Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Wood, Chris (Christopher Barry)
Bassist Chris Wood's sense of swing anchors the genre-bending grooves of Medeski, Martin and Wood. His multifaceted timbre and performance style have been key elements in the group's ability to find success with audiences beyond the confines of modern jazz. Wood can also be heard in the contemporary big band of Ken Schaphorst and the vocalist Elma Meyer.
Christopher Barry Wood was born on November 25, 1969 in Pasadena, California. At the time, Wood’s father Bill was a microbiologist at the California Institute of Technology and his mother Renatte was a poet and writer. At the age of six, the family, which included his older brother Oliver, moved to Boulder, Colorado when his father accepted a teaching position at the University of Colorado.
As a child, Wood enjoyed Colorado's outdoors, and enjoyed tennis as well as drawing and painting. His father was a guitarist and folk singer who would often play in the family home.His brother Oliver exposed him to the rock and roll of bands such as The Beatles, The Doors, The Who and Jimi Hendrix.
During his childhood, Wood began to experiment with different instruments. He took piano lessons and played the clarinet in his school’s orchestra. One year, Oliver received an electric bass for Christmas, but eventually decided to switch the electric guitar. In seventh grade, Chris decided to play the bass and made it his instrument of choice.
Upon focusing his attention on learning how to play the bass, Wood would play with Oliver where they would improvise and perform songs. While in junior high school, Chris formed The Change, his first band. During this time, he began to take lessons with Rob Kassinger, who exposed him to jazz, and initiated him in the virtues of the upright bass. Soon after, Wood began to perform on the upright bass as well.
Kassinger gave Wood a newfound appreciation for jazz bassists including Ray Brown, Paul Chambers, Charles Mingus and Jaco Pastorius. He then joined the Boulder High School jazz band, under the direction of Jeff Jacobsen. Chris spent his days after school practicing and performing with as many different people as he could.
Wood supplemented his practice regimen by working for MST Entertainment, a service which hired professional musicians in the area for weddings and other events. The service gave Chris the opportunity to perform a wide variety of music and to diversify his style.
Upon graduating from high school, Wood decided to take a year off in order to practice and teach. During this year, Chris studied classical and jazz bass as well as composition. In 1989, he decided to attend the New England Conservatory of Music, due in part to the presence of bassist Dave Holland on the NEC faculty, and partly because he had a friend that was enrolled at the nearby Berklee College of Music.
Wood’s college experience was short-lived and he decided to drop of classes completely by his second year, only staying to attend private lessons with Holland, pianist Geri Allen and drummer Bob Moses. Chris began to perform with some of Boston's best jazz musicinas and slowly began to make a name for himself. After two years in the Boston area, he decided to move to New York City.
On January 24, 1990, Wood performed on a session led by alto saxophonist John Zorn which was later released in 1997 on the CD Film Works, Vol. 3. Chris did a second session for the album in November 1990. The sessions included several of New York's prominent forward-looking jazz musicians including guitarist Marc Ribot, cellist Erik Friedlander and drummer Joey Baron.
On February 19 & 20, 1991, Wood performed with the Ken Schaphorst Big Band on their album After Blue. Released the following year, Chris performed on the album alongside pianist John Medeski, whom he had originally met while on a tour of Israel with Bob Moses. Soon after, Wood joined forces with Medeski and drummer Billy Martin as a trio.The group began to perform at the Village Gate, located on Bleecker Street in New York's Greenwich Village.
On December 15, 1991, the trio began to record the sessions which resulted in their first album, the 1992 release Notes From The Underground. The album was critically applauded for its seamless cohesion of jazz, funk and avant-garde styles. One highlight of Wood's playing on this release is the group's rendition of saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s “United.”
After a brief introduction from Martin, Wood enters the arrangement playing a loose groove that he augments with subtle slides on the upright bass. The song then goes into a powerful rhythmic figure which Chris helps to enhance by playing in unison with Medeski. During his solo, Wood expands his original groove from the beginning by adding double stops, chromaticism and fluid phrasing. The result is a thoroughly modern melodic statement which easily segues back into the verse.
During this time, Wood continued to perform as a sideman on several projects. In January 1992, Chris recorded with The Mandala Octet on the group’s album The Last Elephant. The session also included Medeski and Martin, as well as guitarist Dave Fiuczynski. In February 1993, Wood performed with saxophonist Lily White on her album Somewhere Between Truth And Fiction.
In May of the same year, Wood recorded with bandleader Ned Rothenberg’s Double Band on their album Real and Imagined Time, which was released in 1995. Between August 2 and August 4, 1993, MMW recorded the sessions that would yield their second album It’s A Jungle In Here. During this time, MMW began to develop a cult following amongst college students and fans of jam bands, such as Phish and the Greatful Dead.
The following year, MMW released the album Afternoon In The Universe, which features several originals as well as a rendition of bandleader Duke Ellington’s “Chinoiserie.” Wood continued to accept performance and recording opportunities between engagements with MMW. In January 1995, Chris performed with pop/rock singer Elma Mayer on her self-titled debut album.
1997 proved to be a prolific year for Wood. Chris appeared with Zorn on his album Filmworks, Vol.4 and recorded the album Farmer’s Reserve with Medeski and Martin. In addition to his responsibilities as a bassist, the album also features him performing on the guitar. During this time, MMW performed on guitarist John Scofield’s album A Go Go. Released on Verve Records, the album reached the number one position on Billboard Magazine’s Top Jazz Albums Chart.
In 1998, the band released Combustication, their first album for Blue Note Records. A highlight of the album is its opening song “Sugar Craft.” The song is an excellent example of Wood’s laid-back style, which adds finesse and subtlety to the song. For most of the song, Chris adheres to a four-beat groove that easily melds the entire ensemble together. Even amidst the song’s use of turntable scratching and sampled vocals, he is able hold his own and keep the ensemble on the same page.
Following Combustication, Wood performed with guitarist/vocalist Oren Bloedow on his album Luckiest Boy in the World. The following year, Chris recorded with guitarist/vocalist John Lurie on his album African Swim and Manny & Lo. The same year, he appeared on Ribot’s album Yo! I Killed Your God, which was released on Zorn’s label Tzadik.
In 2000, Wood appeared with Bob Moses on his album Nishoma, which also included the talents on vocalist Abbey Lincoln and pianist Steve Kuhn. The following year, Chris recorded with drummer Stanton Moore on his album Flyin’ the Koop. In addition to his performing on the record, Wood significantly contributed to the composition of the songs. The album was critically lauded and reached the number thirteen position on Billboard Magazine’s Top Jazz Albums Chart.
Upon the release of MMW’s 2002 album Uninvisible, Wood contributed to harmonica player Guy Belanger’s 2003 album Musique Inspirée du Film Gaz Bar Blues. The following year, Chris performed on Ribot’s album Scelsi Morning and Zorn’s Voices in the Wilderness. In 2004, MMW released their album End of the World Party (Just in Case).
In 2006, Wood and the rest of the band reunited with Scofield on the album Out Louder. The album was applauded for its juxtapositions of jazz and funk, and it reached the number two position on Billboard Magazine’s Top Contemporary Jazz Albums Chart. The same year, Chris and Oliver released the album Ways Not to Lose, their first album of contemporary folk and blues songs. In 2008, the brothers released their second album Loaded.
The same year, MMW released the album Radiolarians I, the first in a three-album set that was followed by 2009’s Radiolarians II and Radiolarians III. A shining example of Wood’s latest work with the group is Radiolarians III’s second track, “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down.”
After a lengthy introduction during which Medeski showcases several modern techniques, Wood plays the melody on the bass guitar with a tone that is drenched in distortion. Hi seems to pay tribute to blues guitarists of the past, by playing with what seems to be a slide, which he enhances with a more modern inflection. The result is a song which defies convention within its four minutes and twenty-five seconds.
Wood lives in New York City and continues a prolific recording and touring schedule with Medeski, Martin and Wood.
Select Discography As a leader
As a leader
Ways Not to Lose (2006)
With Medeski, Martin and Wood
Notes From The Underground (1992)
It’s a Jungle in Here (1993)
Afternoon In The Universe (1995)
Farmer’s Reserve (1997)
End of the World Party (Just in Case) (2004)
Radiolarians I (2008)
Radiolarians II (2009)
Radiolarians III (2009)
With Medeski, Martin, Wood, Scofield
Out Louder (2006)
With Guy Belanger
Musique Inspirée du Film Gaz Bar Blues (2003)
With Oren Bloedow
Luckiest Boy In The World (1998)
With John Lurie
African Swim and Manny & Lo (1999)
With The Mandala Octet
The Last Elephant (1992)
With Stanton Moore
Flyin’ the Koop (2001)
With Bob Moses
With Marc Ribot
Yo! I Killed Your God (1999)
Scelsi Morning (2003)
With Ned Rothenberg’s Double Band
Real and Imagined Time (1995)
With the Ken Schaphorst Big Band
After Blue (1992)
With John Scofield
A Go Go (1997)
With Lily White
Somewhere Between Truth And Fiction (1993)
With John Zorn
Film Works, Vol. 3 (1997)
Film Works, Vol. 4 (1997)
Voices in the Wilderness (2003)
Contributor: Eric Wendell RELATED LINKS THE DOZENS: MEDESKI, MARTIN & WOOD by Matt Leskovic
THE DOZENS: MEDESKI, MARTIN & WOOD by Matt Leskovic