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Happiest When Playing Blues : Saxophonist Rickey Woodard Loves, Lives to Play and It Shows in His Style


If you've ever seen saxophonist Rickey Woodard at work, you can tell the guy is imbued with his art: He relaxes and leans backward when he's improvising, his foot constantly patting, keeping the beat. He seems to be smiling as he solos.

"I love it so much when I'm playing," says the 37-year-old tenor and alto man, who will be with drummer Frank Capp's trio tonight through Sunday at Maxwell's in Huntington Beach. "It's something spiritual, a part of me that I would never be able to stop. I've been doing it almost all my life. I feel it."

And listeners feel him. Woodard knows how to swing, how to play those phrases that get across to an audience, that make people do their own foot-tapping. His renditions of jazz classics and pop standards convey a warmth and listenable quality that some might even call "old-fashioned."

"Yes, I'm an old-fashioned player," he agreed on the phone from his home in Burbank. "I like the jazz of the '40s and '50s." At the heart of his appealing approach is an affinity for the blues, music he's been hearing for as long as he can remember.

His father, who gave him his first saxophone when he was a teen-ager, led an R&B band (in which young Rickey eventually performed) and played blues records around the house. From 1980 to '87, Woodard toured with Ray Charles, one of the greatest blues singers ever.

"I loved being in that band, getting a chance to travel the world and being able to listen to Ray. When he takes a song, he becomes part of it; he and the song become one. That really influenced me. I'd get so wrapped up listening to him that I'd forget to come in and play my part."

The slim sax man said Charles' artistry taught him to be honest and personal in a performance. "He showed me that you should be comfortable with what you do, so that whatever you are, that will come out in the music, that will come out of your horn."

His influences also include Ben Webster, George Coleman, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt and Hank Mobley, sax players who all made a big sound, a "warm sound (that) reaches out and grabs you. Your sound comes first. Everything comes after that. A big sound becomes more than just a sound; it becomes part of you."


A native of Nashville, Woodard has lived in Los Angeles since 1978. He returned this month from his second tour of Europe, and his second record, "Night Mist," recently was released on the Fresh Sound label. He has played on recordings by the Clayton-Hamilton big band and by Capp's trio, which also includes pianist Tom Ranier and bassist Chuck Berghofer.

Woodard said he finds working with Capp to be one of life's great pleasures (they also have worked together in Capp's Juggernaut Big Band). "He's tasty," Woodard said.

* Rickey Woodard plays with Frank Capp's trio tonight, Saturday at 8:30, 10:30 p.m.; Sunday at 4, 6 p.m. at Maxwell's, 317 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach. $5 cover, $7 food or drink charge, per show. Information (714) 536-2555.

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