Saxophonist and flutist. Born 1922 in Kansas City, Missouri; died 2013.
Wess was raised in Oklahoma, beginning to play alto saxophone at age 10. His family moved to Washington in 1935. His father was principal of a school and his mother was a music teacher. In Washington, Wess studied music theory with Henry Grant and played with Billy Taylor and other local musicians. He was graduated from Dunbar High School in 1937 and attended Howard University (1937-1938). Wess worked in the orchestras of Bill Baldwin and Tommy Myles and was a member of the Howard Theater band before he enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving from 1941 to 1945, primarily in North Africa, where he toured in support of Josephine Baker.
Following his discharge, Wess worked in the big band of Billy Eckstine (1946-1947). He returned to Washington and continued his musical studies at the Modern School of Music (1949-1953) where he focused on flute. After being courted by Count Basie for several years, he joined the Basie Orchestra in August 1953 and remained until 1964. Even early during his tenure, Wess was influential in recommending new musicians and helped to shape the sound of the band.