Gary Foster-Recording Studio Wizard and Woodwind Master

Gary Foster-Recording Studio Wizard and Woodwind Master

Recording Studio Wizard and Woodwind Master Gary Foster has been a fixture on the Los Angeles music and recording scene for more than five decades.  He has been a part of the golden age of recording, doing studio work, television and movie soundtracks, and innumerable live gigs with the “best of the best” musicians in Los Angeles since the 1960’s.

A good overview of his career can be found here at Wikipedia……

Gary is legendary for his skills on all the saxophones, all the clarinets, and all the flutes.  You have heard his work many times and are likely totally unaware of it.  If you have been a movie goer for the last thirty years you no doubt have heard him on a soundtrack or three.  He has been everywhere in Los Angeles, including playing in tiny jazz clubs as he is a fine improviser with a distinct West Coast sound, similar in some respects to Art Pepper and Bud Shank.  Gary is also an accomplished educator who over the years has done many clinics and master classes, and has worked with talented students via his private lesson studio.  His signature pure tone on alto saxophone combined with his terrific intonation and his complete mastery of the various flutes and clarinets have made him THE first call studio woodwind player in Los Angeles for some 50 years now……

My interest in Gary Foster, who is one of the nicest, most unassuming guys you could ever meet, stems from his friendship with the late great tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh.  Gary and Warne spent a lot of time together, and Gary credits Warne with exposing him to a lot of information about the Tristano style and repertoire, and improvisation in general.  I managed to meet with Gary a couple of times in Los Angeles in the mid 1990’s.  He gave me some charts of the Tristano lines that he’d learned from Warne in some of their late night practice sessions in the 1970’s in Los Angeles.  You can see here how beautiful his hand written charts are…….

Lennies Pennies:E Flat

Dream Stepper Fixed

Ablution:E Flat

There are not many Gary Foster solo recordings under his own name, and the few that exist are very rare and hard to find. 

Make Your Own Fun, Concord Jazz CCD-4459, 1991 is a wonderful recording that features not only a fine rhythm section, including the late great, pianist Jimmy Rowles, but some interesting and unusual tunes, including Warne-ing, a tribute to Warne Marsh.  I transcribed this solo of Gary’s on Nica’s Dream, the Horace Silver tune, many years ago and use it with students periodically.  It has some very obvious Melodic Minor passages in it that illustrate that scale’s use very well.  Also to be found on this recording is Gary’s soulful alto flute work on Jimmy Rowles’ tune The Peacocks, which shows what a fine multi-instrumentalist he is.  His mastery of the various woodwinds is certainly one of the reasons he’s been in demand in Los Angeles for so long.

Nica's Dream Fixed


Alan Broadbent/Gary Foster, Concord Jazz CCD-4562 from 1993, is an incredibly beautiful recorded document of their duo work together.  It shows off the amazing ensemble work that these two have developed, displaying echoes of the Tristano style, as well as the terrific touch and solo work of Alan Broadbent, himself one of the leading pianists in the Los Angeles area for the last 4 decades.  Gary plays beautifully here on both tenor and alto saxophone, and this recording captures the great ambiance of the live acoustics in Maybeck Recital Hall in Berkeley, California.  I have seen both Make Your Own Fun and this duo recording in the used jazz CD sections in CD stores a few times over the years; if you happen to run across either or both grab them immediately, they are classics, hard to find and likely out of print.

This next recording, Body And Soul-Lee Konitz and Gary Foster, is dedicated to the memory of Warne Marsh.  This Steeplechase recording from 1995 was recorded in Tokyo with a Japanese rhythm section.  This CD features these two alto saxophone wizards playing Warne Marsh solos as heads to the standard changes they then improvise on.  It is very interesting to compare and contrast their two styles here, and you get many chances to hear them back to back on these tunes.  On Yardin’, where they play Warne’s classic Yardbird Suite solo as the head, Gary turns in a terrific solo that I’ve meant for years to write out.  Hopefully in the near future I will get to that!

I’ve had a chance to meet Gary Foster a number of times over the years.  Not only is he an incredible musician with an amazing recorded legacy, he is the most genuine person you could ever hope to meet.  He was very encouraging to me in the couple of lessons I took from him, and he spent time on the phone with me answering some follow up questions and took the time to snail mail me the above Tristano charts.  I know Warne and Gary were good friends, details of that can be found in the book An Unsung Cat: The Life and Music of Warne Marsh. 

I can only imagine some of the deep conversations the two of them must have had about music and improvisation.  There are some nice anecdotes in the book detailing their friendship.

There are not a lot of players left from the generation that Gary and Lee Konitz are from.  Both are well into their 80’s now, and both are dedicated improvisers with unique solo voices and a deep connection to the jazz tradition.  Hunt down the above recordings and give Gary Foster a listen, his sophisticated playing is a true reflection of his humble and folksy personality.  Not only is he a recording studio legend, he is truly a one of a kind gentleman improviser and a true Woodwind Master.

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