The Contemporary Arts Center and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Foundation continued their long-standing collaboration by presenting NEA Jazz Master Phil Woods in March 2010 as part of the NEA Jazz Masters Live program, the first time Woods had been engaged as part of the program. Woods presented his long-form work, The Children's Suite, only the second time the piece has been performed publicly. In addition, Woods opened rehearsals to students of Roots of Music, an after-school music program, and ones from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), where the concert was publicly presented.
The Children's Suite is a composition for a 15-piece jazz orchestra and two vocalists (old hands Bob Dorough and Vickie Doney) based on the poetry of A. A. Milne, best know for his Winnie-the-Pooh stories. Eleven of the orchestra members were local musicians, engaged by the Contemporary Arts Center for the special event. Despite having written the work 40 years ago, it was only the second time The Children's Suite had been performed due to permissions issues -- but Woods was not deterred. "I just loved the poems," Woods told Willard Jenkins."'My kids had the book…. I started to read it, and I thought, 'This would make nice songs.' So I went and wrote 18 songs in about three months. They just poured out -- I think it was just destined to be composed and performed. The moral of the story is never, never give up."
And his being awarded an NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship in 2007 helped him finish the project once he obtained the permissions. "I used the money I got when I was made a Jazz Master and invested it in this piece," Woods said. "I took the money and paid for rehearsals, went into my own pocket and paid PBS $5K to show it [the premiere performance of The Children's Suite in 2009]."
The Contemporary Arts Center was thrilled to present the work. Jay Weigal, the center's executive director, said, "It turned out to be very different than I originally thought, this top-notch big band-with-strings jazz; it wasn't kiddie music. We decided to present this at New Orleans Center for Contemporary Art, and these are kids who have interest in music, so they would find this music accessible and interesting and push them in their ears." Collaborating with NOCCA helped involve more students in the event by attending the rehearsals and performance. "Budget cuts on the state level have been horrid in the arts," Weigal continued. "Without the support of the NEA Jazz Masters Live, this couldn't have happened here -- no way…. This year, New Orleans Center for Contemporary Arts just doesn't have the resources to do these types of events. So I talked to Don Marshall at the Jazz & Heritage Foundation and said, 'Let's do this one at New Orleans Center for Contemporary Arts,' because we had the money to do it."
Not just the kids appreciated the concert though. One audience member said, "This particular program is unusual. It's a very sophisticated kind of sound in jazz…. Masters of Phil Woods' age are still evolving and writing -- and hearing things and putting it out there -- and are really nice to hear."