The first generation of the big band was in the 1970s as the "Delaware Water Gap Civic Band" under the direction of Ralph Hughes. The Festival Orchestra made its debut appearance at the local Celebration of the Arts Festival in 1988 to perform a tribute to the great Al Cohn and was called the "Al Cohn Memorial Orchestra." 1989 marked it's new leadership under composer and arranger Dick Cone, and the ensemble became "Grandma's Soup," featuring the music of Dick Cone, or "Uncle Dickie" as the musicians and DWG locals new him. In 1991 the band became the "Festival Orchestra" and played a tribute for Dick Cone, and also featured many other local artists.
Later in the 1990s the band toured Europe as the Phil Woods Big Band (see videos below!) and featured music written almost exclusively by Phil. In the later years, the band became better known as "Phil Woods and the Festival Orchestra," and became musically focused on Phil's interests, playing music written by Al Cohn, Thad Jones, Benny Carter, Bob Brookmeyer, Billy Byers, Bill Potts, and much more.
Upon Phil Woods' passing in 2015, Matt (who had been a regular member for several years) began directing the band. Personal conversations between Matt and Phil ensured that the music would be safe and that the band would continue. Needless to say, Matt feels a responsibility to Phil and the music to continue rehearsing and performing with the band to ensure this wide variety of music is heard.
Today, the Water Gap Jazz Orchestra is a full 17-piece large jazz ensemble comprised of the highest caliber professional musicians from the tri-state area. This ensemble features five saxophones, eight brass (trumpet and trombone) and a full rhythm section of guitar, piano, bass and drums.
Previously known as the COTA Festival Orchestra and Phil Woods Big Band, the group was renamed and now directed by saxophonist Matt Vashlishan. Just before his passing in 2015, grammy award-winning saxophonist Phil Woods passed the group on to Matt who has taken full responsibility of ensuring its visibility to a wide range of audiences.
Much of the material performed by this ensemble consists of original and arranged music by master composers Phil Woods, Al Cohn, Thad Jones and Dick Cone, and is further augmented by many pieces written by local musicians. It is truly a group dedicated to preserving the rich musical heritage cultivated over decades in the Pocono Mountains that has been home to so many world class musicians.
Photo by Bob Weidner
The COTA Festival Orchestra photo during the most recent recording New Celebration at Red Rock Recording in Saylorsburg, PA. Photo by Garth Woods
Phil Woods soloing along with the big band during the New Celebration recording at Red Rock Recording. Photo by Garth Woods
Phil performing with the COTA Festival Orchestra at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, PA. Photo by Garth Woods
Written for Rita Goodwin, this is the opening track on the Celebration recording and features several members of the orchestra.
Banja Luka is the capital and second largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina and is the largest city of Republika Srpska. Musically, Phil wrote this tune as a minor blues.
This was in Phil's words one of his greatest compositions, written for the passing of pianist Bill Evans.
Phil's blues originally written for the Clark Terry Big Band.
Phil's arrangement of Neal Hefti's tune, one of many arrangements Phil had for different types of ensemble configurations.
This was the classic quirky blues containing several musical quotes. It was usually used to close the set.
Arranged by both Phil and Fred Sturm for the Celebration recording, this composition is another flagship piece of Phil's.
Released by Concord Records in 1997 and nominated for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance, this recording features Phil's big band classics using his quintet as the "nucleus."
Click HERE for Pat Dorian's recount of the European tour with the Phil Woods Big Band performing much of the music on this recording.
The ensembles first recording for Chiaroscuro Records that was released in 2013, featuring all new compositions Phil wrote specifically for this recording. All of the music was rehearsed at the Deer Head Inn during the bands monthly residency that still continues today. Click HERE for the upcoming Deer Head Inn dates.
Come hear the WGJO! July 2021 restarts the monthly residency at the Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap, PA on the last Monday of every month.
Learn the history of how the WGJO came to be, and more importantly learn about the incredible musicians that shaped big band jazz in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.
Learn about the members of the current WGJO
Listen and watch the current WGJO!