The busiest reed man of the space age pop era, Phil Bodner played on many of the albums recorded in New York studios between the mid-1950s and early 1970s. The bigger challenge may be to find recordings he's not on. Bodner was one of the mainstays of Enoch Light's Command label, along with Tony Mottola, Dick Hyman, Doc Severinson, and Phil Kraus, the anchorman of RCA's Living Jazz series, and the leader of the successful now sound instrumental group, The Brass Ring.
Like the other musicians mentioned above, Bodner met the essential prerequisite of superb technical proficiency on his instrument--in his case, the whole gamut of woodwinds. After studying music at New York University , he began working as a professional musician in New York City in the mid-1940s. He spent most of the next three decades running in and out of recording studios, as he became a highly sought-after session musician. He played with Benny Goodman's small combo of the early 1950s, and participated in countless small group jazz recordings with fellow session stars like bassist Milt Hinton and trombonist Urbie Green. He recorded five albums for MGM as a member of the Metropolitan Jazz Quartet, along with Lou and Frank Garisto (piano and drums) and Pat Merola (bass).
Enoch Light's Persuasive Percussion series and Ethel Gabriel's Living Jazz series for RCA Camden were just a few of the many, many studio gigs Bodner played on. He was a favorite of Don Elliott and many other Madison Avenue jingle composers, and played behind hundreds of television and radio advertising spots. Like Living Brass (masterminded by the great Ray Martin, Living Marimbas (arranged by Leo Addeo and performed largely single-handedly by Phil Kraus), and Living Guitars (Al Caiola, with assists from Dick Hyman), Living Jazz was better than its anonymous existence on RCA's budget label suggested. Most of the Living Jazz albums feature a light, bossa nova-flavored style on a mix of current hits, old standards, and originals penned by Bodner and others, but it's unfair to dismiss them as "easy listening jazz"--even if that's what their own liner notes tried to suggest.
Bodner emerged from the anonymity of sessions when he began recording for ABC's Dunhill label at the head of a studio group known as The Brass Ring. Bodner adapted Herb Alpert's hugely successful Tijuana Brass sound, softening it by giving the melody to the reeds and loosening the rhythm to a light swinging groove. The result is the signature sound of the mid-late 1960s instrumental style known as the Now Sound --in fact, the Brass Ring recorded a Bodner original as the title tune for their album, "The Now Sound" Ironically, Madison Avenue paid Bodner its highest compliment and brought the Brass Ring to popular attention when it appropriated their tune, "The Disadvantages of You" as the jingle for an amusing series of television commercials for Benson and Hedges cigarettes. The group had several other minor hits, including "The Love Theme from The Flight of the Phoenix ."
After the Now Sound became the Then Sound, Bodner continued to maintain an active slate of bookings in the studio business. However, he began to taper off in the later 1970s, and by 1981, was appearing regularly in New York City clubs as a member of a swing quartet along with bassist George Duvivier, Mel Lewis on drums, and Marty Napoleon on piano.