Thursday, July 26, 2012

Frank Foster.... a jazz legend.

A couple of years ago, I promised that I would do a piece on Frank Foster but I never imagined that it would be on such a somber note.  Last year on this day, July 26 2011, Dr. Frank Benjamin Foster III passed away and the jazz world lost another great musician. He was a jazz tenor and soprano saxophonist, and was a member of the Count Basie Orchestra since the early 50's.  Frank left the Basie band in 1964 to pursue other ventures but returned as the leader of the Basie band in the mid 80's and continued in that capacity until 1995.  His contributions to the jazz and music world are immeasurable, and he will forever be remembered by those whose lives he touched and those who got to know him. I was lucky to have met him and we hung out a couple of times and listened to and talked about jazz.  Yes!!... little ole me hanging out with a jazz master like a Frank :-)  On one occasion I got to hang out with Frank (bottom right), at the Wynton Marsalis concert at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk Virginia on April 30th 2006.  In the picture below, Wynton is introducing Frank and his wife Cecilia Foster to one of his band members.
Back stage at the Wynton Marsalis concert at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk Virginia April 30, 2006.
 In 2003, Frank was introduced to Pierre Sprey of Mapleshade Records by Marquetta and Gerry Jones, who is pictured on the right above Frank. Pierre Sprey jumped at the opportunity to record Frank's latest venture, an eighteen piece big band called The Loud Minority. I met Frank for the first time a couple of years later at Gerry and Marquetta Jones' home; and I got to spend the afternoon with him talking about jazz.  It's a day I will never forget.  I asked him lots of questions, mostly about Miles and Coltrane.  I asked him how well he knew them and what it was like in the jazz scene then.  Frank talked and told me stories of times gone by as if they happened yesterday, his memory was sharp as a tack.  He told me that he spoke to both Miles and Coltrane from time to time.  Miles had even asked him to join a quartet  he was starting but Frank politely turned him down.  Frank had joined the Basie band a few years earlier and was committed to sticking it out and Miles understood.  Frank told Miles that he should consider Coltrane for the job and the rest is history.  Both Coltrane and Foster went on to have illustrious careers with their respective ventures as we all know.  Later, we got on the subject of fusion jazz artists, some of whom Frank knew and had done some recordings with.  We talked a lot about the fusion jazz era, a topic I'm apparently well versed in.  At the end of the evening I mentioned to Frank that I learned a lot about jazz talking to him.  He turned to me and said that he learned a lot about jazz talking to me.  I was floored, flattered, I may have even passed out :-)  Actually, I didn't but what a compliment.
Wynton Marsalis getting some pointers from Frank Foster.
In the picture above, I happen to witness a moment that I will never forget. Wynton Marsalia had been working on a song and consulted Frank on the arrangement. Wynton Marsalis listened intently as Frank broke it down, which is evident from the picture above and the video below.  The dialogue on the video is not very clear due to the other conversations in the room and the harsh acoustics back stage, but here it is anyway.

Frank and I talked on the phone several times after the Marsalis concert in 2006, which was the last time I saw him before he passed away.  I called him every year since 2006 on his birthday and other times to talk about LPs that I picked up to get his take on the artists.  He was always very gracious, receptive, talkative and very appreciative of my calls.  If he was not available I left a message and he always returned my calls.  I miss having that dialogue with him but I will always have his music to listen to.

Original Superband - Oak Grove United Methodist Church, Chesapeake, Virginia.

I attended Frank's funeral on August 2nd 2011 at Oak Grove United Methodist Church in Chesapeake Virginia.  When I entered the church my eyes lit up when I saw that the stage was setup for a big band performance to honor Frank.  I quickly ran out to my car and got my DSLR.  The band was the Original Superband, a crew of gifted entertainers hand picked by Frank over the years.  It was a 17 piece band, 13 of which made up the horn section.  Along with the instrumental performances, there were two different singers that accompanied the musicians on a few of the songs.  The band played several numbers during the service.  The powerhouse sounds of the Original Superband filled the church, there was plenty of brass.... just the way Frank would have liked it.  There were friends, family, former band mates of Frank; and others from the music world that filled the church like Branford Marsalis and Jae Sinnett to name a few.  Everybody loved the music, the music that we all know Frank loved too.

Heart felt words spoken by Branford Marsalis.
Jae Sinnett saying goodbye to a friend.

On this day I will remember Frank in my own way and perhaps you will do the same.  Tonight I will play a selection of Frank's material in his memory.  If you don't have any of his material, then I think any music will do.  After all, it's all music right?

The Vinyl Dude.