Wednesday, October 30, 2013

R.I.P.: Frank Wess

Just got the sad news that Frank Wess passed away at age 91.

Below, please find the biography from his official website (, where you can also find many pics, and "news" about CDs and concerts. Unfortunately, such bio seems to have been updated for the last time in 2008. And, oddly, the bio below doesn't refers to his great work with The New York Jazz Quartet, the top-class group that put me in contact with Wess' talents as one of the greatest flutists in jazz, along with the famous recordings with Count Basie that also featured him as a brilliant saxophonist. Rest in Peace.
Curiously, the NYJQ recorded two albums for CTI that received the same title (and basically the same cover!) when released on CD format. Both recorded by that supergroup (Frank Wess, Roland Hanna, Ron Carter & Ben Riley) during the same 1975 Japanese tour!!!

The "official" album, titled "In Concert in Japan" (recorded on April 2, 1975) was originally released all over the world on CTI's subsidiary label Salvation. It was later reissued on CD only in Japan, in 2003 by the PJL label, under license of King Records (woosh!)
A second album (recorded on March 23, 1975) came out in the USA by CBS Associated in 1987, only on CD format. Instead of creating a new cover art, CBS decided to save money (Jesus!) by using the same artwork from the previous LP, just changing the title for "In Concert in Japan Volume One." It created a huge mess between collectors, since the "new" release should have been actually titled "In Concert in Japan Volume Two." Needless to say, both CDs are currently out-of-print.

Frank Wellington Wess was born on January, 4th 1922 in Kansas City, Missouri.
At the age of 10 he started to learn the alto saxophone. After moving to Washington DC he started playing in local bands, first on alto and later on tenor saxophone as well. He worked briefly in a band led by Blanche Calloway.

During World War II Frank played tenor saxophone and solo clarinet in the army band and later led a band accompanying Josephine Baker.
After being discharged he went on to play in the bands of Billy Eckstine, Eddie Heywood, Lucky Millinder and Bull Moose Jackson.

In 1949 he began studying flute with Wallace Mann from the National Symphony and Harold Bennett, Metropolitan Opera, New York.

In 1953 Frank joined the Count Basie Orchestra, starting off on tenor saxophone and flute but later playing alto saxophone too.
He stayed with Basie until 1964.
Having recorded dozens of LPs with Basie he formed a unique partnership with fellow tenor player Frank Foster and utilized the popularity of the Basie band to introduce the flute as an independent voice to jazz audiences, becoming one of its first major soloists.

Frank Wess moved to New York City in 1964 to lead his own groups and play with bands such as the New York Jazz Quartet and Dameronia.
He also worked in the studios and played in various shows all over the city.
He held a contract with ABC for ten years performing for “Saturday Night Live”, the Dick Cavett-Show, the Sammy Davis TV-Show, etc.
For almost twenty years he played in a quintet called “Two Franks” with Frank Foster, his colleague from the Basie days.

In the late 80s and early 90s he led a fantastic Basie-style big band which made highly successful appearances in Japan. The big band included ex-Basie alumni Harry “Sweets” Edison, Joe Newman, Snooky Young, Al Grey, Benny Powell, Marshal Royal and Billy Mitchell.
The recordings made by this band “Dear Mr Basie” and “Entre Nous” showed that Frank Wess had ably assumed the role of big band leader and arranger in the Basie tradition.

2007 he received the American Jazz Masters Fellowship award from The National Endowment For The Arts. Today, at age 85, Frank is still an active and highly respected member of the New York Jazz scene and travels the world to play with musicians everywhere.

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