FRANK WELLINGTON WESS: January 4, 1922 - October 30, 2013
Date Posted: 2013-11-01
NPR is sorry to confirm that Frank Wess died this afternoon as a result of kidney failure.
At the age of 10 he started to learn the alto saxophone. After moving to Washington DC he started playing i...n 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 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.
In 2007 he received the American Jazz Masters Fellowship award from The National Endowment For The Arts.
Reprinted from http://www.npr.org/blogs/ablogsupreme/.