Saxophonist played with Count Basie
Multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger Frank Foster, a key member of the Count Basie Orchestra who led the band after its leader’s death, died July 26 of kidney failure in Chesapeake, Virg. He was 82.
During 11 years (1953-64) with the Basie band, Foster played tenor and alto saxophone and clarinet, contributed charts and penned several compositions, including the hit “Silk Stockings,” which debuted on Basie’s 1956 album “April in Paris.”
Basie died in 1984; Foster took over leadership of the Basie unit from trumpeter Thad Jones in 1986, and won Grammy Awards for his arrangements for the band in 1987 and 1988.
Born in Cincinnati, Foster originally played alto, and like many of his musical generation was influenced by bebop innovator Charlie Parker. In Detroit, he matured playing alongside bop-oriented musicians like tenorist Wardell Gray. His instrumental arsenal also included soprano sax and flute.
Following service in the Korean War, Foster joined Basie. The band’s book included such Foster compositions as “Down For the Count,” “The Comeback,” “Two Franks,” “Blues Backstage,” “Back to the Apple,” “Discommotion” and “Blues in Hoss Flat.” He was featured on several Basie albums on Verve and Roulette.
Foster also recorded as a leader for Blue Note, Savoy and Prestige in the ’50s and ’60s. He was a notable modernist presence on several late ’60s and early ’70s albums by drummer Elvin Jones and pianists Horace Parlan and Duke Pearson. He also took two ’70s stints in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band, played with organist Jimmy Smith, and co-led a group with saxophonist Frank Wess.
He also penned charts for vocalist Sarah Vaughan, and contributed an arrangement of “Mack the Knife” to Frank Sinatra’s 1984 set “L.A. is My Lady.”
After nine years leading the Basie group, Foster fronted his own combo and the larger ensembles Swing Plus and the Loud Minority Big Band during the ’90s.
Foster suffered a stroke in 2001 that left him unable to play, but he continued to lead his big band through the decade. He was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment For the Arts in 2002.
Survivors include his wife Cecilia.