b. 23 September 1928, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. Although he began his musical career playing alto saxophone, Foster showed commendable foresight in deciding to change to tenor saxophone and flute, declaring his intention of following his own path and not the one sign-posted by Charlie Parker. In the late 40s he played with several like-minded spirits in the Detroit area, among them Wardell Gray and Snooky Young, before serving in the armed forces. In 1953 he joined Count Basie and became a significant member of the band as soloist, arranger and composer (‘Shiny Stockings’). After 11 years with Basie he joined Elvin Jones, another of the musicians with whom he had played in Detroit early in his career. In the mid-60s he formed a big band which continued to play intermittently over the next decade. He also played with the Thad Jones - Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra and co-led a small group with former Basie section-mate Frank Wess. In the mid-80s Foster began a long stint as frontman for the reactivated Basie band, with which he toured the USA and Europe.
Foster’s arrangements have always shown his affinity with post-war big-band writing and his work for Basie was an important factor in the success of that particular edition of the band. As a soloist, Foster’s early decision to go his own way paid dividends as he developed a distinctively acerbic tone which, while reflecting an awareness of his contemporaries, was very much his own.