Jul 26, 2011
Frank Foster, a saxophonist, composer and arranger who helped shape the sound of the Count Basie Orchestra during its popular heyday in the 1950s and ’60s and later led expressive large and small groups of his own, died today at his home in Chesapeake, VA from complications of kidney failure. He was 82.]
Mr. Foster had a varied and highly regarded career as a bandleader, notably with his Loud Minority Big Band, and he was sought after as an arranger for large ensembles. But it was the strength of his contribution to the so-called “New Testament edition” of the Basie band, from 1953 to 1964, that anchors his place in jazz history.
In his 11 years with the Count, Foster contributed a tall stack of marvelous charts to the Basie book ("Blues Backstage," "Down for the Count," "Blues in Hoss' Flat," "Back to the Apple," "Discommotion," the entire Easin' It album), but none suited the Chief's prerequisites better than "Shiny Stockings." He told an interviewer once:
"I wrote `Shiny Stockings' in 1955 and we had a rehearsal at a place called Pep's Bar in Philadelphia. We had just arrived in town. Everybody was sleepy, tired, hungry, and evil. Nobody felt like rehearsing. We rehearsed `Shiny Stockings' and it sounded like a bunch of jumbled notes, just noise, and I said, `Wow, all the work I put into this, and it sounds so horrible. I know Basie will never play it.' And then something very strange happened.
He continued to play and it came together.
Finally, we recorded it and, well, it's the very best known piece
that I have contributed to the Basie book.
"Years later," Foster remembers with pride, "Basie gave me
the supreme compliment. Every now and then, he'd say about a chart,
`Oh, it's very nice, kid,' and then leave it at that. Well, he
grabbed me, he said, `Junior, you know that "Shiny Stockings"? You
really put one down that time.' You couldn't receive a better
compliment from Count Basie.
"It embodies all the things that were important to him. It builds-it starts soft and ends with and explosion. It leaves space for the rhythm section to do whatever it's going to do. It has that ensemble writing which the band can sink their teeth into and really make happen-and a wonderful trumpet solo by Thad Jones."
He returned to the Basie band in the mid-1980s, this time as its leader. (Count Basie died in 1984.) He held the post for nearly a decade and earned something like emeritus status: when the Count Basie Orchestra was enlisted for Tony Bennett’s 2008 album “A Swingin’ Christmas,” Mr. Foster was the arranger.
Click here to listen to a 1989 recording from the Count Basie Orchestra called “The Count Basie Remembrance Suite”, a three part piece arranged by Foster and featuring several riveting solos by him. Among the members of the Orchestra are Freddie Green (guitar); David Glasser (flute, alto saxophone); Kenny Hing, Eric Dixon (flute, tenor saxophone); Danny Turner (piccolo, alto saxophone); John Williams (bass clarinet, baritone saxophone); Danny House (alto saxophone); Kenny King (tenor saxophone); Mike Williams (trumpet, flugelhorn); Bob Ojeda, Melton Mustafa, Sonny Cohn, Byron Stripling (trumpet); Clarence Banks, Mel Wanzo, Dennis Wilson , Robert Trowers (trombone); Bill Hughes (bass trombone); Tee Carson, Carl Carter (piano); and Dennis Mackrel and Duffy Jackson (drums).