"Although jazz has been officially declared a national treasure in recent years, far too few of its representative artists ever receive sufficient acknowledgement in the mass media. In view of this unfortunate reality, it’s quite fitting and honorable that a prestigious entity such as the National Endowment for the Arts recognizes the artistic, aesthetic and spiritual value of this home-grown music through the American Jazz Masters Fellowship. Therefore, it is with extreme happiness and gratitude that I accept the fellowship award for the year 2002."
Although best known for his work in the Count Basie Orchestra (and as the composer of the Count Basie hit, "Shiny Stockings"), Frank Foster's saxophone playing owed more to the bebop of Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt than the swing of Basie. Foster began playing clarinet at 11 years old before taking up the alto saxophone and eventually the tenor. By the time he was a senior in high school, he was leading and writing the arrangements for a 12-piece band. Foster studied at Wilberforce University in Ohio before heading to Detroit in 1949 with trumpeter Snooky Young for six weeks, becoming captivated by its burgeoning music scene. Drafted into the Army, Foster left Detroit and headed off to basic training near San Francisco, where he would jam in the evenings at Jimbo's Bop City.
After being discharged in 1953, two life-changing events happened to Foster: he sat in with Charlie Parker at Birdland and he was asked to join Count Basie's band, where he stayed until 1964. Foster's fiery solos contrasted nicely with Frank Wess' ballad work, providing Basie with an interesting saxophone combination. Foster, already an accomplished composer by this time, learned from Basie how to simplify arrangements to make the music swing. He soon was providing compositions and arrangements for the band ("Blues Backstage," "Down for the Count," the entire Easin' It album, just to name a few), with his most popular number being "Shiny Stockings."
In the 1970s, Foster played with contemporary musicians such as Elvin Jones, George Coleman, and Joe Farrell and began expanding his compositions. He also was an extremely successful freelance writer, creating a large body of work for jazz, including works contributed to albums by singers Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra, and a commissioned work for the 1980 Winter Olympics, Lake Placid Suite, written for jazz orchestra. In 1983, Dizzy Gillespie commissioned Foster to orchestrate Gillespie's song "Con Alma" for a performance and recording by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Foster led his own band, the Loud Minority, until 1986 when he assumed leadership of the Count Basie Orchestra from Thad Jones. While playing the favorites, he also began introducing original material into the playlist. Foster resigned as the musical director of the orchestra in 1995 and began recording albums again. In addition to performing, he also served as a musical consultant in the New York City public schools and taught at Queens College and the State University of New York at Buffalo. Foster received four Grammy Awards.
Count Basie, Verve Jazz Masters, Verve, 1954-65
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