Frank Foster died today following a long period of ill health. He was 82. Foster was important to the Count Basie band as a tenor saxophonist, composer and arranger for more than a decade beginning in 1953. In the reed section, he and Frank Wess teamed up as one of the best-known tenor sax tandems in jazz. Foster later also distinguished himself as a bandleader in his own right and as an educator. He moved beyond his hard bop essence as a soloist into free territory opened for exploration by John Coltrane, but never abandoned his bebop beginnings or the blues heart of his style. His Loud Minority and Living Color big bands served as training and proving grounds for dozens of young musicians and outlets for established players who cherished the band environment. After Thad Jones’ death, Foster led the Basie band for nearly ten years in the 1980s and ‘90s. For a thorough obituary of Foster, see Nate Chinen’s piece in today’s New York Times.
When I first heard Foster with Basie around 1955, he looked pretty much as he does in this photograph. Following a concert in downtown Seattle one night, he, Wess, bassist Eddie Jones and other members of the band showed up at the old Birdland on East Madison Street (pictured). Aside from Foster’s powerful playing in a jam session that occupied several early morning hours, I remember that during breaks he charmed the best looking woman in the club and ultimately went out the door with her on his arm. That was years before he met Cecilia, the woman who became his wife.
Foster’s composition “Shiny Stockings,” recorded in Basie’s 1955 April in Paris album, became an instant staple in the Basie book, where it remains in today’s edition of the band. That hugely popular piece will be coming in for lots of attention in the aftermath of Frank’s death. Video of the Basie band playing it has been removed from the web by a record company copyright intervention, but we have the audio of “Shiny Stockings,” accompanied by a photo of Basie.
Here is Foster leading his beloved Loud Minority in his composition “4, 5, 6.” The video is a bit shaky, possibly because of the disco lights on the dance floor. He is in a wheel chair and doesn’t play, but you can feel his energy swinging the band. The trombone soloist is the veteran Benny Powell.
Frank Foster, RIP.