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In Memoriam: Terry Woodson

Andrea Kauffman reflects on her career working with Woodson (Dec. 19, 1941-Oct. 19, 2022).

Terry Wilson (Dec. 19, 1941-Oct. 19, 2022)

Terry Woodson, a trombonist, arranger, librarian, copyist, conductor, and record producer, died on October 19. A graduate of University of Tulsa, he joined the groundbreaking Don Ellis band in 1966 and recorded four albums with the innovative trumpeter/bandleader, including the famed Electric Bath of 1967. After leaving Ellis in 1968, he conducted and toured with the orchestras of Percy Faith and Henry Mancini, produced recordings for Diane Schurr, Diana Krall, Monica Mancini, Linda Rondstadt, and others, but spent the bulk of his career—19 years—conducting for Frank Sinatra, Jr.

I became Frank Sinatra, Jr.’s personal manager in 1985, and soon became aware of Terry’s incredible reputation as the Sinatra music librarian, a man who knew Sinatra’s music as well as Frank Sinatra. But we first worked together in 1995, when we contracted with Angel Records’ Jay Landers for Frank, Jr. to record As I Remember It, Frank Sinatra, Jr.’s homage to his father and a project that became legendary. Terry was the producer, and not long after the sessions began, he became the conductor. 

If Terry didn’t have the personality that he did, if it had been any other conductor, I’m certain there would have been unsolvable problems. Landers had a certain budget for As I Remember It and Frank was going way over it. Frank’s solution was to go into his own pocket, and originally, he had plans to conduct the orchestra himself and then record vocals over the tracks. 

Frank, Jr. was singing and conducting the orchestra on the road in those days. When he conducted the orchestra, his voice took a hit. Lifting both his arms up to conduct narrowed his lung capacity, and it was also distracting. Having Terry up there gave Frank the freedom to pay attention to singing. And Terry was such a great visual presence. He conducted with ease. There was nothing frenetic about it. He was great to look at, even from the back. 

He became Frank’s permanent conductor when we did the Gershwin tour in 1997. A highlight of Frank’s program was “Over the Land,” a patriotic work for symphony orchestra that Frank wrote in 1976 and performed at the end of the concert. We were only going to do it one time, and we called in Terry to conduct. It was July 4th and we were at Battery Park, near the Statue of Liberty. At end the of “Over the Land,” a veteran in a wheelchair, who had one arm and one leg stood, up and saluted. There was a whole bunch of war-torn veterans sitting in front of the stage, and they all stood up, if they could, to acknowledge that song. We still had six weeks to go on the tour, but after that show, Frank said to Terry, “Send for your clothes. You’re staying.” And he never left. 


He was such a trusted friend and coworker, and we roomed together for years. We had breakfast together every morning. We had a real family on the road, and Terry sat at the head of the table. He was loved by the musicians. Terry was that big, gentle bear who could calm you down immediately. He could smooth anything over. He made it so that nobody was wrong, and everybody was right. You didn’t know that he knew as much as he did because he didn’t shout about it. He did everything in a very quiet way. 

Spending time or having a martini with Terry was like opening a door, and you never knew what laughs you were going to have or what you might learn on the other side. When Frank would introduce him at the end of his shows, he’d say Terry hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Terry would come out and do an “Oklahoma straw-man shuffle.” 

He had such a great relationship with each of us, and he never took sides. If Terry Woodson had a philosophy, it was simply this: He thought everybody should try to make things better. He certainly lived that way. 


Andrea Kauffman

Andrea Kauffman was Frank Sinatra, Jr.’s personal manager for 31 years. She is the co-author of the forthcoming book, Let Me Be Frank: The Life and Music of Frank Sinatra, Jr.