Frank Foster

2009 Living Legacy Awardee

Color photo of Frank Foster holding his saxophone.

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Image: Frank Foster. Credit: Courtesy of the artist.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1928, Frank Benjamin Foster III began his long musical career at age 11, taking up the clarinet. Two years later he began playing alto saxophone on the recommendation of his clarinet instructor. Soon afterward, he had advanced technically on saxophone to the point of performing with local dance bands at age 14. He began composing and arranging when he was 15, later leading his own 12-piece band during his senior year in high school.

Dr. Foster is celebrating more than 65 years in music. A member of the world famous Count Basie Orchestra from 1953 to 1964, he achieved numerous other career highlights, including stints with The Lloyd Price Big Band, Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra, Woody Herman and his Orchestra, and The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. In addition, Foster has performed with bands led by Johnny Richards, Duke Pearson, Benny Goodman, and Peter Duchin. Foster was also a member of late renowned drummer Elvin Jones’ Jazz Machine.

In June 1986, Foster took over the leadership of The Count Basie Orchestra, succeeding Thad Jones. While leading the Basie Orchestra, Dr. Foster received two Grammy Awards: the first for his big band arrangement of the Diane Schuur composition Deedle’s Blues (Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocal, Jazz category, 1987), and the second for his arrangement of the renowned guitarist/vocalist George Benson’s composition Basie’s Bag (Best Big Band Instrumental, Jazz category, 1988). He has also received two Grammy nominations: one for his arrangement of Charles Trenet’s composition Beyond The Sea, as sung by George Benson, and the other for an album recorded with his fellow Basie alumnus Frank Wess, entitled Frankly Speaking on Pablo Records, 1985.

Resigning after nine years as leader of The Count Basie Orchestra in 1995, Foster resumed his leadership of three musical groups, The Non-Electric Company, Swing Plus, and The Loud Minority Big Band, each of which he had organized years prior to assuming leadership of the Basie unit.

Frank Foster has received numerous writing commissions, including: the Carnegie Hall Jazz Ensemble (Giant Steps, Countdown, Fascinating Rhythm, Satin Doll, Parker’s Mood, Quasimodo); The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (various Basie standards, Nica’s Dream and I Love You (Based on Your Availability), Romance Without Substance Is a Nuisance); the Malaysia Filharmonik (Shiny Stockings, Blues In Hoss’ Flat, Corner Pocket, Li’l’ Darlin’, and Basie); The Harpers Ferry Historical Association of Harpers Ferry (Niagra Movement suite); and, in March of 2009, The Chicago Jazz Ensemble, performed a three-part suite by Dr. Foster titled Chi-Town Is My Town and My Town’s No Shy Town.

In 2001, Foster suffered a stroke and the left side of his body remains paralyzed, leaving him unable to play the saxophone. Subsequently, he disbanded the quartet, quintet and Swing Plus. Foster’s Loud Minority Big Band still performs for limited engagements, mostly in the New York City area.

The National Endowment for the Arts presented Dr. Foster with its NEA Jazz Masters Award in 2002.

Foster continues composing and arranging at his home in Chesapeake, Va., where he resides with his wife and personal manager of nearly 45 years, Cecilia Foster.

Frank Foster (1928-2011)

*Bio from Award presentation.