American Music (and Musicians) For The Ages


By Barry Bassis

We all know that great music lasts forever, but some musicians seem to live, and even perform, into their old age.

When a new CD, “Magic 101,” arrived from Frank Wess, I immediately checked for the date of the recording, assuming it must have been made decades ago. Yet, the session took place in June 2011. Born in 1922, he performed at Birdland earlier this year to celebrate his 91st birthday. Wess was a mainstay of the Count Basie band during his ten years there. That group became know as the “Two Franks” band because of the two saxophonist-composer-arrangers Frank Wess and Frank Foster. In 2007 he received the American Jazz Masters Fellowship award from The National Endowment for the Arts. And what does Wess sound like on the CD? Smooth as silk. Wess plays tenor saxophone and, never a flamboyant musician, he is mellower than ever, on evergreens like “The Very Thought of You” and “Easy Living.” He also sustains a gentle swing, with the help of a first-rate group: Kenny Barron on piano, Kenny Davis on bass and Winard Harper on drums. This is an album you can put on to relax after a stressful day. Incidentally, the tile of the new album is a reference to the fact that Magic is the nickname his band mates gave to Wess. My only complaint about the CD is that Wess doesn’t play flute, an instrument on which he was one of the jazz pioneers.