Frank Wess

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Frank Wess
Frank Wess (left) and Jimmy Owens, 1977
Frank Wess (left) and Jimmy Owens, 1977
Background information
Birth nameFrank Wellington Wess
Born(1922-01-04)January 4, 1922
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
DiedOctober 30, 2013(2013-10-30) (aged 91)
New York, U.S.
Instrument(s)Saxophone, flute
Years active1950s – 2013
LabelsCommodore, Savoy, Pablo, Progressive, Concord

Frank Wellington Wess (January 4, 1922 – October 30, 2013)[1] was an American jazz saxophonist and flutist. In addition to his extensive solo work, Wess is remembered for his time in Count Basie's band from the early 1950s into the 1960s. Critic Scott Yanow described him as one of the premier proteges of Lester Young, and a leading jazz flutist of his era—using the latter instrument to bring new colors to Basie's music.[2]


Wess was born in Kansas City, Missouri, United States,[3] the son of a principal father and a schoolteacher mother. He began with classical music training and played in Oklahoma in high school. He later switched to jazz on moving to Washington, D.C. and by nineteen was working with big bands.[3] His career was interrupted by World War II although he did play with a military band in the period. After leaving the military, he joined Billy Eckstine's orchestra.[4] He returned to Washington D.C. a few years afterwards and received a degree in flute at the city's Modern School of Music. He played tenor sax with Count Basie from 1953 to 1964, doubling on flute.[3]

Wess was considered one of the best jazz flutists of his time. From 1959 to 1964, he won the Down Beat magazine critics' poll for flute.

He was a member of Clark Terry's big band from 1967 into the 1970s and played in the New York Jazz Quartet (with Roland Hanna).[5] He also did a variety of work for TV.[6] In 1968 he contributed to the album The Jazz Composer's Orchestra. He played tenor and alto sax, doubling on flute throughout his career.

In the 1980s and 1990s, he worked with Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid, Buck Clayton, Benny Carter, Billy Taylor, Harry Edison, Mel Tormé, Ernestine Anderson, Louie Bellson, John Pizzarelli, Howard Alden, Dick Hyman, Jane Jarvis, Frank Vignola and was a featured member of the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra. In the 2000s, Wess released two albums with Hank Jones. In 2007, Wess was named an NEA Jazz Master by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts.

Wess died from a heart attack related to kidney failure on October 30, 2013.[7][1]


As leader[edit]

With the New York Jazz Quartet

As sideman[edit]

With Toshiko Akiyoshi

With Manny Albam

With Lorez Alexandria

With Earl Washington (musician)

With Gene Ammons

With Dorothy Ashby

With Count Basie

With Count Basie Orchestra

With Benny Carter

With Ron Carter

With Kenny Clarke

With Hank Crawford

With Charles Earland

With Harry Edison

With Frank Foster

With Gene Harris

With Johnny Hartman

With Coleman Hawkins

With Johnny Hodges

With Bobby Hutcherson

With Milt Jackson

With J. J. Johnson

With Elvin Jones

With Etta Jones

With Philly Joe Jones Dameronia

With Quincy Jones

With Thad Jones

With Dick Katz

With Yusef Lateef

With Junior Mance

With Arif Mardin

With Les McCann

With Jimmy McGriff

With Charles McPherson

With Helen Merrill

With Oliver Nelson

With David Newman

With Joe Newman

With Chico O'Farrill

With Houston Person

With Buddy Rich

With A. K. Salim

With Woody Shaw

With Zoot Sims

  • Passion Flower: Zoot Sims Plays Duke Ellington (1979) [8]

With Melvin Sparks

With Leon Spencer

With Dakota Staton

With Billy Taylor

With Charles Williams

With Gerald Wilson

With Lem Winchester


  1. ^ a b Yardley, William (3 November 2013). "Frank Wess, 91, Saxophonist and Flutist With the Basie Band, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  2. ^ "Frank Wess - Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 2658. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  4. ^ "Frank Wess: The Message of Swing". Retrieved 2013-11-03.
  5. ^ Scott Yanow (1922-01-04). "Frank Wess | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-11-03.
  6. ^ "Frank Wess". 1922-01-04. Retrieved 2013-11-03.
  7. ^ Hum, Peter. "RIP, Frank Wess | Ottawa Citizen". Archived from the original on 2013-11-03. Retrieved 2013-11-03.
  8. ^ "Zoot Sims Discography". Retrieved 2013-11-03.

External links[edit]