Jory Woodis: Timing Is Everything

In October of 2019, we saw Jory Woodis, a young clarinetist at Fritzel’s who had a captivating sound and personality. Later we saw him at Palm Court, so I introduced myself and met his wife, Brittney. We saw them several other times during that visit at my favorite places. Then in January, Jory attended the Jazz Education Network conference in New Orleans and we ran into him again several more times and met his mentor, Dr. Steve Call, he of Jazz For Cows fame. He mentioned that he and Brittney were definitely planning to move there and were looking at homes. He was lining up some gigs for March and April, so the clock was ticking.

I sent an email during the beginning of the lockdown and assumed their plans were on “hold” but they were way ahead of me. They had already bought and closed on a home (with a planned rental unit), moved lock, stock, and barrel across the country and while traveling, were informed his gigs had dissolved. Brittney secured a position with Oschner Medical Center and they hoped their month-long delayed belongings would be arriving soon. But he told me “we’re facing each challenge with a smile because we’re now residents of the Big Easy!”

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Shelly Gallichio: Where are you from and how did you get from there to New Orleans?

Jory Woodis: I grew up in Cowley, Wyoming. It is a small farming town comprised of 500 people. It was a wonderful place to grow up. I had terrific friends and had so much fun playing in cornfields, riding bikes all over town with reckless abandon: we knew the town like the back of our hands and basically had the run of it as 7 year olds. We knew all the alleys and yards we could cut through. We knew which houses had people who would trade us candy for interesting rocks that we found, though we often would just collect pieces of gravel for them if we were particularly mischievous. We collected discarded bottle caps from behind the town bar and used them as currency with other kids in the town. It was a fabulous place to grow up, and I had as good of a childhood there as anyone ever has.

Our town was so small (less than one square mile) that we only had one elementary school, grades K-5. We had one teacher per grade, and each grade had less than 15 students. My particular class only had seven other kids in it! My second grade teacher had a piano in her classroom, and nearly every day we would sing songs and she would play. She had a collection of songs that we would use to memorize state capitals, presidents, arithmetic, etc. I always gravitated towards these lessons and would watch her play in fascination and adoration anytime we would sing. We also had a great elementary music program led by Janet Palmer. I loved playing the percussion instruments in her class and singing in the choir.

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I was interested in music at an early age because my Grandfather, “Grandpa John” on my mother’s side, loved jazz music and would bring over cassette tapes of the Dukes of Dixieland, Glenn Miller, and the Benny Goodman Orchestra. I used to sit and listen to the polyphony of the front line and was absolutely enamored with the blisteringly fast arpeggiations of the clarinet in the Dukes of Dixieland recordings. There was a part of me that knew on some level that was exactly what I wanted to do.

Jory Woodis and his son Benny
Jory Woodis and his son Benny onstage (photo by Lex B. Anderson)

At the very least, it developed a fascination that stuck with me, same thing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Benny Goodman. I loved listening to the saxophone section, and constantly listened to the tapes that Grandpa gave me. Grandpa John was a fine ragtime pianist and would come and play stride piano “arrangements” of my favorite Disney songs. As I got older I would sit on the piano bench with him and sing my little heart out.

I started Middle School at Rocky Mountain Middle School in Deaver, Wyoming. By this point, we combined with four other towns and my class had a whopping 37 students. I came from a very musical family, and I knew that I wanted to play in the band. My other grandpa, Bob Rebello, was a very fine pianist and accordion player with perfect pitch and gigged very frequently all over Wyoming. My aunt, Jill Woodis Scanlan, was a trumpet player and a High School music teacher.

I also had a distant cousin (Teddy Deane) who was quite a bit older than me and a wonderful professional saxophonist on the West Coast. I had met him only a few times, but had grown up listening to his recordings at my great grandparents’ house. Because of my cousin’s influence (he was awesome and that seemed very cool to me), my heart was absolutely set on playing the saxophone. I attended summer music camp and was terrified that I wouldn’t get a saxophone. Being a popular instrument, they eventually ran out.

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My teacher (the wonderful Christine Olson who I adore so much), sensed my panic/heartbreak and was able to get one from the High School for me, but it didn’t have a mouthpiece. These were the days before Amazon, and remember that we were from a very small town so I couldn’t just go over to a music store: I had to wait several days for her to come up with one (don’t ask me where she got it)! I would sit in band class and finger along with the rest of the band, and I would take it home every day and watch myself “play it” in the mirror. Man, did I look cool.

By the time I got my mouthpiece, I had most of the songs memorized that we were playing in band camp and already knew 4-5 scales. She quickly noticed my explosive interest, and after I had only played for a few weeks and could play all of my scales in under 1 minute with no mistakes (and thereby joining the “Under a Minute Club” which was the highest of honors a young RMMS Grizzly could achieve), she called my parents and encouraged them to sign me up for lessons with her husband, a fantastic teacher, player, and bandleader, Craig Olson.

We were hard up for money and really any amount that it would cost represented a great sacrifice for our little family. My parents were divorced and both worked, and so they enlisted the help of uncles, grandparents, and even other teachers at the Middle School to drive me to my lessons (30 miles away) each week. My teacher, Craig, knowing our financial condition, taught me for something like $5 a lesson.

He was from Southern California and was a very good saxophone player and teacher who happened to have ended up in Powell, Wyoming. I could not have been luckier. What are the odds that such a great player would have ended up there?

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I had a cassette tape recorder that I would take to my lessons. My saxophone teacher would play accompaniment on his Fender Rhodes (electric piano) at my lesson, then I would take the tapes home and play along with them, my own homemade play-alongs before I knew about play-alongs. I was always hungry for more, so I also would go to my piano and transcribe his piano playing. To this day I can still play his “parts” from those tapes he recorded. The first song we worked on was “Bessie’s Blues” by John Coltrane. We also worked on “There Will Never Be Another You,” “Footprints,” “Freddie Freeloader,” “Up Jumped Spring,” and many, many other jazz standards.

I soaked up every minute of my lessons and I practiced every day for hours after school! I got home at 3:30 every day but my Mom didn’t get home until 5:30, so I would walk in the door and basically do nothing but play saxophone until my Mom got home.

I had many good experiences as an appendage to my relationship with him. He had a dance orchestra (three saxophones, trumpet, and a rhythm section) that gigged from four to ten nights a month. When I turned 16, the tenor saxophone player he used moved away, and he called me and said that he needed a tenor player. I was an alto player, but I could use his horn for the gigs. He had a great book of 200+ songs: representing everything from Glenn Miller to Billy Joel.

It was an amazing professional experience that I was lucky to get: showing up on time, ironing my shirt (he had to get after me a lot for that one!), sight reading, setting up the band and band fronts, wrapping mic cables, blowing solos on nearly every song, etc. We played in bars, events, conventions, you name it.

Whenever we played in a bar, I’d go in the back door and kind of lay low so as not to draw attention to the 16 year-old playing in the band. The band had great players with several professors from the local community college, local music teachers, etc. I truly had a great time (and got to make $400-1000 a month as a dopey kid playing music on the weekends in Northern Wyoming)!

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Somewhere around my eighth grade year, I made some lifelong friends. Matt Tippetts (dr), Alex Nauman (gtr), and Chris Larsen (bs). We all lived in different towns, but we met every week religiously for years in Matt’s garage, thanks to his parents, Dean and Teddy. We wrote and arranged songs, burned CD’s for each other, rehearsed, and just played.

We got pretty good and started hustling gigs for ourselves: we played at local talent shows, dances, parades, nursing homes, weddings, coffee shops and restaurants. I learned so many tunes with them, and we learned how to go out and make it happen for ourselves. We all had business cards we would hand out at gigs that Matt made for us.

We even recorded an album at the community college. Alex transcribed all of the arrangements from an entire “Brecker Brothers” album and we organized this big show at the Elks lodge where we played a tribute to that album. We even got a film crew and a sound crew to come and video and record it (four cameras!) which Matt edited into a DVD. It was awesome!!! For the record, this band was called “TUCOSMI”, which was an acronym: “The Unintentional Culmination of Spontaneous Musical Insights” which we found quite clever and funny!

I also had a great High School Band Director, Todd Rosenberger, who was very cool and very encouraging. He created a lot of opportunities for me. Often I would be the only one from our school attending an event (like All-State Jazz Band for instance) and he would take two to three days off of teaching to drive me in the school suburban across the state so I could participate. I loved jamming with him nearly every day through high school, and working on recording and video projects with him. He gave me a lot of technological instruction that without, I wouldn’t have been able to make our Breakfast at Benny’s videos.

I eventually went to BYU on a full scholarship. I attended for six years having twice changed majors. I had gotten married to a fellow saxophone player, and I had been dealing with anxiety and depression. I gained a lot of weight and couldn’t fit into the seats anymore, and so I eventually dropped out. I was first a music education major, then a classical saxophone performance major. My wife transferred to the University of Utah, and switched from saxophone performance to Nursing.

Long story short, she graduated, we got pregnant. At this point, I couldn’t stand up on my own if I was sitting on the ground. I couldn’t walk for longer than a block without my chronic back problems flaring up. We were pregnant and it hit me that if I couldn’t even stand on my own, how was I going to be a good daddy, and teach him to play catch, throw him in the air, etc.

Jory Woodis with his wife Brittney and son Benny.
Jory Woodis with his wife Brittney and son Benny.

So I got my act together and lost 200 pounds and trained for a marathon for a year! With my new lease on life, I returned to school full time and finished my undergraduate degree at Utah Valley University (where I taught as the saxophone professor for four years) in April 2020, a degree that I began in 2004.

While at BYU I had the opportunity to play in the “Jazz Legacy Band,” a traditional jazz band led by Dr. Steve Call. He knows more about the history of Jazz than anyone I have ever met, and he re-ignited my interest and passion for traditional jazz. I started playing clarinet again in about 2009/2010 (I hadn’t played since high school in 2004). I was so bad at the clarinet, but he let me in the band because I could improvise, with the hopes that the clarinet aspect would come later. I became enraptured by traditional jazz as I studied with a master.

Additionally, as members of the band became so close, we all moved in and lived together for 2 years. We traveled with the band to Sacramento every year to play for the Sacramento State Traditional Jazz Youth Band Festival, where I won the Reeds award every year, as well as the “Most Outstanding Collegiate Musician” award (only one recipient per year) which came with a $500 cash prize. Our band won every category every year we attended under Dr. Call’s masterful direction. He taught us dozens of tunes and taught us how to improvise in the style, and to play New Orleans Polyphony. He taught us everything and was amazing. I owe so much to him!

Describe your experiences in moving to the Big Easy and how were you helped in making the decision to move to New Orleans?

I wanted to move to the Big Easy after touring New Orleans with the BYU Jazz Legacy band in 2015. I had an amazing experience, and came home absolutely aglow. Brittney said “I wish I had gone” so we sat down right then (literally the day I got home) and booked plane tickets for ourselves. She also fell in love with the city and suggested that we move there. I didn’t dare to dream that she was serious, but she was! So we had it in the back of our minds that one day we would.

In the meantime, I continued my obsession with clarinet and N.O. Jazz. I essentially phased out playing the saxophone, and started getting called for clarinet gigs all over Utah, and sort of became the “New Orleans Guy.” I had a N.O. band, and played in a couple of others, and eventually started playing in an absolutely fabulous Gypsy Jazz Band based in Salt Lake City: “Hot House West.”

We played mostly Django music, but there is a lot of crossover and we played plenty of New Orleans music too. I became so busy playing traditional jazz clarinet gigs that I couldn’t take the saxophone gigs anymore! So I was the adjunct saxophone professor at two universities (Utah Valley University and Snow College) while only playing four or five gigs on saxophone per year, but playing 75 to 100 nights on clarinet!

I was attending UVU in 2019-2020. We were considering my doing a Master’s degree in New Orleans, and Brittney and I came out in Oct. 2019 during my fall break to tour campuses. We wanted to move to N.O. and had decided to use graduate school as an “excuse” to move here. Anyway, while here, we met up with Kevin Ray Clark, the leader of the DUKES (our BYU band had come and sat in with the DUKES in 2015 and I added him on Facebook), and he invited me to sit in with the DUKES that night. I was shaking, partially because there was a chilly breeze on the boat and partially because I was so nervous!

DUKES of Dixieland leader Kevin Clark with Jory Woodis
DUKES of Dixieland leader Kevin Clark with Jory Woodis.
(Courtesy Jory Woodis)

Anyway he liked my playing and I ended up sitting in the whole hour. He invited me to Fritzel’s that evening and I played about three hours with him there. Then he invited Brittney and me to breakfast, and we told him all about how we really wanted to move there, and how I had grown up listening to the original Dukes, etc. We hung out with him for two or three hours that morning and I went and played with him again at Fritzels that night. We promised to stay in touch.

About a month later, he called and said that they were forming a “DUKES Sub Band” to play every Wednesday night so the members of the DUKES could have a night off. Would I like to take it? I just about died. I called Brittney and woke her up (she is a night shift nurse) and she was surprised – “Why did you even call me? Call him back and tell him YES!” so I did.

The problem was, I was in school full time until April, and they wanted me to start in March. I approached the head of the UVU music department, Tom Keck (who I adore with my whole heart) and he moved mountains to enable me to graduate six weeks early. Ironically, the pandemic hit on my drive to New Orleans from Utah, and I ended up having to complete all the coursework normally as all of the campus had moved to online classes, so in some cases, I did double the work!

You mentioned some of the musicians in your family, are there others? What do they play and now how many instruments do you play?

Yes! My brother (ten years younger) is a music major at MSU-Billings, (tenor saxophone and piano). My sister studied piano and clarinet as a child. My Mom plays piano and sings harmony with the radio like an angel; I was always blown away by how she could sing harmony to any song she heard!

My Dad does not play anything, but loves listening to music, and has vastly different tastes from me, but there are few things I loved more as a kid than listening to Glen Campbell, the Allman Brothers, The Blues Brothers Soundtracks, Reba McEntire, etc., with my Dad in his car, singing at the top of our lungs. I still love those songs, and I have a playlist called “Dad Music” with all our favorite songs that I still love to listen to.

I play piano, saxophone (mostly alto, but also soprano and tenor), clarinet, and some flute. My wife is an amazing classical saxophonist (she has soloed with the Utah Symphony, has gigged with Hugh Jackman and Bernadette Peters), and a very fine clarinetist and flutist. She also is a high level classical pianist and fills our house with Rachmaninoff, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, etc. I adore her musicianship and nothing brings me more joy than to hear her play.

Do you remember the first tune you ever performed in public?

This is a hard question to answer! Short answer is “no.” I played some piano recitals and junior high band concerts as a kid, but my first “gig” was sitting in for the night with my teachers dance orchestra when I was in seventh grade at “Cassies Bar and Grill” in Cody, Wyoming.

I remember ordering a 7 Up at the bar and was so proud to not have to pay for it: “I’m with the Band” I said just as cool as I could be. It became a family inside jokes for years to this day because I bounced up to the bar several times with a giant grin on my face, to claim my “free 7 Up” after “free 7 Up” the whole night!

How is the current situation affecting your family and how is Brittney coping at Oschner in view of this turmoil?

The first few weeks here were scary, Brittney was new to the ICU (she was a cardiac nurse in Utah) and so was learning many new skills, while at the same time having to wear nightmare PPE because of the national shortage. I would lie in bed when we moved here and just be filled with dread and toss and turn because I was sure we were all going to get sick and die. It created no end of anxiety in our family to have her there every day.

Describe your delightful Breakfast at Benny’s series and how many have you completed—who are some of the special guests and how are you encouraging their participation?

We haven’t done this for a while, but I want to start it up again so badly!

It all started when I wanted to practice more (as a full time Daddy with a full time working woman, I didn’t have a lot of time to myself!) so I would play for Benny while he ate his meals. He loved it so I started videoing it for my Mom and Dad, and my wife’s parents. They encouraged me to post them so I posted a couple. I would get 1000+ views on Facebook so I was like “Hmmmm, maybe I’ve got something here?” so I invited a friend to come and do it with me. It kind of spiraled from there. Breakfast at Benny’s was born.

Breakfast at Bennys
Jory’s delightful videos may be seen at breakfastatbennys.com.

I essentially asked my best friends to play with me, and then I started having people reach out to me and offer to play! Basically, Benny sits in his high chair and eats his breakfast while he is surrounded by great music, lucky kid! We get a lot of views on Facebook (10,000+ on many videos) but I haven’t figured out YouTube yet. We get a few hundred to 1000 views on YouTube as of now. You can check it out on Facebook, or at www.breakfastatbennys.com.

What are some of your fondest musical memories: in your home or your neighborhood?

I loved listening to music with my Dad and Mom and playing with my TUCOSMI group as a kid, and loved playing in my little saxophone quartet I had in middle school and high school. I also loved playing with all the BYU groups; while at BYU I was invited to be a featured soloist with nearly every major ensemble. I even was invited to play a five movement concerto with the BYU Chamber Orchestra: I was the first saxophonist to be invited to play a concerto with that group since my Professor Ray Smith had been a student decades before; in fact we even played the same piece.

I also need to mention playing with BYU Synthesis (led by my saxophone teacher, mentor, and dear friend, the great Ray Smith), BYU’s amazing Big Band. We were named in 2013 the “Best Collegiate Big Band” by Downbeat magazine. I played lead alto in the group, and met my wife there! She played second alto. We became best friends during the school year, then that summer we went to Brazil for a month and we fell in love on that tour. That’s probably my favorite musical memory, falling in love with my now wife while we played in an amazing Big Band together! I have also traveled all over Europe with the BYU Wind Symphony.

Who are some of your favorite musicians and who do you admire?

Favorite saxophonists: I love Cannonball Adderly, Scott Hamilton, and Phil Woods (I could go on and on but those are my absolute favorites). As far as clarinetists go: Benny Goodman by a long shot, I mean, we named our Benny after him!

I also adore Pete Fountain, Evan Christopher, Tim Laughlin, Omer Simeon, and Bob Draga. We just haven’t had enough sons to name after them yet! However, after reading this, Brittney wants me to add that we are absolutely NOT naming a son Omer. Sorry Omer, I still love your playing! I also love Tom Fischer’s playing! I finally met him on my most recent trip to New Orleans. There are so many fine musicians here!

How are you practicing while under current constraints against personal performances; with others or solo?

I hardly get to play with other people anymore. Kevin Ray Clark does a fabulous live stream every week (though it’s now every other week) where we play on his porch. I also got to travel to Crested Butte Colorado to play at the fabulous “Crested Butte Music Festival” for a week in August. Other than that, I am practicing two to four hours a day all by my lonesome (which to be honest has been enjoyable). I would love to be playing with other musicians, but being the “new guy” in New Orleans, I have a lot of homework to do, and am realizing every time I play how much there is to learn.

I am transcribing and learning tunes at a rate that is much faster than I ever have. I am also doing a project (getting ready for a master’s degree) where I am attempting to transcribe all of the Benny Goodman Trio/Quartet recordings. I have transcribed and written down somewhere around 20 tracks. I would love to publish a “Complete Benny Goodman Small Group Anthology” one day, but for now, I am focusing on learning the arrangements, and getting ready for things to open up again so I can start playing them! My dream is to play solo sets at Traditional Jazz festivals, so I’m working on developing festival sets made up of those tunes, originals, etc.

Describe your hopes and intentions for the foreseeable future and which local musicians are providing current inspiration?

No recording sessions, but lots and lots of porch concerts! It is so hard being the “new guy” here while everything is shut down. I’m meeting more and more people all the time through these porch concerts, but it’s not the same as being in the Quarter sitting in every night! So as things start to roll out and they start playing again, I’m going to have to figure out how to carve out a place for myself, as there are dozens of musicians (maybe hundreds?) that I still need to meet!


I was very impressed the first time I heard Jory play. Within a few minutes I was astounded at his improvisational skills in the immediate settings of the New Orleans venues; no rehearsals, no warm-ups with only “come on up here and play with us” shouts from the band leader. He was phenomenal! That type of talent and enthusiasm amongst the musicians is what I most admire and seek in live jazz—I hope to get back to more experiences with it soon.

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