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Frank Foster (jazz musician)

Frank Foster
Frank Foster (left) and Dan Morgenstern in 2008
Frank Foster (left) and Dan Morgenstern in 2008
Background information
Birth nameFrank Benjamin Foster III
Born(1928-09-23)September 23, 1928
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
DiedJuly 26, 2011(2011-07-26) (aged 82)
Chesapeake, Virginia, U.S.
LabelsBlue Note, Prestige, Savoy, Argo, Mainstream, Catalyst, Denon, Leo, EPM Musique, SteepleChase, Pablo, Concord Jazz, Arabesque, Challenge, Mapleshade
WebsiteFoster's Official Biodata

Frank Benjamin Foster III (September 23, 1928 – July 26, 2011) was an American tenor and soprano saxophonist, flautist, arranger, and composer. Foster collaborated frequently with Count Basie and worked as a bandleader from the early 1950s. In 1998, Howard University awarded Frank Foster with the Benny Golson Jazz Master Award.

Early life and education

Foster was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States, and educated at Wilberforce University. In 1949, he moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he joined the local jazz scene, playing with musicians such as Wardell Gray.


Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1951, Foster served in Korea with the 7th Infantry Division where he fought alongside (although unknowingly) future collaborator Shawn ‘Thunder’ Wallace. Upon finishing his military service in 1953 he joined Count Basie's big band. Foster contributed both arrangements and original compositions to Count Basie's band including the standard "Shiny Stockings", and other popular songs such as "Down for the Count", "Blues Backstage", "Back to the Apple", "Discommotion", and "Blues in Hoss Flat", as well as arrangements for the entire Easin' It album.

From 1970 to 1972 (and on occasional later dates) he played with Elvin Jones, and in 1972 and 1975 with the Thad JonesMel Lewis big band. Foster was an Artist in Residence at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston in 1971. That same year, he also started teaching for the New York City Public School System in District 5, Harlem, as part of a team of six professional musicians assigned to the Federal Government's Title I Program: Cultural Enrichment Through Music, Dance, and Song. From 1972 to 1976, Foster was full-time Assistant Professor in the Black Studies Program at the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY).

Foster also formed and lead several groups, most notably Living Color and The Loud Minority. He co-led a quintet with Frank Wess in 1983, and toured Europe as a member of Jimmy Smith's quintet in 1985.

In June 1986, Foster succeeded Thad Jones as leader of the Count Basie Orchestra. While leading the Basie Orchestra, Foster received two Grammy Awards: first for his big-band arrangement of the Diane Schuur composition "Deedles' Blues" (Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocal, Jazz category, 1987), and second for his arrangement of guitarist/vocalist George Benson's composition "Basie's Bag" (Best Big Band Instrumental, Jazz category, 1988).

After leaving the band in 1995, Foster resumed his leadership of three musical groups: The Non-Electric Company (a jazz quartet/quintet), Swing Plus (a 12-piece band), and The Loud Minority Big Band (an 18-piece concert jazz orchestra), each of which he had organized years prior to assuming leadership of the Basie unit in 1986.

Frank Foster suffered a stroke in 2001, that impaired his left side to the extent that he could no longer play the saxophone. After continuing to lead the Loud Minority on limited engagements for much of the 2000s, he turned his leadership responsibilities for the band over to Cecil Bridgewater, a prominent New York City jazz musician. Until his death Foster continued composing and arranging at his home in Chesapeake, Virginia, where he resided with his wife and personal manager of nearly 45 years, Cecilia Foster. He died of kidney failure on July 26, 2011.

Awards and commissions

Humanitarian causes

Foster became a great supporter of The Jazz Foundation of America in their mission to save the homes and the lives of America's elderly jazz and blues musicians including musicians who survived Hurricane Katrina. After receiving help from the Jazz Foundation, he supported the cause by performing in their Annual Benefit Concert "A Great Night in Harlem" in 2008.

He donated his gold-plated tenor sax to be auctioned by the Jazz Foundation of America, the proceeds of which went to support the foundation's non-profit programs, especially working gigs and educational programs for victims of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.


As leader

As arranger

As sideman

With Pepper Adams

With Lorez Alexandria

With Count Basie

With Count Basie Orchestra

With George Benson

With Kenny Burrell

With Donald Byrd

With Earl Coleman

  • Manhattan Serenade (1968)

With Matthew Gee

With Bennie Green and Gene Ammons

With Coleman Hawkins

With Eddie Higgins

With Elmo Hope

With Milt Jackson

With Illinois Jacquet

With Elvin Jones

With Quincy Jones

With Thad Jones

With Ronnie Mathews

With Thelonious Monk

  • Monk (Prestige 1954)

With Joe Newman

With Horace Parlan

With Duke Pearson

With Hilton Ruiz

With Woody Shaw

With Mickey Tucker

With Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson

With George Wallington

  • Showcase (Blue Note 1954)

With Cedar Walton

With Julius Watkins

With Frank Wess

See also

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