Musician Gary Foster Leads a Double Life : Jazz: He may make ‘primary living’ in studios playing woodwind instruments, but his real love is live shows. He plays tonight at Hyatt Newporter.


“Woodwind doubler?” An unusual, colorful bird painted by John James Audubon, or perhaps a long lost character out of Dickens novel?

Nope. The two words describe a musician who plays a variety of woodwind instruments in film, television and recording studios. One such artist is Gary Foster, who brings his jazz quintet to the Hyatt Newporter tonight.

Foster says that for 20 years, he has made his “primary living” in the studios with his saxophones, clarinets and flutes and that right now, he’s in the middle of a good period. “I’ve been busy lately, but it’s cyclical,” he said from his home in Alhambra. Among his recent assignments: a yet-to-be-released album by singer-pianist Michael Feinstein; a recording of “White Christmas” by Michael Bolton, arranged by Johnny Mandel, and the soundtracks to such films as “A League of Their Own,” “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid,” “Godfather 3" and “Father of the Bride.”

But Foster said that if the choice were his, he’d focus his time and energies on jazz. “I’m a jazz player at heart,” he said. “That’s my main interest.”

Foster, whose own latest album is “Make Your Own Fun” on Concord Jazz Records, came to California from his native Kansas in the mid-'60s with the idea of making jazz his career. He soon found such colleagues as pianist Clare Fischer and the late tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh who, like Foster, took an open-minded approach to improvisation.


“There was great nourishment in that part of my life,” Foster recalls. “Clare . . . it’s hard to find any word that describes him, he’s so completely unique. And Warne became one of my closest friends.” (Foster and Marsh recorded “Ne Plus Ultra,” recently reissued on Hat Hut. He and Fischer worked together on “Thesaurus” (Atlantic, 1969) and “Whose Woods Are These?” (Discovery, 1981)).

But not long after his arrival here, Foster realized there just wasn’t enough work available to him as a jazzman. So he turned to studio work to support his family.

He says he’s “happy that I can make my living in music. But I came here to play jazz music and that’s what I’m still here for. I want to keep things like the Hyatt in my life as much as possible.”

Actually, Foster has been juggling aspects of his career since his days at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where he studied the classics by day and played jazz by night. And his activities have long ranged beyond studio calls and playing jazz dates: He also conducts clinics at colleges several times a year, performs at professional symposiums and, once each year for the past 12 years, has appeared as a soloist with the All American College Band at Disneyland.

“The park brings out some of the nation’s top college players from such schools as William Patterson (in Newark, New Jersey) or Berklee (College of Music in Boston). They work as a marching/show group in the park during the summer. Each week a different jazz artist comes down from Los Angeles and does a clinic, and then performs a concert at the Carnation Gardens on Saturdays at 5:30 p.m.” Foster played with the group last week.

Foster, 55, first encountered jazz as a teen-ager. His first inspiration was Woody Herman’s recording from the late ‘40s of Jimmy Giuffre’s “Four Brothers,” which featured such soon-to-be-greats as Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Serge Chaloff.

“Then I went from that back to Lester Young and then to Charlie Parker,” Foster said, tracing his influences. “That was all in about a year. Then I heard Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz. Then out here, Clare Fischer opened many doors.”

Particularly on the alto sax, Foster plays in a cool, unhurried style that reveals shades of Konitz’s approach. But he says that Parker and Young are still his strongest models. “Whether you hear them or not, it’s their music that draws me.”

The Gary Foster Quintet plays tonight at 7:30 at the Hyatt Newporter, 1107 Jamboree Road, Newport Beach. $8. (714) 729-1234.