Phil Woods, a pre-eminent alto saxophonist in jazz for more than half a century, performing alongside musicians including Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman and featured on Billy Joel's 1977 hit "Just the Way You Are," died Tuesday at a hospital in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. He was 83.
The cause was complications from lung disease, said his agent, Joel Chriss. Woods had emphysema but continued to perform, using an oxygen tank -- his "amplifier," he said -- until shortly before his death. He announced his retirement less than a month ago at a concert in Pittsburgh, according to the city's Post-Gazette.
Woods inherited a saxophone as a boy, trained at the Juilliard School in Manhattan and became a prolific performer and recording artist who worked with many of the prominent jazz musicians of his era.
Jazz critic Nate Chinen, writing in The New York Times, once observed that Woods was capable of "bulletlike runs and flurries" with a sound that was "pinpoint-clear," and that "he leaned into his notes, giving them a physical presence."
Woods received four Grammys. In 2007, he was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master.
He was widely regarded as an heir to Charlie Parker, the alto saxophonist who, along with trumpeter Gillespie, introduced the lightning-fast and intricate bebop style in the 1940s. Quincy Jones, the musician and producer, heard Woods perform in the mid-1950s and connected him with Gillespie.
Woods described his association with Gillespie as a "benediction," the seal of his worthiness as a musician. He later performed with Goodman, the big band leader known as the King of Swing, on his tour of the Soviet Union in 1962.
Other collaborators included Jones, saxophonist and bandleader Benny Carter, pianist Thelonious Monk and fluegelhorn master Clark Terry.
Beyond jazz circles, Woods was known for his extended solo in "Just the Way You Are," a Grammy-winning ballad, and his displays of bebop virtuosity in "Have a Good Time" on Paul Simon's 1975 album "Still Crazy After All These Years."
Woods' first marriage, in 1957, was to Chan Parker, a former dancer widely identified as the last wife of Charlie Parker, although they had not legally wed before his death in 1955.
The marriage ended in divorce. He later was married for more than three decades to Jill Goodwin.
Woods lived in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania. Besides his wife, survivors include a son, according to his agent.
While many listeners found a link between his music and that of Charlie Parker, Woods was widely admired for having developed a sound all his own.
"I never thought I sounded like Charlie Parker, that's too hard," he once told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I'm just a pale reflection of the sun, man, but even the moon has pretty light."