Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Frank Wess Remains at Full-Strength

It's hard to believe that Tenor sax-flautist-composer-arranger Frank Wess has been at it as long as he has, and shows no signs of fatigue or burnout, either. Even though his playing career begins way back in WWII, he is best known as a critical element in Count Basie's eminently successful second round of big band doings, from 1953-1964, as one-half of the potent two tenor team with the late Frank Foster, as arranger and writer of distinctiveness, and as a formidable flute man in an age that didn't see very much of note on that axe in jazz.

To me though, it was the small-to-mid-sized group recordings he made during that period, with and without Foster, that really defined Wess and what a swing-to-bop date could be back then. Check out some of the sides he made for Savoy if you want to be totally gassed.

At any rate here it is 2009 and he still can do it all. And speaking of his mid-sized group outings, we have a new nonet date recorded a year ago, "Once is Not Enough" (Lambeth). It is a goodie. One can only express awe and amazement that he has all the strengths available to him unabated, some 60-odd years down the line. His tenor and flute playing still have that exuberant, swinging dash that made him a favorite with the straight-ahead cognoscenti, compositions and arrangements still pop, it's all still there. The band itself is well-rehearsed and packed with crackerjack craftsmen.

Frank Wess is a one-man American landmark and we need to lavish all the praise we can on this man of such long-standing creative fire and musical excellence. Thanks for everything, Frank! May you still be at it 20 years from now.

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