Farewell: Frank Wess

Last week Frank Wess, one of the great woodwind doublers in jazz, passed away at age 91. He was best known for his years with the Count Basie band, and for being an influential figure in bringing the flute into its own as a jazz instrument.

If you’re not familiar with his playing, definitely check out “Midgets” from the Basie April in Paris album. Sometimes classically-trained flutists are quick to dismiss jazz-playing doublers, in some cases justifiably so, for failing to pay proper dues on the instrument. While Wess’s tone doesn’t fit current ideas about a “correct” classical sound, there is evidence here that he is in control of the instrument: certainly good command of finger technique (and remember, classically-trained folks, that Wess is improvising here), plus some double-tonguing, a technique common in classical flute technique but relatively rare among reed players.

Photo, Tom Marcello
Photo, Tom Marcello

There is a nice tribute (with a YouTube video) at the NPR jazz blog.

Leave a comment

Commenting policy