FRANK FOSTER, saxophone-composer; b. September 23, 1928; Cincinnati, OH

Frank Foster is one of those rare triple threats: He’s a saxophonist with a big, broad, rangy sound and approach; he’s a composer and arranger of both tunes and long-form works; and he’s a skilled leader of bands both large and small. As a saxophonist fluent on tenor, soprano, and alto saxes, he’s been a welcome addition on bandstands and recording studios of vast variety. As a composer and arranger his efforts have run the gamut, from writing such jazz standards as “Shiny Stockings” and “Simone”, to his “Lake Placid Suite”, commissioned by the 1980 Winter Olympics. As a bandleader he’s led everything from quartets to big bands, all with great aplomb and abundant skill.

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Frank’s mother was an amateur pianist, so the influence of music was always in his home. From the time he was a teenager, Frank played in dance bands in and around southern and south-central Ohio. After learning music in Cincinnati schools, he matriculated to Central State University, where he joined the Wilberforce Collegians, a major collegiate training ground. In 1949 Frank moved to Detroit, where he played with both aspiring and veteran jazz musicians, including fellow Ohioan Snooky Young. Some of Frank’s early influences included Wardell Gray and Sonny Stitt.

Frank entered the Army in 1951. After his Army stint ended in 1953 he joined one of the great jazz proving grounds, the Count Basie Orchestra. This was to be one of his signature band affiliations, for the next eleven years and beyond. With the Basie band he was not only a key member of the saxophone section, his keen writing skills soon came to the Count’s attention, and he became one of Basie’s most trusted composers and arrangers. His most noted contribution to the Basie book was “Shiny Stockings,” which became a Basie signature. And Basie so valued his playing that Frank was also a member of the Count’s occasional small band, known as the Kansas City Seven. Frank Foster’s composing and arranging gifts served him well and his skills were sought by several big bands, including the Woody Herman band, and the Lloyd Price Orchestra, which at the time was directed by Slide Hampton.

From the mid-1960s through the 1980s Frank Foster led his own large and small groups, including his Loud Minority big band, Living Color Band, and Frank Foster’s Non-Electric Company. He was also a much sought after saxophone soloist, composer and arranger for bands large and small. These affiliations included the Duke Pearson, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, Buddy Rich, Clark Terry, and Jazzmobile big bands. It was the Jazzmobile Big Band that performed his “Lake Placid Suite”, at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. Quite skilled at working with singers, Frank arranged and conducted a record date for Sarah Vaughan. He has featured such stellar vocalists as Ernestine Anderson and Dee Bridgewater in his own big bands, as well as arranging Carmen Bradford’s vocals for the Basie band. Ms. Bradford even sang Frank’s praises on a Basie band tune called “Papa Foss.”

Frank’s small ensemble memberships during the 70s and 80s included the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, and a quintet co-led with fellow saxman Frank Wess. Two years after Count Basie ascended to ancestry, Frank Foster took over leadership of the Basie Orchestra and swung it to good health, from June, 1986 to July, 1995. He assisted mightily in upholding the proud Basie tradition, thrilling old fans and winning new converts to their distinctly swinging sound.

Since leaving the Basie organization, Frank Foster has kept busy with a broad range of small band work and jazz education. His jazz education work actually commenced years before that. He was hired as a music consultant by the New York City public schools in 1971 and 1972. In addition to his long teaching tenure with the Jazzmobile organization, Frank has taught at the State University of New York in Buffalo, and at Queens College. In 1983 he returned to his alma mater, Central State University, to receive an honorary doctorate degree.


We Do It Diff’rent (#09532)