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CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Frank Wess: Magic 201

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The cover of the late Frank Wess' final album, Magic 201, closely resembles that of its predecessor, Magic 101--so much so that a reviewer who didn't look closely enough might assume he'd been sent a second copy of the earlier album by mistake. (Oops!) Wess recorded Magic 201 in September 2011, two months after Magic 101 and less than four months before his ninetieth birthday. The format is roughly the same--emphasis on ballads and medium-tempo blues, Wess relying heavily on the tenor sax (he does play flute on one number, Michel Legrand's “The Summer Knows")--albeit with slightly different personnel. Pianist ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Frank Wess: Magic 201

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IPO Records has become the jazz destination for seasoned jazz veterans. Saxophonist James Moody (1925--2010) recorded his last two releases for the label: Moody 4A (2009) and Moody 4B (2010). Hard on Moody's heels is saxophonist Frank Wess (1922- -2013) who followed his Magic 101 (2013) with the predictable titled Magic 201. Pianist Kenny Barron and drummer Winard Harper hold over from the previous recording, augmented by bassist Rufus Reid and guitarist Russell Malone. Six standards and two Wess originals fill out the recording taped in 2011. The performances are relaxed, reflecting a long life of music ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Frank Wess: Magic 201

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Despite a career that spanned more than half of a century, Frank Wess was not a household name. The flautist/saxophonist spent the 1950s and 60s playing with some of the best known big bands in the U.S. including those of Billy Eckstine, Count Basie and Clark Terry. During that period he was primarily recognized as a flute virtuoso though he played both alto and tenor saxophone at that time as well. Wess shifted his attention more toward the saxophone later in his career and worked with the likes of Benny Carter, Hank Jones, John Pizzarelli and Toshiko Akiyoshi among others. ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Frank Wess: Magic 201

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What a wonderful coda on an incredible life and career. Saxophonist/Flautist Frank Wess' final recordings--the critically acclaimed Magic 101 (IPO, 2013) and this follow-up, recorded two months after that album--speak to his brilliance and clarity as a melody maker and improviser. His wisdom and elegance come through in every note on both recordings. The titles of both albums rightly mark them as companion pieces and close relatives, so here's how they stack up side-by-side: Both albums favor ballads, highlight the easy rapport between Wess and pianist Kenny Barron, and focus on Wess' tenor work; his flute remains ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Frank Wess: Magic 201

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Saxophonist Frank Wess was born in 1922. He played in Billy Ecstine's orchestra, after World War II interrupted his burgeoning career, and he played in Count Basie's band from 1953 to 1964. With those early experiences on his resume, the fact that he was a traditionalist in the mode of saxophonists Ben Webster, of Duke Ellington Orchestra fame, and Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young should come as no surprise. Following up his Magic 101 (IPO Recording, 2013), Wess, who passed away in October 2013, at age 91, offers, perhaps, his last recording, a posthumous upper class course in ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Frank Wess: Magic 101

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In 2007, saxophonist and flutist Frank Wess was named NEA Jazz Master, and Magic 101 amply demonstrates why. This mellow session covers six standards and a Wess original, with a candid and unadorned style that is nevertheless powerful in its apparent simplicity.Like a wise raconteur, the 89 year-old (at the time of the recording) icon embellishes the melodies with wit and erudition. His cool, big-toned tenor weaves flowing lines in muted color around the rhythm section's languid beats and chimes on “Easy Living." Pianist Kenny Barron's nocturne-esque solo closes the tune with a subtle yet sublime fantasy.

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Frank Wess: Magic 101

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Most musicians can't escape the ravages of time, but a select few seem to have taken a sip from the musical fountain of youth. The late Hank Jones, for example, played with brilliance and class until the day he died at the age of 91, and octogenarian drummer Roy Haynes continues to snap and crackle in all the right places, demonstrating unmatched originality and agility as he approaches the big nine-o. Saxophonist/flautist Frank Wess is another such figure. Wess, who made an indelible impression on the music during his tenure with the great Count Basie and went on to record ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Frank Wess: Magic 101

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The “magic" here lies not only in the radiant music created by this stellar quartet of world-class musicians but also in the fact that its leader, Frank Wess, was a youthful eighty-nine years old when this splendid album was recorded in June 2011. Wess was once a star soloist (on tenor sax and flute) with the legendary Count Basie Orchestra, but that was back in the '50s and early '60s, when the big bands were riding high. While he has (obviously) remained active since then, his name is no longer as familiar to most jazz fans as it was when ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Frank Wess: Once is Not Enough

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Dominated by the sound of swinging, good-time blues, Once Is Not Enough indisputably plants NEA Jazz Master Wess in the tradition of Count Basie, in whose Count Basie Orchestra Wess played flute, alto, and tenor saxophones for more than a decade.

This set jumps from the very start: Wess' tenor on his opening, title track sounds neither heavy or deep, but still bounces and strolls like a sharp Saturday night player. His minor blues “Sara's Song" exemplifies the energetic ensemble blowing sessions that highlighted the swing era, especially when Steve Turre's trombone solo dusts up a ruckus. Everybody ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Frank Wess Nonet: Once Is Not Enough

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Known affectionately as “Magic" to his professional colleagues, saxophonist/flautist Frank Wess is a living legend in the jazz world. His résumé includes stints with Billy Eckstine, the Clark Terry Big Band and a decade performing with the Count Basie Orchestra, and he is recognized as one of the first major flautists to have an impact on the music. Once Is Not Enough is an audacious recording that follows his most recent collaboration with Hank Jones on Hank and Frank II (Lineage Records, 2009), with six original compositions and three covers tastefully arranged to feature the many soloists on his hand-picked ...

MULTIPLE REVIEWS

Frank Wess: Basel 1956 Part 1; Once is Not Enough; Hank and Frank II; Plays the Music of Irving Berlin (except one)

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Count BasieBasel 1956 part 1TCB2009 Frank WessOnce Is Not EnoughLabeth Music2009 Hank Jones and Frank WessHank and FrankLineage2009 John BunchPlays the Music of Irving Berlin (except one)Arbors2008 At 87, Frank Wess is a member of the exclusive jazz fraternity old enough to remember and have participated in the last years of the Swing Era. His was the Swing-to-bop ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Frank Wess Nonet: Once Is Not Enough

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In the musical numbers game, trios and quartets are a dime a dozen, with occasional duos and quintets. Anything larger than the latter is usually presented as a group, big band or orchestra, if anything at all, with Frank Wess Nonet defying that model.Wess is an NEA American Jazz Master, and a veteran of the Count Basie Orchestra. For Once Is Not Enough, Wess leads an ensemble of nine musicians.The title song is a lively, swinging piece. Wess leads on tenor sax, backed by a five-piece horn section. Drummer Winard Harper plays a standard rhythm on ...

CATCHING UP WITH

Frank Wess Wisdom

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One of the first major jazz flutists, Frank Wess has also been a top Lester Young-influenced tenor man, an expert first altoist, and an occasional composer/arranger--certainly a valuable man to have around. Early on he toured with Blanche Calloway, served in the military, and had stints with Billy Eckstine Orchestra (1946), Eddie Heywood, Lucky Millinder, and R&B star Bull Moose Jackson. That was all just a prelude to Wess' important period with Count Basie's big band, from 1953-1964. His flute playing, so expertly utilized in Neal Hefti's arrangements, gave the Basie Orchestra a fresh new sound, and his cool-toned tenor ...

INTERVIEWS

Frank Wess: The Message of Swing

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The genetic makeup of sax and flute legend Frank Wess is pure jazz. What else could explain over 60 years on the bandstand, dozens of cities seen and conquered, the message of swing spread to all within earshot? Though perhaps best known for his years with Count Basie, bookending those are decades of vigorous development and art. And like a long, abounding breath from his polished horn, the 83 year-old Wess remembers it all with lucid mind, sharp wit and unending generosity. All About Jazz: Growing up in Oklahoma, how did you first get into music?



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