Although the technically adept Britt Woodman was a well-respected soloist, he was perhaps more highly valued by fellow musicians for his abilities as a section player; his reading and interpretive skills were utilized extensively by the likes of Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus, arguably the two greatest composers and bandleaders in jazz history.
Woodman and Mingus were childhood friends and longtime musical collaborators (an account of their relationship can be found in the bassist's autobiography, Beneath the Underdog). In addition to trombone, Woodman played tenor saxophone, clarinet, and piano in his teens. He worked with pianist Phil Moore and bandleader Les Hite before serving in the army during World War II. After his discharge, Woodman worked with Boyd Raeburn and Eddie Heywood. He joined Lionel Hampton in 1946, then studied music at Westlake College in Los Angeles from 1948-1950. He replaced Lawrence Brown in Ellington's band in 1951. For the next decade he played mostly with Ellington, and occasionally worked freelance, notably with Miles Davis on the trumpeter's Blue Moods sessions.
After leaving Ellington in 1960, Woodman worked in Broadway pit orchestras and performed under various leaders. He recorded several times with Mingus from 1960-1963. Woodman moved back to the West Coast in 1970 and lived in Southern California for the next several years. During the '70s he led an octet; he also played with the Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin, Frankie Capp-Nat Pierce, Benny Carter, and Bill Berry big bands.
Woodman alternated residences between New York and Los Angeles during the '80s and '90s and remained musically active until overwhelmed by respiratory illness. In later years he was a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the Mingus Big Band. Woodman was the epitome of the "first call" musician; besides the aforementioned, his employers included such major figures as Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Quincy Jones, Chico Hamilton, Oliver Nelson, Nelson Riddle, Oscar Peterson, Jimmy Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, and many others. He was widely admired by younger musicians; such trombonists as Steve Turre and Wayne Goodman cite Woodman as an influence.