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Teddy Edwards & Frank Wess

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TEDDY EDWARDS & FRANK WESS

As the signal instrument in jazz from the mid-50s through the early 70s, the tenor saxophone attracted thousands of young players--so obviously not all of them could go on to cut a top-selling record or earn a page of their own in the history books. That, more than anything else, explains why you might find a chair when tenor men Teddy Edwards and Frank Wess hook up at the Jazz Showcase this week: though they've spent their professional lives playing one sparkling and spectacular solo after another, leaving indelible marks on the music, neither man's name is a household word. Edwards's 1946 recording of "Up in Dodo's Room" may be the earliest documented bop tenor solo--the jury's still out, but the great trumpeter Fats Navarro cited it when he called him the first bebop tenor player. Building on the strengths of that performance, Edwards would develop an unquestionably original style: his tone is sonorous and majestic in the lower register, warm and clear up top, and still remarkably flexible, an ideal vehicle for his highly articulated, busily lyrical lines. Perhaps if he hadn't moved to LA with his new bride in 1954--leaving Clifford Brown and Max Roach's fledgling quintet, which would make stars of his successors, Harold Land and Sonny Rollins--Edwards would be better known today. Now 76, he's been recording again since the early 90s; the shortage of new discs for most of the 80s fueled stateside rumors about his health, especially since he spent that decade performing almost exclusively in Europe, but these days he seems as vigorous as he did 20 years ago. (If you've got time on your hands, try to find his tremendous 1980 album, Out of This World, on Steeplechase; if you don't, the 1997 Midnight Creeper, on Highnote, will do.) The 78-year-old Wess had his first steady gig in the Count Basie band of the 50s and early 60s, where he and fellow tenor man Frank Foster established a long-standing musical friendship. Since then he's appeared as a guest soloist in a host of groups paying tribute to Basie; he's made dozens of albums under his own name or with Foster; and in recent years he's found a niche as the perfect backing horn man for vocalists like Carol Sloane, Ernestine Anderson, and Mel Torme. But it's Wess's flute playing that really warrants special recognition: he was among the first to create a viable jazz-flute voice in the early 50s, using his spot in the Basie band to bring the instrument its earliest celebrity in the genre. He'll likely have both flute and sax with him here; he and Edwards will play as part of a quintet. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, next Friday and Saturday, June 9 and 10, 9 and 11 PM, and next Sunday, June 11, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nancy Miller Elliott.

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