The Canadian jazz community is mourning the loss of Frank Wright, the widely beloved vibraphonist who had been an important part of Toronto’s music scene since the 1950s.
Beginning his career as a regular performer on Toronto’s after-hours club circuit, Wright went on to become one of Canada’s most highly respected jazz musicians. Known for his endlessly kind and gentle presence, Wright worked with several of the country’s most celebrated jazz icons, performing at major festivals and stages as renowned as Carnegie Hall.
Wright died the morning of Sunday, May 16, due to complications related to COVID-19, according to Toronto jazz advocate and publicist Fay Olson. He was 92.
All four of Wright’s children — Kevin, Norm, Diane and Donna — were with him (either at his bedside or on speakerphone) at the time of his death.
“This is a big loss for the jazz community in Toronto,” said JAZZ.FM91 host Heather Bambrick. “We’ve lost a fantastic musician, and even more importantly, one the kindest, most gentle and sweetest of men.”
Born on May 5, 1929, Wright began his music career in the ’50s, appeared regularly with clarinetist Henry Cuesta at Toronto’s Bourbon Street and touring with him to California jazz festivals. He was also a frequent performer with Florida’s Garden Avenue Seven on tour across the U.S.
In the mid-’80s, Wright formed a quartet with drummer Archie Alleyne, and they were often featured at the famous George’s Spaghetti House. Throughout his career, he worked with celebrated names including Joe Williams, Norm Amadio, Jim Galloway, Rob McConnell and Peter Appleyard.
Wright was a featured soloist in the Bob DeAngelis Champagne Symphony during their internationally renowned Benny Goodman Tribute concerts, including a triumphant performance at Carnegie Hall in 2008. Wright’s trios and quartets frequently appeared at major Canadian jazz festivals. He even played for Prince Philip in a private performance during one of the late Duke of Edinburgh’s visits to Toronto.
Later in his career, Wright was the leader of the hard-swinging Canadian Jazz Quartet, the ever-evolving group of elite musicians formed by Gary Benson in 1987. Playing with guitarist Ted Quinlan, bassist Pat Collins and drummer Don Vickery, Wright upheld “the standard of excellence in jazz in Canada.”
In 2006, Wright was nominated as jazz instrumentalist of the year during the National Jazz Awards.