Gary Foster (born May 25, 1936) is an American instrumentalist who plays saxophones, clarinets, and flutes (Multireedist); he is considered a "crossover" artist who performs in jazz, pop, and classical genres. As a jazz artist he has recorded under his own name for Concord Records and several other labels. He is known for his elegant and laid back style on both the alto and tenor saxes, being a devotee of Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz, and Warne Marsh. He has been prominent in the film, television, and music recording industry for five decades having played woodwinds on over 500 movie scores and a member of over 200 live and television orchestras. His career includes recording on numerous Grammy, Academy Award, Emmy, and Golden Globe winning media and soundtracks for artists and composers such as Carol Burnett, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Mel Torme, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Frank Sinatra, Pat Williams, John Williams, Natalie Cole, Jerry Fielding, Cal Tjader, Marty Paich, Michael Bublé and many others. Gary Foster has received the Most Valuable Player Award for woodwind doubling from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS).
Early life, musical education and influences
Gary Foster was born in Leavenworth, Kansas in 1936, he started on the clarinet at age 13. His first personal musical inspiration was Olin Parker, a Jr. High School music director and private teacher who introduced Foster to Woody Herman, Count Basie and many other types of music. He listened closely to the Woody Herman orchestra recording of "Four Brothers" from the late 1940s which featured jazz saxophone icons Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Serge Chaloff. For Foster, Getz stood out on the tenor saxophone because of his tone. Getz and other players in turn lead back to Lester Young and then Charlie Parker who Foster also recognizes as major influences. His earliest professional experience was at age of 15 playing Leavenworth VFW Hall dances with bassist Harold Stanford; "if they didn't dance, you weren't doing your job." After high school Foster first studied at Central College in Fayette, Missouri, he then transferred to the University of Kansas where he primarily studied classical clarinet and music education and received his BM Ed. and BM (Bachelor of Music Education and Bachelor in Clarinet Performance), further graduate study was done in Musicology and Conducting. While there in school at KU he met and played with Kansas City jazz trumpet great Carmell Jones.
At age 26 (in 1961) Gary Foster moved to Los Angeles to work as a jazz artist on the West Coast; at first in L.A. he taught privately and studied the flute. Shortly after settling in Alhambra, California (near downtown, in east Los Angeles), Foster realized there just wasn't enough work available for a saxophonist to make a living only playing jazz; he turned to studio work as a woodwind doubler to support his family. His initial associations with Clare Fischer and Warne Marsh in Los Angeles have been key friendships and vital to Foster's artistic approach to music, specifically jazz improvisation. Jazz critics such as Zan Stewart more closely relate Foster's style and concept (on saxophone) to that of Lee Konitz, Paul Desmond, or Art Pepper (West Coast Jazz style); the music of Lennie Tristano and the concepts forwarded to him through Warne Marsh have been of great inspiration and influence over the years. Clare Fischer has been a mentor, inspiration, friend and close colleague for nearly fifty years. "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 said if the choice were made, he would focus his time and energies on jazz. "I'm a jazz player at heart... that's my main interest."
From its beginnings in 1973 until 1982 he was a member of the Grammy Award winning Toshiko Akiyoshi - Lew Tabackin Big Band in Los Angeles; he recorded and toured extensively with the group. He has also worked in the reed sections of notable big bands of Clare Fischer, Louis Bellson, Mike Barone, Ed Shaughnessy, and the Marty Paich Dek-tette. Other notable jazz groups Foster has been a part of and recorded with are those of Cal Tjader, Poncho Sanchez, Sammy Nestico, Shelly Manne, and Rosemary Clooney as well as numerous others.
For over 45 years he has made his "primary living" in the studios "...but it's cyclical." The list of credits for television, movies, recordings, and media is extensive. Very few studio musicians compare in terms of longevity and the level of work Foster has continued to do now completing his 5th decade of being a professional musician in Los Angeles. Most recently he has worked on soundtracks for movies such as Monsters, Inc., Ice Age, Elf, Meet The Fokkers, Haunted Mansion (film) and a long list of others. His television credits date back to the late 1960s and includes working several seasons with music director Peter Matz on The Carol Burnett Show (which won multiple Emmys); Foster has been in the Academy Awards Television Orchestra for 30 different broadcasts of the show (telecast, awards ceremony).
Foster is a unique woodwind player in that his emphasis on classical playing and repertoire is also important to what his musical career and success entails. He has performed regularly with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. He is amongst only a handful of musicians in the world who have made a career being able to easily and frequently cross over from jazz to classical to pop on several instruments at such a consistently high level.
Teaching and education career
Gary Foster is a strong advocate of music education and has been teaching privately and at the collegiate level since 1960. From 1971 to 1991 he was on the faculty at Pasadena City College and from 1984 through 2000 held the position of Millsap Visiting Professor of Saxophone at the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC). He also has served on the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and California State University, Fullerton as a professor of saxophone. Foster founded Nova Music Studios in Pasadena, California as a group of private music instructors. He has co-authored educational materials featuring Foster's playing and soloing style for Alfred Publishing so to aid younger saxophone students. Gary Foster also conducts clinics at colleges several times a year and performs and lectures at professional music symposiums.
Other groups or acts worked with (partial list)
- The Manhattan Transfer
- Kenny Rogers
- Linda Ronstadt
- Barry Manilow
- Johnny Mathis
- Quincy Jones
- Stevie Wonder
- Paul McCartney
- Vince Gill
- Dr. John
- Melissa Manchester
- Michael Feinstein
- Andy Williams
- Debby Boone
- Paul Anka
- Thomas Quasthoff
- Diane Schuur
- Clare Fischer
- Putter Smith
- 1963: Extension with Clare Fischer (Pacific Jazz 77)
- 1964: Alone Together duos with Dennis Budimer (Revelation No. 1)
- 1968: Subconsciously (Revelation No. 5)
- 1968: ONE - to get ready: FOUR..... to – GO! with Clare Fischer (Revelation No. 6)
- 1969: Thesaurus (aka Twas Only Yesterday) with Clare Fischer (Atlantic 1520)
- 1969: Ne Plus Ultra with Warne Marsh (Revelation No.12)
- 1972: Report of the 1st Annual Symposium on Relaxed Improvisation with Warne Marsh (Revelation No. 17)
- 1974: Kogun with Toshiko Akiyoshi (RCA)
- 1978: Huracan with Cal Tjader (Crystal Clear)
- 1981: Clare Fischer & Salsa Picante Present "2 + 2" with Clare Fischer (Pausa 7086)
- 1981: Machaca with Clare Fischer (Discovery, DS-835)
- 1982: Warne Marsh Meets Gary Foster (Toshiba-EMI)
- 1986: Kansas City Connections (Revelation No. 48)
- 1991: Make Your Own Fun (Concord)
- 1993: Live At Maybeck Hall with Allen Broadbent (Concord)
- 1996: Body & Soul Lee Konitz/Gary Foster (Insights Tokyo)
- 2000: Once in a Blue Moon (UTJO)
- 2003: Bobby Shew, Gary Foster & Friends Play Music of Reed Kotler (Torii)
- 2006: A Family Affair with the Clare Fischer Clarinet Choir (CFP 030306)
- 2007: Perfect Circularity with Putter Smith (Ajl)