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In an earlier life, when the World was young, I wrote woodwind and reed player extraordinaire
Foster a “fan letter.” Gary
It was occasioned by my attendance at a rehearsal of a community
c big band. ollege was the orchestra’s musical director and
my letter commented on the considerate and courteous way in which Gary put the band through its paces. Gary
During the practice, he took the time to help individual players and/or sections of the band who were struggling with various parts of an arrangement, made numerous suggestions to improve the band’s attack and dynamics, and did so many other, little things to bring out the best in the band’s performance.
Most importantly, especially with young minds and personalities,
went about his business with a demeanor
that was the epitome of civility. Gary
Don’t get me wrong,
challenged the students. He didn’t put up
with sloppy phrasing, bad intonation or inattention to detail [Did I mention
that these were “young” musicians?]. Gary
But when he did make corrections and adjustments in their playing, he did so with explanation, direction and instruction and not with ridicule or mocking and abrasive criticism.
As a result, boy did that band roar.
Here’s this mild-mannered, Father Christmas looking guy holding this tiger by the tail.
Any of us who ever played in a big band should have been so lucky as to have
for a director and teacher. Gary
In yet another, even earlier life, which I’m sure he’s forgotten about along with the fan letter, I played a few gigs with
I had returned from a year long visit to
courtesy of the government and was working fairly
regularly in a quartet led by alto saxophonist and flutist Fred Selden. The
group also included pianist Milcho Leviev. US
Around this time, Fred and Milcho were quite busy with the Don Ellis Orchestra and it was becoming increasingly common for them to send substitutes to gigs when they were out-of-town with Don’s band.
I was very impressed with Gary’s tone the first time I heard him play as it sounded much like the sub-tone used by Lee Konitz and Paul Desmond and less like the Bud Shank or Art Pepper tones I was used to while working with “West Coast” musicians.
Desmond kiddingly once described his tone as having “the sound of a dry martini.”
Not surprisingly, given Konitz’s and Desmond’s penchant for working with harmonically-oriented pianists such as Lennie Tristano and
Dave Brubeck, respectively, Gary would become
great chums with similarly oriented pianists Clare Fischer and Alan Broadbent over the course of his career.
Ever since I started the JazzProfiles blog, I’ve had it in mind to do a feature on
, but I just could not find a starting
In talking with a friend about
’s performance on a new Mark Masters CD – Everything You Did - a
tribute to the music of Steely Dan [about which more in a future review] over
coffee recently, he said: “Of course, you must be familiar with Gary ’s recordings on the Revelation label?” Gary
I said: “John William Hardy’s old label; the one that was based in
?” Glendale, CA
To which my friend replied: “Yup, the very same.”
Gary, it seems, made five LP’s for Hardy’s label including one with Warne Marsh [Ne Plus Ultra Revelations #12], one on which he shares the leadership with Warne and Clare Fischer [Report of the 1st Annual Symposium on Relaxed Improvisation Revelation 17], and three under his own name:  Subconsciously [Revelation #5];  Grand Cru Classe’ [Revelation #19]; Kansas City Connections [Revelation #48].
When I sheepishly admitted that I hadn’t heard any of
’s recordings for Revelation, my buddy
offered to “… bring them to you the next time we get together for coffee.” Gary
And so he did.
And in so doing, he finally unlocked a way that I was comfortable with for doing a feature on
and that is to take selected excerpts from
John William Hardy’s liner notes to Gary ’s Revelation recordings and to present
them as a chronicle of highlights from Gary ’s early career. Gary
Let’s begin at the beginning with Subconsciously [Revelation #5]. Here are some are some of the things James William Hardy had to say about
work on this recording. Gary
“GARY FOSTER, the 32 year old multi-instrumentalist whose work is the subject of this long-play recording, is not overdue as a jazz leader-soloist on record. Born in 1936 in
. Leavenworth , his musical training and jazz experience
have led him through a complex maze of developmental stages, esthetic reorganizations,
and maturational crises. These might, in the past 10 years, have been recorded
on phonograph disc to some discographical and musicological profit for the
listener, but I think, having known and heard the artist through this period,
that the present recording would have been the first one really worth owning
and continuing to hear over a long period of time. Because Foster in the past
few years has finally begun to stabilize his musical philosophy after a period
of self-doubt and eclectic experimentation with sounds and forms not true to
his innerself. Kansas
As a result, he now emerges as in important jazz voice, and one of only two saxophonists, the other being Jerry Coker, who has developed a thoroughly personal expression that stems from the joint influences of Les Konitz, Warne Marsh (the Tristano School) and Clare Fischer. Like Coker, Fischer, and the Tristanoites, Foster is a thoroughly grounded classicist, as a clarinetist, whose jazz experience dates from hit earliest musical activities and are an immutable part of the man's entire personality and art. Like them, he believes in a freedom of improvisational form that is underpinned with discipline and a strong relationship to compositional structure. And tike them, he practices the production of a musk that is full of warmth, love, and grace, but that is simultaneously alive with a pulsing swing and the poignancy of a truly basic jazz feeling. There is economy in his work, but it often fairly bursts with ebullience in its multi-noted passages that does not in any way finished quality, a full, whole, confident character that belies its spontaneity.
I first met Gary Foster at the
, where he transferred after two years at University of Kansas , Central College . At Kansas Foster was enrolled in the music
department, majoring in clarinet and in music education. I did not meet him in
this capacity, but as a jazz musician who, along with tenorist Nathan Davis
(now a popular ex-patriot musician in Fayette, Missouri ), Carmell Jones, and pianist Jay Fisher
(now a Chicago-based musician), was making the music scene in and around Germany a lively one indeed. That was in 1957.
Graduated from Lawrence , he had a year of teaching while attending graduate school, in
which, in his second year he studied saxophone and clarinet while pursuing
music history studies. In 1961, Foster and family moved to the Kansas area during the short-lived rise in
interest that jazz was to have there following the popular West Coast school
reign in the fifties. The early 60"s were not the best years for a young
white saxophonist to establish himself in an active jazz life. Los Angeles
Many people had just discovered Rollins and Trane. and the long overdue rise from obscurity for the L. A. negro jazz artist was in full progress. As justified as that was, it ironically sent to or kept many a promising white musician in the underground, unless he hustled himself into a harder form of playing that took advantage of the new interest in overt soul music and the extroverted proclamation of the blues. There was a short time when, without satisfactory employment.
experimented with "hardening"
his approach. But as he and others knew, Foster was in no way suited to that
style. Fortunately, he secured a position teaching music with Berry &
Grassmueck Music Co. in Gary (where he now administrates the studios,
conducts with Warne Marsh and others a subdivisional unit for jazz-oriented
students, and teaches privately). And even more fortunately, he met, in 1962,
pianist-composer Clare Fischer. Pasadena
Shortly thereafter, he became a student of Fischer, who re-established the flagging confidence of his pupil in the validity of his approach to jazz and at the same time helped to formulate a more sensitive and intricate approach to improvisation which no previous influence had been able to accomplish. Fischer was an enthusiastic student and scholar of the Tristano saxophonists aforementioned, as well as a well-spring of compositional and executional theory that
soaked up like a sponge. Besides the student-teacher relationship,
Fischer also occasionally offered Foster opportunities to record and play in
public that he had been almost denied for his first year on the coast Gary
The present record is not Foster's first, although it is the first to feature his extended jazz playing.
has been a mainstay of the reed sections
on several Fischer big band recordings. For the discographer (almost he alone)
Foster's very first appearance on LP was as a member of the college all-stars
led by trumpeter Don Jacoby in I960 ( Gary MGM LP E3881— see in the red sweater?) on which recording he
plays all tenor solos. Gradually, in the mid-1960's Foster has become a sought
after player in the studios and on Jazz and dance gigs alike, and, as these
notes go to press, he spends important playing time in the quintet of Jimmy
Rowles and a group led by Fischer.” Gary
Next up for
on Revelation was an appearance with tenor
saxophonist Warne Marsh on his LP entitled Warne Marsh [Ne Plus Ultra Revelations
#12] about which John William Hardy had this to say. Gary
“In the late 1940's. a couple of years after I had been running through the stylistic influence of the late Bud Powell, I happened to be listening to a jazz program on radio. I had turned on the program in the middle of a recording and was completely taken aback by a cascading line of such utter complexity played by two saxophones that my jaw dropped in astonishment. This was Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, and what I heard represented to me a new level of development in jazz that I was soon to plunge into. It was a development that manifested a high degree of melodic construction and harmonic usage that seemed such a logical development of what had just proceeded it. Often the melodic involvement, with displaced accents, cross meters and the like, would be so complex that the idea of playing it in a strict sense of time would go out the window.
The average reaction of the Lick player at that point would be: ‘Well, — they play a lot of notes, but man, they don't swing!’ — Which might have been part of my reaction except for the fact that I loved the notes they were playing. (Nobody seems to get bugged with the opposite: ‘He sure swings, but he keeps playing the same licks or someone else's vocabulary.’)
About four years back. Warne Marsh moved back home to
and shortly thereafter we started working
together in my band. Sometimes in the course of the evening our rhythm section
would be roaring to the point that he would be forced to play over it. The
Warne Marsh that came out then was something very different! In this album on Subconscious-lee I think you'll find him approaching this. You almost feel like
accusing him of swinging. Heaven Forbid! If Warne is not listened to for the
sheer sake of Warne, then relative judgment will get in your way and you'll
miss the point. Los Angeles
Gary Foster joined all this as a second generation orientation and as a result you will find his playing much more metrically oriented. Still, together the two have honed these lines, these fingerbusting lines, to the point that in many instances they are played at a faster tempo than the originals. I think the best examples of
's playing are contained in the free piece
that follows Subconscious-Lee and on 317 E. 32nd (based on the chord changes
of "Out of Nowhere"). Gary
Many might mutter, ‘His tone is Konitz oriented’ and consider that a criticism. I find that irrelevant considering how well he plays und that I've had to listen for over twenty years to dozens of alto saxophonists trying to sound like Charlie Parker. Few succeeded…..”
“Here is a session—in the best sense of the word. What is occasionally known as ‘Live!’ is usually no liver-er than a studio. The program is preplanned and the formality of the hall (or studio) establishes a context to be conformed to. The situation on
9 May 1972, in Clare Fischer's living room in Van Nuys, was much different.
The music was allowed to create its own context. There was no leader—only an
agreement that all participants would arrive about and enjoy themselves—eating, drinking,
playing, talking and relaxing. Pete Welding and I set up the little Stellavox
Sp-7 recorder, distributed some microphones and set forth to monitor the
musical proceedings as they occurred. We made only a general effort to turn on
the tape when the music started and nobody worried whether we had or not or
whether a selection would finish before the tape ran out. There were certainly
no second takes—or takes at all in the accepted sense. Just players, playing.
Sometimes selections were discussed and sometimes somebody just started
playing, the chords were spelled out obviously for those unfamiliar in the
first chorus, and then the thing went forward.”
Mr. Hardy steps aside as the annotator for
’s fourth Revelations LP - Grand Cru Classe’ [Revelation
#19]- in favor of Michael James who in 1973 was described on the liner notes as
a “… distinguished British Jazz Critic and frequent contributor to The Jazz Monthly. Gary
’s music, Mr. James observed: Gary
“… Foster, both in this collection and the one which preceded it, indicates certain cardinal features of his approach. … Foster has evinced a strong commitment to orthodox if complex chordal structures, and, as J.W. Hardy notes, thinks chordally better than most wind instrumentalists. … [One of] Foster's [preferred] methods of expression is a type of melodic density that sets them in a class apart from hackneyed blues riffs or ostensible originals hastily thrown together just for economic convenience. As an illustration of this quality can be found in Foster's own comments on Bill Evans's Tune for a Lyric. ‘Melodically and harmonically it appeals to me,’ he says, ‘in the way it seems to evolve in a “through” composed manner. The repeat scheme is not so purely geometric as it is in many jazz tunes and the end of the song keeps delaying its inevitability in a way I really find enticing.’
Foster, then, in his continuing affiliation to established methods of extemporization and in his enthusiasm for melodically intricate lines braced by harmonic structures of considerable substance, may be viewed as something of a musical conservative in an era which has seen numerous players discarding, sometimes, one feels, in too doctrinaire a manner, conventions that had governed jazz improvising, until 1960 or thereabouts, for upwards of three decades. Yet in so far as that description evokes a hidebound, unadventurous spirit rather than an artist who seeks to retain and build upon the distilled wisdom of earlier generations, it is hopelessly inaccurate in Foster's case.
Not only has this been made plain by his occasional involvement in group improvisations not guided by the usual harmonic precepts, … , but, more to the point, it becomes transparently clear as soon as he embarks upon his first solo chorus in the opening item of the present set. His improvisation flows naturally out of the song, developing impetus as it progresses, and building, without false artifice or even any marked increase in tonal emphasis, towards its logical conclusion.
In fact the solo's communicative power derives mainly from the controlled accumulation of melodic interest within a predetermined rhythmic and harmonic continuum, rather than from any sudden shifts in phrase patterns or tonal coloring. Such an amalgam of gracefulness and steadily gathering music intensity proclaims Foster's allegiance to what might loosely be termed the Lester Young aesthetic, a school of thought which embraces such diverse stylists as Zoot Sims and Lee Konitz, placing as it does greater emphasis on melodic resourcefulness and continuity of line man upon the more visceral stratagems of abrupt changes in volume or tone.
Foster, I believe, owes something to all three of these players, but his work nevertheless possesses a truly personal flavor, transmitting a sunlit lyricism which, whatever their other qualities, is not an attribute one would readily associate with any of the other musicians named. In drawing this distinction one is reminded of the very individual use which, in a rather different area, the pianist Barry Harris has made of Bud Powell's vocabulary. …
For his fifth album with Revelation,
took matters into his own hands [so to speak] and wrote these
comments for the liner notes: Gary
Connections [Revelation #48]. Kansas City
In 1951, as a junior high school student in
, 35 miles from Leavenworth, Kansas , I first heard improvised jazz music at
the hands of Olin Parker, my school hand director and musical inspiration. Olin
brought jazz records and magazines about jazz to the band room and organized a
small school jazz hand that hooked me to the music forever. I soon learned
that, geographically, Kansas City had its own important place in the history of jazz and
that, long before my ears were opened to the music, Charlie Parker, Jay
McShann, Lester Young and Count Basic had put Kansas City on the jazz map. Kansas City
In the following years I lived and studied near
. In the middle and late 1950's, Bob
Brookmeyer, Carmell Jones, Jimmy Lovelace, Charlie Kynard and Frank Smith were
the names I mast associated with the continuing tradition of Kansas City jazz. In recent years I have been
fortunate to teach at the Kansas City — University of Missouri and to play in the area many times, under
various circumstances, most often with the musicians heard on this recording. Kansas City
The playing of my colleagues here is proof that jazz in
is in good health today. Carmell Jones
(back home again), Herman Bell, Arch Martin, Kim Park, Mike Ning and many
others help to keep the music alive there. Kansas City
This recording came about through the eagerness and encouragement of Jim Nirschl. Jim is a valued friend and
nerve ending for jazz musicians from all parts of the
world. A Kansas City
Roots, family, friends and music are all
connections. Not to mention Kansas City barbecue! Kansas City
Gary Foster, 1985”
Although my view of him is informed largely from impressions, in general, I couldn’t agree more with his long-time friend, Dick Wright’s description of
when he writes: Gary
“Over the years, I have seen and heard
grow from an outstanding young Stan Getz-influenced tenor
saxophonist to, today, a consummate artist on alto, tenor and soprano saxes, as
well as clarinet (his first instrument) and flute. He is truly a ‘musician's
musician’ who is held in the highest regard by fellow musicians as well as jazz
lovers and jazz students of all ages. Gary … is equally at home in the recording
studios, the class room and on the concert stage. …” Gary
Somewhat ironically, I didn’t select a track from any of
’s wonderful recordings on Revelation
Records to feature on the accompanying video montage. Gary
Perhaps when you listen to his spellbinding performance on Some Other Time from his Make Your Own Fun CD on
[CCD-4459] you’ll understand why. Concord
In all the years that I have been listening to this music, I never heard it played more beautifully by anyone.
Gary Foster is a very special musician.