Multi-reed musician who started out playing the saxophone and then moved on to the clarinet. In his long and extremely busy recording career, he played virtually all of the woodwind instruments, making him invaluable as a session musician.
He joined the musicians’ union Local 802 in 1938 and after receiving some formal training at New York University he started playing professionally in The Big Apple in the 1940s. In the 1950s, he added the flute and oboe to his repertoire and hooked up with Benny Goodman’s jazz combo, sometimes sitting in for him at The Rainbow Room.
Some of his earliest recordings were a pair of 78s by Tony Bennett with Percy Faith and His Orchestra in 1955. Right away, he showed his versatility, performing alto sax, clarinet and tenor sax on “Afraid of the Dark” backed with “Come Next Spring” and clarinet and tenor sax on “How Can I Replace You?” backed with “(Come Back and) Tell Me That You Love Me”. In 1958, he appeared on the Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaboration Porgy and Bess, Billie Holiday’s Lady in Satin, and Cootie Williams in Hi-Fi. He was also a member of The Metropolitan Jazz Quartet, which released five LPs on the MGM label.
Phil was highly prolific on RCA’s Living Jazz and Enoch Light’s Command recordings. He recorded ten albums in 1960 alone. In 1962, he played bass clarinet and flute on Jackie Paris’s self-titled LP, The Song is Paris.
Around this time, Phil started putting together a group called The Brass Ring, modeled after Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, but with more emphasis on reed instruments. In fact, one of Phil’s compositions, “The Now Sound”, from the 1967 album of the same name, has become a catch-phrase for easy listening 1960s music, which frequently featured jazz musicians covering pop-rock songs in an effort to make them more palatable for a generation largely weaned on jazz.
In 1965, The Brass Ring scored a #1 hit with their version of “Love Theme from The Flight of the Phoenix”. Another one of their recordings, “The Disadvantages of You” was scooped up by advertisers for a Benson & Hedges campaign. Around this time, a whiskey-maker, Black and White, ponied up the money for a promo featuring Phil essentially comprising his own woodwind section.
The Brass Ring continued to churn out albums throughout the mid-to-late ‘60s, including The Best of Dunhill, The Dis-Advantages of You, Gazpacho, Lara’s Theme, Love Theme from The Flight of the Phoenix, The Now Sound of The Brass Ring, Only Love, and Sunday Night at the Movies.
Phil appeared on the equally popcorn-flavored album, The Best of Movie Themes 1970, with Enoch Light and the Light Brigade: Again, Phil was a one-man wind brigade, multi-tasking on alto sax, clarinet, English horn, and flute. In 1971, he appeared on the George Benson album, White Rabbit, and the soundtrack of The Landlord. He followed this up with another Brass Ring project, Project 3, specifically, which hit the shelves in 1972. In 1973, he performed on the Donny Hathaway album, Extension of a Man. He then reunited with George Benson on Bad Benson and Bill Evans on Symbiosis, both released in 1974. In 1975, he appeared on self-titled albums by The Brass Ring, The Manhattan Transfer, and Oscar Peterson, as well as performing on Janis Ian’s Between the Lines and Grover Washington, Jr.’s Mister Magic. He then hooked up for a pair of Van McCoy albums, The Real McCoy and Rhythms of the World, both released in 1976. In 1978, he appeared on Chaka Khan’s self-titled album, Carly Simon’s Boys in the Trees, and the soundtrack of The Wiz. He was one of many musicians on Frank Sinatra’s Trilogy and Sesame Disco!, which were both unveiled in 1979.
In 1980, Phil’s own moniker emblazoned a pair of albums, Fine and Dandy and New York Jam, he celebrated the Yuletide with Meco on Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album, and performed on the soundtrack of Fame.
As the studio scene of the ‘70s faded into memory, Phil concentrated more of his attention on the New York Club scene, gigging with George Duvivier, Mel Lewis, and Marty Napoleon.
He continued recording intermittently, especially on movie soundtracks such as Alan and Naomi, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Bullets Over Broadway, The Glass Menagerie, and Mo’ Better Blues. Phil even has a credit on a Talking Heads album, 1988’s Naked.
In 1990, he released Jammin’ at Phil’s Place. He has been immortalized in CD form on latter-day re-packagings, including 2004’s The Genius of Phil Bodner and The Clarinet Virtuosity of Phil Bodner: Once More with Feeling!, which was released the year before his death. Other albums on which he appears include The Girl from Ipanema and other Hits, Wes Montgomery Plays for Lovers, Billy Taylor with Four Flutes, and Phoebe Tyler Regrets… Ruth Warrick Sings (and Tells).
He passed away in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2008 when he was 88 years old.
Frank Sinatra recordings
That’s What God Looks Like To Me (Stan Irvin/Lan O’Kun)
Reprise RPS 49233 (XNY2101S) (US 45)
Theme from “New York, New York” (Fred Ebb/John Kander)
Reprise RPS49233 (XNY 2103 S) (US 45)