Frank Wess (1922-2013), a linchpin of Count Basie's "New Testament" band starting in 1953 who pioneered an aggressive elegance on the tenor saxophone and transformed the flute from an orchestral ingredient to a hip solo swinger, died on October 30. He was 91.
Wess was among the 30 or so original jazz legends who are still on the scene. From the start in the late '40s, Wess had an eely feel on the tenor sax—but an eel that poked its finger firmly in your chest. Wess was a flawless soloist with a powerful, seductive tone who zig-zagged during solos but always wound up exactly in the right spot. His ability to wail lightly and swing made him special. Wess also was fluent in the updated swinging spirit of Basie's new band for the LP era. The Basie band's music wasn't designed for dancing but to make you wish you could if there was room.
A Frank Wess small-group sampler...
- Frank Wess: Wess Point (1954)
- Peter Pan, on Joe Newman's And The Boys In The Band (1954)
- No Count (1956)
- North, South, East, Wess (1956)
- Opus in Swing (1956)
- Trombones and Flute (1956)
- Opus de Blues (1959)
- Southern Comfort (1962)
- Yo Ho ! Poor You, Little Me (1963)
- Battle Royal (1981)
- Two at the Top (1983)
- Magic 101 (2011)
And anything by Count Basie from 1953 on.
Here's Frank Wess (second from right in the saxophone section) with Count Basie in 1962...
Chick Corea. In today's Wall Street Journal (go here or please buy the paper), I interview Chick Corea on Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain—and what happened to his album the day he registered for classes at Columbia University in 1960.
Lorin Cohen. The jazz bassist has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough funds to record his first album. Cohen has played with Monty Alexander, Joe Locke, Lew Tabackin, Victor Lewis, Steve Turre, Von Freeman, Geoffrey Keezer and Ryan Cohan, among others. Great stuff. Go here to see his video and hear his music. Remember, your pledge to Kickstarter only changes hands if the artist reaches his or her stated goal.
Waltz for Debby. Some years back I posted on Gene Lees' lyrics for Bill Evans' Waltz for Debby and that his favorite vocal version was by Ed Ames. Reader Russ Oechslin was kind enough to send along a sterling version of the Ames rendition...
Tommy Gumina (1931-2013). Last week reader Joe Hartka informed me that accordionist Tommy Gumina died on Oct. 28. He was 82. Some of his most exciting recordings were made with clarinetist Buddy DeFranco between 1960 and 1962. For more on Gumina, read my interview with Buddy DeFranco here. Still more on Gumina here. You'll find two of their recordings together here. [Photo above of Buddy DeFranco and Tommy Gumina]
Here's Gumina and Buddy DeFranco on Playin' It Cool (1961) and The Song Is You (1960)...
Barcelona talks. Only a few weeks until I'll be in Barcelona, Spain, giving a series of jazz talks based on
my book, Why Jazz Happened—courtesy of the U.S. State Department and the Barcelona International Jazz Festival. You won't miss a thing. I'll be posting from there, so it will be as if I took you along with me.
Oddball album cover of the week.
Wow, what was this art director thinking? Songs of the Sea is all well and good but why the ghastly image? Can't even imagine what photo graced the cover of Vox's Songs by the Fireplace.