Frank Foster, a jazz sax man and composer who is best known for his years with the Count Basie Orchestra, died Tuesday, July 26, at his home in Chesapeake, the Associated Press reported.
Foster, who composed Basie's hit "Shiny Stockings," died of complications from kidney failure, his wife said. He was 82.
Listen to an NPR report, watch videos and read details of Foster's rich music life here.
Read his New York Times obituary here.
Musicians around the world are mourning Foster's loss, but for local jazz men, the pain is particularly acute.
Bassist Jimmy Masters, who lives in Virginia Beach, greatly admired his skill and temperament. Masters said he performed with Foster a few times. Years ago, he played with Masters at the Washington, D.C., club One Step Down.
"What do I remember? Just how nice he was," Masters said, recalling that show. "This guy with an incredible history with the music, this significant figure for his composing and arranging ... To get on stage with him as just some local bass player, he would make you feel like you were the greatest player in the world. He was just the nicest guy. Always encouraging."
Masters also said Foster was eager to help and encourage young musicians. Masters remembers him visiting with students at Old Dominion University.
"To me, he was most remarkable for the generosity of his time and spirit, with younger kids. When he came to ODU and played, he did clinics with the magnet school kids and really spent a lot of time with him. He was really about spreading good will through the music and trying to increase awareness and interest with younger kids. He was very open to sharing his experiences."
The following is what drummer and radio personality Jae Sinnett wrote in an e-mail about Foster:
"Frank was a friend. He seemed to be a friend ... even to folks he didn't know. He had that kind of warm special persona. I met Frank through the late pianist John Hicks. I was at that time formulating ideas for my debut recording 'Obsession' and I wanted John to recommend a well respected tenor saxophonist that could play for the date. He suggested Frank Foster. I was like Frank? All I could think of was the amazing recording Frank did with master drummer Elvin Jones ... 'Elvin Jones Live At Town Hall' ... and thinking...YIKES! He's played for Elvin. There's no way he will get on my band stand and be comfortable. Frank heard the music and loved it and said yes. I was stunned by his openness and sincerity. He didn't need the money to do my date. He did it because of the honest appreciation of my charts and the band I had assembled. It was humbling for me. Frank showed me things on that date that taught me so much...in terms of simple arranging techniques and concepts. Most importantly though ... that the music was the most important thing ...
"Frank and his wife Cecilia moved to Chesapeake...about four blocks down the road from me. When Frank suffered his stroke I NEVER once heard him complain. Even when his health was deteriorating. Always upbeat and optimistic. I knew it devastated him that he couldn't play his horn anymore but he never complained. I remember making him and Cecilia something for Thanksgiving dinner one year. He had a restricted diet so I put together something just for him. It was special and just hanging and talking with Frank was pure joy because he had a razor wit and was so knowledgeable about the craft. If everyone was as kind, honest, courageous, thoughtful and funny as Frank Foster...hate wouldn't exist."
Here's what drummer Howard Curtis posted on his Facebook page: "I have enjoyed Basie alum, Elvin alum, tenor saxophonist, composer, arranger FRANK FOSTER forever. I had the great fortune of playing with him in big band and small band contexts. Great talks with him. The quintessential gentleman. RIP, Mr. Foster. Thank you for your many contributions to world peace."
In December 2006, a bunch of jazz heavyweights came to Norfolk to pay tribute to Foster.
On a Sunday afternoon hey gathered, talked and played music.
Here's what I wrote for the Daily Press about that memorable day:
Dec. 10 was a great day in Norfolk. The Waterside Jazz Legends Gala drew some of the nation's finest players and singers to town to honor Frank Foster, swing master and Chesapeake resident.
While I wasn't lucky enough to hear all of the music they made, I did sneak in to sample the vibe. I bumped into bass player Christian McBride on my way in. Later, I spoke to trumpet great Donald Byrd in a hallway at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott as singer Freddy Cole, son of Nat "King" Cole, sauntered past. I saw bassist Ron Carter zip by on his way in to hear Nnenna Freelon sing. Eventually, Freelon came out to chat, too. So did sax star Branford Marsalis, his arm in a sling due to a torn biceps tendon. Marsalis walked up and started shooting the breeze with Byrd. Scribbling notes, I listened as Byrd and Marsalis talked about old friends, the sad condition of New Orleans, and the mission of jazz education.
This rare convergence of top talent underscored Foster's status in the jazz world.
"This is what it's all about, we wanted him to get the chance to see this before we die," Byrd told me. Freelon said Foster created a community of musicians around him. "This is real family here," she said.
Marsalis said he wasn't surprised the daylong event didn't sell out.
"It's jazz. So, no, I'm not surprised," he said.
"But I believe in Frank and believe in the music. So I'm coming here, I don't care if there are 10 people in the audience. If you're worried about that, you need to be an entertainer, you don't need to be here."
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