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Frank Wess: The Message of Swing

By Published: April 5, 2005
AAJ: During those years with the Basie Orchestra, you and Frank Foster developed a kinship that has carried on into the present day.

FW: Yeah, that's my man. We talk all the time on the phone now. We're damn near an album. Frank hasn't played for a couple of years now, because he had a stroke. But he still writes everyday. He's done some work with the Basie Orchestra and he also did a jazz thing for the Detroit Symphony. Yeah, he's been writing a lot.

AAJ: When you two were on the bandstand together, blowing your respective horns, there seemed to be a playful dynamic between you, at times almost competitive. Was that the case?

FW: No, we were never competitive. We appreciated each other, but it wasn't really competition. Friendly competition, maybe.

AAJ: One of the most important things for Basie was swing. How important is it to you?

FW: It's important for anybody who wants to play jazz. I mean all that other stuff, you can forget it. If you can't tap your foot or dance to it, you may as well be driving a cab. That's what it's all about. When I do clinics, I have the individual instruments play by themselves and I want them to make me dance—make me want to dance, you know. I don't want them to depend on the rhythm section or somebody else for that swing.

AAJ: Do you still practice every day?

FW: Yeah. You have to. I mean, if you're going to play, you have to. It's like physical exercise—if you miss a day, you feel it. If you miss two days, everybody knows it.

AAJ: Do you think you'll ever retire?

FW: Retire? To what? I've never done anything else in my life. I never had a 9 to 5, or none of that—I wouldn't even know where to start. So you just do what you know how to do.

Recommended Listening:
Frank Wess—Flutes and Reeds (Savoy, 1955)
Count Basie—April in Paris (Verve, 1955)
Count Basie—And the Kansas City Seven (MCA-Impulse, 1962)
New York Jazz Quartet—Blues for Sarka (Enja-Inner City, 1978)
Frank Wess—Surprise! Surprise! (Chiaroscuro, 1996)
One More—Music of Thad Jones (IPO Recordings, 2005)

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