Frank Wess Quintet At The Kennedy Center

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Set List

  • "Sara's Song" (Wess)
  • "Once Is Not Enough" (Wess)
  • "Eternal Triangle" (Stitt)
  • "A Time for Love" (Mandel, Webster)
  • "Cottontail" (Ellington)
  • "Estoril Sol" (Wess)

Frank Wellington Wess was born on Jan. 4, 1922, in Kansas City. He grew up and learned the saxophone in Oklahoma, but took his horn seriously only after he moved to Washington, D.C., and attended Dunbar High School. He's been all music ever since.

Frank Wess (300)

Frank Wess. Margot Schulman hide caption

toggle caption Margot Schulman

At 86, NEA Jazz Master Frank Wess has a ball leading a dream band with Terell Stafford on trumpet at the Kennedy Center Jazz Club.

Just out of school in the late 1930s, Wess worked in the band of Blanche Calloway, Cab Calloway's sister. During WWII, Wess played in an Army band, then accompanied Josephine Baker in Paris. After the war, Wess played for another Washingtonian, Billy Eckstine, in a legendary big band that left behind almost no recordings. Wess says that Eckstine should have had a career like Frank Sinatra's.

The day after this JazzSet recording, longtime friends Wess and Dr. Billy Taylor reminisced about jazz in D.C. in a session at the Kennedy Center Jazz Club. Wess remembered all sorts of nightspots and formidable talents, among them the fabulous pianist Art Tatum, saying, "You could hear every note like peas falling in a pan, [but] his fingers were just a blur." After a long career, Wess' playing sounds clear as a bell, as well.

Wess studied classical flute, and from 1954 to 1963, he played both sax and flute in the Count Basie Orchestra. The flute sounds delightful with Stafford's muted trumpet, as heard on "The Eternal Triangle" by Sonny Stitt, also a Washingtonian.

In the 1970s and '80s, Wess worked in New York studio bands, including the house band of the David Frost TV show where Frost's legendary and controversial interview with Richard Nixon took place. Wess led his own big band, as well, both here and abroad. And through the 1990s, he played first-chair tenor in the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. We could always depend on him for a great solo, as heard regularly on NPR's JazzSet.

This show comes on the heels of Wess' tour of Japan with the Lewis Nash Band and a subsequent road trip through Missouri and Ohio with this Frank Wess Quintet, featuring first-call trumpeter Terell Stafford, Ilya Lushtak from Russia on guitar, veteran Rufus Reid on bass and the ever-flirtatious Winard Harper, who makes those drums dance.

Originally recorded Nov. 21, 2008.


The Kennedy Center Artistic Advisor for Jazz is Dr. Billy Taylor, with director Kevin Struthers, Jean Thill, and thanks to intern Andrew Schneiderman. Mix by Greg Hartman of Big Mo Recording.



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