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Jazz musician Frank Wess passes away

Jazz musician Frank Wess passes away

THE jazz flautist and saxophonist Frank Wess has passed away in the United States at the age of 91.

During his long career, Mr. Wess played with some of the top jazz ensembles and also developed a reputation as an influential mentor of young musicians.

Born in Kansas City, he got his first saxophone at the age of ten and was soon playing in his school orchestra. But it was not until he moved with his family to Washington DC that he got his chance to play jazz. His new high school orchestra included a number of budding jazz players, including Billy Taylor who would become one of the great jazz pianists. But at that time Taylor had contemplated taking-up the saxophone, but he later admitted abandoning the switch having heard the young Wess play.

After Army service in World War II — which included tours with bands to entertain the troops — Mr. Wess took advantage of the education provisions of the G.I. Bill to enroll in a course to study the flute. He would eventually be credited with being influential in establishing it as a jazz instrument.

In 1953, Count Basie offered the young Wess a place in his band (see below). He was to remain a key member of the ensemble until 1964. He then went on to play in a number of other leading outfits, including the house band for The David Frost Show for CBS TV which was led by his old friend Billy Taylor. For many years he also played with fellow saxophonist Frank Foster (see below). 

Mr. Wess continued to perform and record for many years (see below). His final concert was held in New York in April.

He passed away after suffering a heart attack while on his way to undergo dialysis treatment in New York.

To see footage of Mr. Wess playing with Count Basie, click here.

To listen to an excerpt from a recording of A Time For Love featuring Mr. Wess and fellow saxophonist Frank Foster, click here.

To see Mr. Wess performing The Very Thought Of You, click here.

To see footage of Mr. Wess performing A Good Move, click here.

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