John T. Wood, tuba and string bass player and original member of both the Buck Creek Jazz Band and the LaSalle Dance Orchestra, died January 13 of a stroke suffered at his Annandale, VA, home.
In band appearances he was rarely in the view of the audience as he played seated with the tuba on his lap. He often said Thats the way I like it. But he frequently took center stage to sing specialty numbers with the bands, particularly crowd favorites such as Old Bones and My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes. I always looked forward to hearing from John Wood on tuba, on a vocal, or in any conversation. - STU PARCHER, friend.
The Early Days
I think I may have met John Wood a couple of years before most of the jazz lovers in town. Back in the early 1970s, practically the entire PRJC membership gathered every Tuesday evening at Shakeys Pizza Parlor in Annandale, VA, where Chuck Liebaus old Shakey Seven Jazz Band (later to become Southern Comfort) held forth. But I made a point of coming back to Shakeys on Friday to hear the delightfully entertaining duo of Bill Osborne (piano) and Charlie LaBarbera (banjo). Another regular patron was a tall fellow who lived in the neighborhood and frequently schlepped his string bass over to the pizza parlor to sit in. After that gig folded, I stayed in touch with Bill and Charlie, but the next time I saw John Wood was the 1977 PRJC picnic, when he turned up playing tuba with the brand new Buck Creek Jazz Band.
Over the years, I chatted casually with John many times, but I never learned what hed done in the Air Force until just a couple of years ago. I went to his house to deliver a CD, and for some reason (he probably asked what Id been doing lately) I began telling him about my exciting new toy, the ultralight airplane that Id been flying. He mentioned that hed been a pilot in the Air Force, so I urged him to tell me more. Turns out that he flew B-47 bombers, retrofitted for meteorological research, into hurricanes. Every pilot, from ultralighters on up to 747 drivers, learns early on to avoid storms at all cost--death lurks there. I cant even conceive of the courage it has to take to fly right into the most violent storms known to man. -- DICK BAKER
The Buck Creek Sound
John Wood was one of the original members of the Buck Creek Jazz Band, and his approach to tuba helped define the Buck Creek sound. Because his prior musical experience was on the string base he played in the style of that instrument: a four-beat rhythm and a string bass line.
But his position in the band went beyond his musical contributions: he was a dear friend to each of the band members and he usually played the role of mediator when there was a dispute within the band, which is how he earned his nickname: the chaplain.
He will be sorely missed in more ways than one! -- JIM RITTER, Co-leader, Buck Creek Jazz Band.
John Woods role in the Buck Creek Jazz Band was really twofold. First, he was the elder statesman, the moderator and the leveling voice in this group of dynamic musicians and personalities. Secondly, he was the hidden back-row leader when the band was performing.
In the bands first major festival in St. Louis in 1980 a trend was started that helped the band mature. It became a practice of Fred and Ann Wahler to invite a few close friends, the band and wives up to their room after hours for some libation, unwinding, discussion and fun. During these gatherings, comments and critiques flowed freely as it does with any group effort thats looking to improve. At times during such occasions, strong yet honest differences of opinion would surface. Thats when John would intervene and calm things down with some well chosen comments. His presence was always a steadying factor.
Johns role as the bands tuba player was clearly described a few years ago by Frank Mesich, Buck Creek co-leader, when he said that he thought John was the best tuba player on the festival circuit. He mentioned the steady beat, the clear bass notes, phrases and harmonies that provided the background for the front line to perform their magic of creative and ensemble music.
Old Bones is gone, but our memories live on. He was an exceptional musician, and a warm, friendly and humorous person. He was an inspiration to many of us and a gentle giant of a human being. -- DICK DAVIS, Buck Creek fan from the beginning.
I was introduced to John Wood early in 1996. At the suggestion of Frank Mesich, he, Johnny Roulet and Jerry Addicott (all of the Buck Creek Jazz Band) agreed to come to one of my regular Monday night rehearsals of the LaSalle Dance Orchestra. We were only a basement rehearsal group at that point but things were sounding too good not to stick with the idea of keeping that era of music alive.
It was a hard sell and we had only three gigs that first year. One at the British Embassy for a private party, the second at Borders Books in Fairfax and the third in November at the annual antique La Salle/Cadillac car show at Capital Cadillac. We donated our time and were paid in hot dogs and soft drinks. I didnt personally check it out but was told the guys paid themselves well!
John introduced our version of My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes on stage that afternoon. With a marvelous photo to document the event, he made the tune his own. He added other tunes to his repertoire with us, but Canary was always the one people asked for and is included in our first CD.
Since that time John became a friend and solid supporter of the orchestra. On a job if things werent going just right and it sounded like we were being attacked by gremlins I could always look up at John and Johnny and know Id get smiles that said its okay - dont let em get you down. Hiding behind that tuba was a genuine good person and terrific rhythm section musician. -- SALLY HILE, Leader, LaSalle Dance Orchestra.
John Wood had just returned from the Buck Creeks latest jazz cruise and became ill suddenly last Sunday as he was preparing to head out to play with the LaSalle Dance Orchestra, of which he had been a part since its beginnings in 1996, and, as noted, 25-plus years with the Buck Creek Jazz Band.
If there is to be any consolation in the death of John Wood it is in knowing that before he died he had that week on the high seas doing what he loved, and to know that he was heading out to do more of what he loved when he was stricken. -- ROB BAMBERGER, on his weekly WAMU-FM show Hot Jazz Saturday Night.
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