During a long and illustrious career that lasted over fifty years, Frank Foster played alongside everyone from Count Basie, Donald Byrd, Thelonious Monk, Kenny Burrell, Milt Jackson, Duke Pearson, Elvin Jones and Elmo Hope. Frank was the go-to-guy for anyone looking for an innovative flautist, saxophonist or clarinet player. During the fifties and sixties, Frank it seems, hardly stopped working. He was one of the busiest sidemen, composers and arrangers. Despite this, Frank Foster enjoyed a successful solo career.

This saw Frank record for some of jazz’s biggest and most prestigious jazz labels. Frank released solo albums for labels like Blue Note, Prestige and Savoy. Then in 1972, accompanied by an all-star band, Frank released The Loud Minority for the Mainstream Records. The Loud Minority has recently rereleased by BGP Records, a subsidiary of Ace Records, is one of the most innovative spiritual jazz albums. Frank accompanied by a who’s who of jazz, pushes musical boundaries to their limits. You’ll realise that, when I tell you about The Loud Minority. Before that, I’ll tell you about Franks career up until 1972.

Frank Foster was born in September 1928, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father worked for the post office, and his mother was a social worker. Growing up, Frank was encouraged to express himself musically. He was something of a prodigy. Just like so many other children, the first instrument Frank learnt to play was the piano. Then came the clarinet and alto-saxophone. Eventually, Frank would graduate to the flute, plus the tenor and soprano saxophones. Before that, Frank would join his first group.

He was only in his mid teens when Frank joined Jack Jackson and His Jumping Jacks. Then in high school, Frank formed a big band. This was all part of his musical apprenticeship. It looked like Frank was destined to become a musician. Before that, Frank headed to University.

The Wilberforce University, Ohio was where Frank studied music. He was a member of the University big band. They won the 1947 Negro College Dance Competition. Part of the prize was the opportunity to play at the Savoy Ballroom, in Harlem, New York. For an aspiring professional musician like Frank, this was the opportunity of a lifetime. Having had a tantalising taste of what life could be like, Frank left university in 1949. However, he failed to finish his degree. This didn’t hold Frank back.

That year, 1949, Frank headed to Detroit, where he immersed himself in the local jazz scene. Then two years later, disaster struck. Frank was drafted. For two years, his career was on hold. Two years later, Frank was back on divvy street, where he caught a break for two reason.

Having left the U.S. Army, Frank joined The Count Basie Orchestra. For Count Basie, he’d not just signed a musician, but an arranger and composer. Frank would write and arrange for The Count Basie Orchestra. He was a stalwart of The Count Basie Orchestra. Right through to the late sixties, Frank was a member of The Count Basie Orchestra. However, 1953 was a special year for Frank for another reason.

1953 saw Frank released his debut album Here Comes Frank Foster on Blue Note. The following year, Frank released his sophomore album New Faces, New Sounds on Blue Note. Along with his work with The Count Basie Orchestra, Frank was kept busy. Despite this, he still found time to work as a sideman.

This included playing on Thelonious Monk’s 1954 album Monk. The same year, Frank played on Elmo Hope’s 1954 album Trio and Quintet. Frank’s reputation was growing. It seemed word was spreading fast about his talents. For the next few years, he split his time between his solo career working with The Count Basie Orchestra and working as a sideman.

1955 is an example of this. Frank recorded several albums with The Count Basie Orchestra. Then with Elmo Hope, Frank recorded Hop Meets Foster. He also played on Donald Byrd’s 1955 album Byrd’s World. This pattern continued for the next few years.

When Kenny Burrell recorded Kenny Burrell Volume 2 in 1956, Frank got the call to accompany him. Then Frank released two solo albums in 1956. Two Franks Please and No Count.  For the next few years, Frank was in constant demand. 

1957 saw Frank accompany Donald Byrd on All Day Long and Milt Jackson on Plenty, Plenty Soul. The following year, 1958, Frank played in Mathew Gee’s Jazz By Gee and Bennie Green and Gene Ammons’ The Swinging ‘Est. Little did anyone realise that this was jazz’s golden era.

As the sixties dawned, Frank Foster found himself working with a more eclectic selection of artists. 1961 saw him return to working with Elmo Hope on Homecoming. He accompanied Elvin Jones on Elvin, Eddie Higgins on his eponymous album and returned to working with Count Basie on Count Basie / Sarah Vaughan. The next few years, saw Frank working with some of the biggest names in music.

Working with Count Basie meant working with musical legends. This included Frank Sinatra in in 1962 and 1964. The same year, Count Basie worked with Ella Fitzgerald. They would record again in 1966. By then, Frank would be working with another legend.

This was Ray Charles. Frank got the call to play alongside a man who was without doubt, one of the most charismatic musicians ever. Jumping at the chance, Frank played on Side By Side, which closed Ray’s 1966 eponymous album. Despite playing with some of the biggest names in music, Frank hadn’t called time on his solo career.

1965 saw Frank release Fearless Frank Foster on Prestige. Then in 1966, he returned with Soul Outing. That proved to be Frank’s final album for Prestige. For his next album, 1968s Manhattan Fever, he returned to where it all began, Blue Note. Before that, Frank returned to his role as sideman.

Following a gap of six years, Frank worked with Elvin Jones again. He played on Heavy Sounds With Richard Davis, an album released on the prestigious Impulse label. This wouldn’t be the last time they’d play together. They’d reconvene in 1970, when Frank would be part of Elvin’s band until 1972. Frank played on a trio of albums, 1970s Coalition, 1971s Genesis and Merry Go Round. Before that, Frank would record one more solo album and accompany Earl Coleman, Donald Byrd and linois Jacquet.

By 1968, Frank was forty. He seemed to be enjoying splitting his time between his solo career and sideman. Frank played on Earl Coleman’s 1968 album Manhattan Serenade. 1969 saw Frank play on linois Jacquet’s The Soul Explosion. There was also the small matter of Frank’s 1969 eponymous album. Frank Foster was released on Blue Note and would his last album for three years. In the meantime, Frank played alongside Elvin Jones and Donaldy Byrd. 

Although Frank was a member of Elvin Jones band, he found time to reacquaint himself with Donald Byrd. They’d known each other since the late fifties. Frank played on Donald’s 1970 album Fancy Free and 1971s Kofi, which were both released on Blue Note. Along with his work with Elvin Jones, Frank was kept busy. However, he wanted to record another solo album.

For some time, Frank had been working on the quartet of songs that became The Loud Minority. It’s a reflection of the times. Back in the late sixties, jazz had become highly politicised. Some musicians had been radicalised. This was no difference from rock music. Frank wanted his music to articulate the problems and emotions Americans were experiencing. 

Among the problems that worried Americans was poverty, racism and the Vietnam War. The problem was, many people had no voice. So, Frank and his band were going to give these disenfranchised people a voice. To do this, Frank Foster was going to unleash his unique brand of cerebral, spiritual jazz. This style of jazz was now popular.

Due to the popularity of spiritual jazz, Frank was signed to Mainstream Records. His reputation preceded him. Here was a musician who’d been making records since 1953. He’d played with some of the biggest names in music. Not only that, but Frank enjoyed a successful solo career. For Mainstream Records, this wasn’t exactly a gamble.

Now signed to Mainstream Records, Frank headed into the studio. Accompanying him, was an all-star band. They played on the four songs Frank wrote. The rhythm section included bassists Stan Clarke and Gene Perla, guitarist Earl Dunbar and drummer and percussionist Elvin Jones. Dee Dee Bridgewater added vocals, Jan Hammer and Harold Mabern played piano and Airto Moreira percussion. Then there was the horn section. It featured trombonist Dick Griffin, trumpeter Marvin Peterson, plus Cecil Bridgewater and Charles McGee on trumpet and flugelhorn. Kenny Rogers played alto and baritone saxophone and bass clarinet. Frank trumped everyone, playing alto, soprano and tenor saxophone, plus alto clarinet. This was the lineup that recorded The Loud Minority which was produced by Bob Shad. The Loud Minority, which had been several years in the making, was ready for release in 1972.

On its release in 1972 The Loud Minority, wasn’t a commercial success. It was hailed a progressive, innovative and explosive album. Genres and controversy melted into one. The Loud Minority which was meant to give a voice to the disenfranchised, almost went unheard. That’s despite featuring an all-star lineup. Following the release of The Loud Minority, Frank Foster’s most ambitious album was reappraised. It was only then that The Loud Minority started established a cult status. Now, thirty-two years later, The Loud Minority has been rereleased by BGP Records. It’s a welcome rerelease of a cult classic, The Loud Minority, which I’ll tell you about.

Opening The Loud Minority is the title-track, a fifteen minute epic. Straight away, waves of drama assail you. Hissing hi-hats, washes of piano and a flugelhorn that’s played with passion and emotion. This sets the scene for the cascading horns to announce their arrival. Accompanied by the rhythm section, they reach a wistful crescendo before Dee Dee’s half-spoken vocal enters. She delivers the lyrics with passion, hope and determination. The rest of the band enthusiastically respond to her call, before getting funky. This is very different from what’s gone before. As the horns growl, rasp and protest, Stanley Clark’s prowling bass and a piano combine. As for the piano, it’s played with power, finesse and sometimes, frustration. It plays a crucial role in this horn lead opus. Having said that, there’s no passengers. Earl Dunbar lays down a peerless solo. You can only sit back and admire this all-star band become one. What follows is glorious melange of blues, free jazz, funk and spiritual jazz. By now, you hungrily await the rest of The Loud Minority.

Wistful describes the opening to Requiem For Dusty. Its horn lead sound has a New Orleans sound. It unfolds at a respectful funereal pace. Pensive strings pay tribute to Dusty as drums ominously mark time. Equally ominous are the horns, that’s until they cut loose. Rather than funereal, what follows is the funkiest wake you’ve ever attended. Earl Dunbar steps up, and unleashes blistering jazzy licks. It’s as if he’s laid down the gauntlet. The rest of the band take this as a challenge. Kicking loose, they move through the gears. Basses are slapped, drums pounded and horns bray, blaze and growl. Frank and his band proceed to give Dusty the mother of all send-offs, and in doing so, risk raising the dead.

J.P.’s Thing sees Frank’s alto clarinet set the scene. Everyone follows in his wake. Horns drench the arrangement, while the drums are panned left. They take a back seat, as Frank and the horn section struggle for supremacy. Then the electric piano and Stanley Clark’s bass go toe-to-toe. It’s a fair fight. Joining the fun and funk are percussion and drums. Still, it’s the electric piano that grabs your attention. Midway through the track, the arrangement is pared back. Just a lone wistful horn plays. Then all of a sudden, the band kick loose. Driven along by the piano, rhythm and horn sections, what follows is truly mesmeric. Not once do the band miss a beat. Then it’s time for the drums to take centre-stage. Elvin shows why he was part of Miles Davis’ band. One last time, they fuse free jazz, funk, jazz and spiritual jazz seamlessly. Quite simply, it’s a joy to behold.

E.W-Beautiful People closes The Loud Minority. The tempo drops, but the drama remains. Horns rasp, cascading before Dee Dee’s ethereal vocal enters. Flourishes of piano and jazzy guitar accompany her, before Frank unleashes one of his best solos. He plays tenderly and thoughtfully. Gradually, power and passion combine, while horns, percussion, piano and the rhythm section accompany him. His saxophone dances above the arrangement. The rest of the band are reduced to a supporting role. They must have been aware that they were playing on one of Frank’s finest tracks. So, the band pull out all the stop, ensuring they provide the perfect backdrop. That they do, taking turns to play ying to Frank’s yang. Apart from a stray note on the piano, no-one puts a foot wrong. This results in a beautiful way to close Frank’s comeback album. After three years away, Frank was back with a spiritual jazz cult classic.

Despite the commercial failure of The Loud Minority, for Frank Foster, the album would’ve been perceived as a success. That’s because sometimes, musicians and record companies perceive success differently. For Frank, recording and releasing The Loud Minority was a success. 

Frank wanted his music to articulate the problems and emotions Americans were experiencing in the early seventies. Among the problems that worried Americans was poverty, racism, corruption and the Vietnam War. The problem was, many people had no voice. So, Frank and his band were going to give these disenfranchised people a voice. To do this, Frank Foster was going to unleash his unique brand of cerebral, spiritual jazz on The Loud Minority. Over the four songs on The Loud Minority, he spoke up for those who had no voice. Sadly, very few people heard The Loud Minority.

Given The Loud Minority wasn’t a commercial success, Mainstream Records saw the album as a failure. Most record companies weren’t benevolent philanthropists. No. They wanted to make money. If a record didn’t sell, they didn’t make money. Even worse, they lost money. Most record companies didn’t care about the artistic merit of an album. What mattered was the bottom line. That might sound cold hearted, but it’s reality. The Loud Minority wouldn’t make the owners of Mainstream Records rich. At least The Loud Minority was an innovative and influential album.

Thirty-two years after the release of The Loud Minority, Frank Foster’s spiritual jazz album is perceived as a cult classic. Original copies of The Loud Minority change hands for ever increasing sums of money. Despite this, every year, The Loud Minority is heard by even more people. Obviously, the advent of the internet has helped, but for most people, original copies of this spiritual jazz opus are outwit the budgets of most people. Not any more. BGP Records, a subsidiary of Ace Records recently released Frank Foster’s 1972 spiritual jazz opus recently. For that, we should be thankful.

At last, The Loud Minority can be heard by the majority, not just the minority. Take my advice and play The Loud Minority loud. Open your windows and share The Loud Minority with the world. After all, groundbreaking music that pushes musical boundaries to their limits and beyond, shouldn’t be a secret. That’s what The Loud Minority has been. It’s been one of spiritual jazz’s best kept secrets. Not any more. Hopefully, The Loud Minority, which sees Frank Foster accompanied by an all-star band will be heard by a much wider audience. Music as good as Frank Foster’s The Loud Minority deserves to be heard by the majority, not just the minority.


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