In the first days of 2014 we will remember the great artists who passed away in 2013. The best tribute we can pay THEM is to keep on listening and enjoying their artistic work, recognize its value and thank them for having given us so much.
Jan. 4, 1922 – Oct. 30, 2013
Flute, Tenor Saxophone
Frank Wess, who helped popularize the flute as a jazz instrument in the 1950s and ’60s with the Count Basie Orchestra, where he was also a standout saxophone soloist, died in Manhattan. He was 91.
Mr. Wess was not the first flutist in jazz. But his tonally rich and technically deft flute solos enjoyed an unusually prominent platform: the front row of the powerhouse Basie ensemble.
Mr. Wess had been studying flute at the Modern School of Music in Washington when Basie asked him to join a big band he had formed in 1952 to highlight new compositions and arrangements, many of them by Neal Hefti.
Mr. Wess, who had earlier played with bands led by Billy Eckstine and others, initially resisted, saying he was weary of the road and wanted to finish school. But Basie kept calling.
He joined in 1953 and was an immediate success. Mr. Wess would play tenor saxophone for a few tunes, swapping solos with his fellow tenor player Frank Foster, then switch to flute on the next song. Beginning in 1959, he was voted best jazz flutist for five years in a row in Down Beat magazine’s critics’ poll.
Mr. Wess left Basie in 1964 and moved to New York. There, he played with a band led by the trumpeter Clark Terry and alongside the pianist Roland Hanna in the New York Jazz Quartet. He also led groups of his own and played on television (he was a member of the “Dick Cavett Show” orchestra), in recording studios and in the pit of Broadway musicals.
In 2007, he was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.
by By William Yardley, Published: Nov. 3, 2013, The New York Times (excerpts). Read more here.
Frank Wess said (1990): “My teachers at the Modern School of Music in Washington DC, pretty much laughed when I said I wanted to develop the flute in jazz. They just didn’t understand it. Me, I don’t understand the clarinet. I don’t see the satisfactions of playing that in a jazz context.“
Recorded: May 1960from “The Penguin Jazz Guide – The History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums”, Brian Morton & Richard Cook, 2010
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