Katrina efforts.
WW: Aside from personal contributions, I’ve decided to contribute half of any profits from my new CD to Habitat for Humanity.
Smitty: Oh, that’s excellent.
WW: And any publicity that I can get for them.
Smitty: That’s beautiful. Wow. So, now, how are things going there from what you can ascertain from just being close to the scene there? Talk about how things are progressing.
WW: That’s a very tough thing to say because we’ve driven along pretty much the entire coastline from I’d say Waveland all the way over to Biloxi and the amount of devastation is unbelievable. They had some of the most charming communities down there which just got physically destroyed, but then you see things like small businesses starting to pop their heads up in Bay St. Louis, and just the spirit and the character starting to resurface and it’s very heartening. I think the bigger places like Gulfport and Biloxi are gonna have a very long and upward struggle.
Smitty: Yeah. We see only so much on television, but it’s great to hear someone that’s there close to the scene to sort of give us a better picture or a little more in-depth picture of what’s happening. I know that a lot of musicians have made donations through the sales of their music and that kind of thing, but I often wonder, because there’s been some benefit concerts and that kind of thing, what’s your assessment of how the music is contributing to the healing of this catastrophic event?
WW: Well, I think it definitely helps just on the spiritual level, but with a lot of those communities there’s a certain strength within them that has existed for a long time. I think it’s very difficult when certain towns, their entire industry, their entire businesses, have gotten wiped out, but some of the other towns, I mean, you can start seeing that spirit getting lifted up and business getting back not to as usual but getting back.
Smitty: Yeah, well, that’s a wonderful thing to hear, that there is some resiliency there and people are starting to pick up the pieces, and it’s just so admirable when people like yourself are making a difference and those efforts to bring those communities back. I think that’s a beautiful thing.
WW: It’s a great feeling to do it.
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely. Well, let’s hope for the best and let’s hope that people continue to assist those that are in need because the need has been mentioned so many times in the media, that need is going to be there for quite some time, so we don’t want to forget those people, and any time we have opportunities to assist in any way we can, because there’s a variety of ways that we can help, we want to certainly take advantage of those opportunities, that’s for sure.
WW: Oh, absolutely. One other thing, just seeing on a local and regional level the amount of help within the communities and from other communities down towards the coast, it’s just an incredible thing that, I mean, I think that we have all pretty much seen how it’s very tough to rely on the government in situations like that but, I mean, and people coming out and clearing the highways right after the hurricane came, seeing the contributions, getting people back into homes, getting them clothes, getting them food or whatever else, is a beautiful thing.
Smitty: Yes. Well, you love to hear those wonderful stories after something so horrible has happened, so we certainly want to thank all of those wonderful people as well as yourself and congratulate all of you on taking advantage of the opportunity to give when it is so important and so needed.
Smitty: Yes indeed. So, now, talk to me about your Web site. You have a Web site.
WW: Yeah, www.williamwoods.net. And also I have something up on My Space as well.
Smitty: Oh, very cool, man.
WW: William Woods Piano.
Smitty: All right, very cool.
WW: Excellent. Any readers or listeners who wanna contact me, I’d love to hear from them.
Smitty: Oh, very cool, yeah. Well, it’s always great when the musician is accessible, yes. Well, William, I am just totally excited about this great new record and I applaud you for the profession that you have chosen in the medical field because the patients that you deal with are patients that are totally in need of care, and it’s great to talk with a musician that has that kind of heart to reach out to people and help them in so many ways, because you’re helping them in the medical field but when we really nail it down, the music is very therapeutic, so you have covered quite a bit of the spectrum in your ability to reach people and to help them.
WW: I always looked at the duality from the music standpoint, thinking about how being in medicine helped the music, but lately it occurred to me that the music gives me a certain humanity or puts me in touch with that humanity, which has really made a difference on the patients, which is really what keeps me in the profession. Technically it’s not that difficult, the doctoring. The decision-making is pretty cut and dry. There is some creativity there in radiation oncology but, I mean, medicine is medicine to a large extent, but the dealing with the patients, that connectedness, that touching them on a visceral level to make a difference in their lives, I think that the music has really helped me out in that regard.
Smitty: Yes indeed. Man, it’s a beautiful combination, it really is. Well, William, I really have enjoyed talking with you about this great music, your careers, and all the things that you’re doing in association with helping people, and excited that you’ve got another record out there.
WW: Thank you very much and hopefully there’ll be another one coming in the not too distant future.
Smitty: For sure, and we always look forward to it and let’s get back together when that happens. And let’s not wait til then. Let’s get back together and talk some more even before then.
WW: Absolutely. One thing, I want to definitely congratulate you on your new endeavor (Jazz Monthly).
Smitty: Oh, thank you. It’s been a work in progress and a lot of fun, we’ve enjoyed some successes that we never did imagine would happen so quickly, and it’s just been a beautiful ride thus far and we’re having fun, but thank you very much for remembering that.
WW: Oh, you’re welcome.
Smitty: Yeah, well, ‘cause you remember me back from the old Jazz Nation days.
Smitty: Those were fun times and it’s funny how when we move along in life, things just continue to move forward and progress, and as long as we keep those creative juices flowing, things just continue to be a lot of fun, and I’m just having a good time and enjoying the space and the time and the ride.
Smitty: All right. We’ve been talking with Whaling City Sound music recording artist Mr. William Woods. He has a great new record out, it’s called The Hear and Now, I highly recommend this album. William, thanks so much for the great conversation and I hope we can stay in touch, and please keep making beautiful music, my friend.
WW: I sure will. Thank you very much.
Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
For More Information Visit www.williamwoods.net and www.myspace.com/williamwoodspiano
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