William Woods, the son of violinist Leonid Kanter, who played in big bands and orchestras, grew up in the New York metropolitan area and began playing the piano at age nine. His first ambition was to be a concert pianist, but an interest in improvising led him toward jazz. He was in a rock band while attending high school, and also played in the school jazz band. He also studied classical composition, and at 16 began taking pre-college courses at the Juilliard School of Music. He attended Princeton University as a music major and earned a B.A. degree. Then he began playing professionally, while studying with Joanne Brackeen and Jaki Byard. But after working at a variety of non-musical jobs to make ends meet, he decided to change careers and went into medicine. He attended the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and became a doctor, specializing in radiation oncology. In the mid-1990s, he returned to writing and performing music as a sideline, and in 1998 released his debut album, A Doctor's Dilemma, which was billed to William Kanter Woods. Its 2004 follow-up, Cobalt Blue, was credited to William Woods.
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