We have confirmation that Frank Wess died today. The flutist and saxophonist succumbed to kidney failure at 91. Wess played with undiminished spirit and creativity that kept him in the forefront of jazz soloists for decades after most of his contemporaries had retired or died. A professional from the age of 19, following service in World War Two Wess joined Billy Eckstine’s big band.
After earning a conservatory degree in flute, he became a member of Count Basie’s reed section in 1953 and stayed with Basie until 1964, occasionally playing alto sax in addition to tenor and flute. It was on tenor, however, that he developed a symbiotic relationship with Frank Foster. Their tenor sax partnership became so distinctive that the band was sometimes referred to as the Two Franks edition of the Basie organization.
One of Wess’s flute features with Basie was Neil Hefti’s “Cute.”
Here is Wess in 2009, when he was 87, with with fellow tenorist Scott Robinson in the Gene Ammons-Sonny Stitt specialty “Blues Up And Down.” The rhythm section is Ilya Lushtak, guitar; Tal Ronen, bass; and Quincy Davis, drums.
In 2007, Wess was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Frank Wess, RIP
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