Frank Foster

A major soloist and for a time the leader of the Count Basie Orchestra, tenor saxophonist Frank Foster (b. 1928) also had a viable solo career.

After studying music, Foster played with local bands in Cincinnati including Jack Jackson’s Jumping Jacks (1943-1945), his own big band, and the Wilberforce Collegians during 1946-1949. Foster worked in Detroit for a couple of years and, after serving in the Army, was with Count Basie from 1953-1964. In addition to his tenor solos (alternating with Frank Wess), Foster contributed arrangements and such originals as "Shiny Stockings,” "Blues Backstage,” and "Down for the Count.”

After leaving Basie, Foster contributed arrangements for Woody Herman’s orchestra, worked with Duke Pearson and the Thad Jones–Mel Lewis Orchestra, and led several bands of his own. He modernized his style, as can be heard on 1965’s Fearless Frank Foster, a hard-bop quintet date on which he effectively displays the influence of John Coltrane in his playing. Soul Outing from 1966 has some Latin jazz, the influence of gospel, and a bit of funky jazz from Foster’s sextet with trumpeter Virgil Jones.

During this period, Foster also led the Loud Minority big band and in the 1970s he often played with Elvin Jones. In 1983-1984 he made a pair of sets with his fellow Basie alumnus Frank Wess. Two for the Blues (originally released by Pablo) has originals by the co-leaders and underplayed standards, utilizing pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Marvin "Smitty’ Smith. The same quintet is in top form on Frankly Speaking, which was put out by Concord; highlights include Foster’s "Blues Backstage” and Neal Hefti’s "Two Franks.”

Frank Foster was the leader of the Count Basie Orchestra from 1986-1995. In his post-Basie years, Foster performed regularly with small groups and continued writing arrangements until a stroke in 2002 ended his playing career.