SCSU Jazz Ensemble presents Spring Concert, April 27

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Features the music of world-renowned saxophonist, arranger/composer, band leader and NEA jazz master Frank Foster

The SCSU Jazz Ensemble will perform an array of Big Band music from the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Quincy Jones at its annual spring concert.

The SCSU Jazz Ensemble Spring Concert, under the direction of Jonovan T. Cooper, will be held on Friday, April 27, 2007, at 7 p.m. in the Henderson-Davis Theatre. The event, sponsored by the Department of Visual and Performing Arts, is free and public is invited to attend. For more information, call (803) 536-8993.

The concert will also feature the arrangements and compositions of Frank Foster, former saxophonist, arranger, and leader of the Count Basie Orchestra. The performance will also feature the SCSU Jazz Combo and the premiere performance of the SCSU Vocal Jazz Ensemble singing a cappella and accompanied vocal jazz arrangements.

The concert will be preceded by a special clinic presented by the Charleston Jazz Initiative. The ongoing research project documents the American jazz tradition in Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry, and its widespread movement throughout the United States and Europe, in the late 19th Century. The clinic, which will be held at 11 a.m., will be led by Jack McCray, a longtime Charleston journalist and jazz expert.

Jonovan T. Cooper, a current resident of Orangeburg, S.C., is a 1998 graduate of North Carolina Central University, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Bachelor of Music in Jazz. Cooper also obtained a Master’s of Music in Music Education from Norfolk State University and a Master’s in Business Administration from American Intercontinental University. He has also had the honor of studying privately with Frank Foster of the Count Basie Band.

Cooper played in the U.S. Navy Band for five years, where he performed with the contemporary ensemble, show band, marching band, ceremonial band, wind ensemble, jazz ensemble and jazz combo. For the past three years, he has performed with the Right On Band a.k.a. America’s Favorite Party Band and continues to do so now. He has performed coast to coast all over the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Bahamas, South America, Europe and Asia. Cooper has performed three times in the White House, as well as other performances, for the Clinton and Bush administrations.

He has performed with some of the world’s greatest musicians including Louis Belson, Chuck Mangione, Ellis Marsalis, Alvin Batiste, Jimmy Heath, Clark Terry, Terrell Stafford and Dick Oates to name a few and has opened for The Four Tops, Isaac Hayes, Russell Batiste and The Commodores.

Throughout the years, Cooper has become a woodwind specialist and can be seen playing the tenor, soprano and alto saxophones, clarinet, flute, bassoon or oboe at any given time. He recently was hired as an assistant music professor and jazz band director at SC State University and is one of the assistant band directors of the 101 Marching Band, where he serves as woodwind instructor.

Frank Foster is one of those rare triple threats; he’s a saxophonist with a big, broad, rangy sound and approach; he’s a composer and arranger of both tunes and long-form works; and he’s a skilled leader of bands both large and small. As a saxophonist fluent on tenor, soprano and alto saxes, he’s been a welcome addition on bandstands and recording studios of vast variety. As a composer and arranger, his efforts have run the gamut, from writing such jazz standards as “Shiny Stockings” and “Simone,” to his “Lake Placid Suite,” commissioned by the 1980 Winter Olympics. As a bandleader, he’s led everything from quartets to big bands, all with great aplomb and abundant skill.

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Foster’s mother was an amateur pianist, so the influence of music was always in his home. From the time he was a teenager, Foster played in dance bands in and around southern and south-central Ohio. His mother was an amateur pianist, so the influence of music was always in his home. After learning music in Cincinnati schools, he matriculated to Central State University, where he joined the Wilberforce Collegians, a major collegiate training ground. In 1949, Foster moved to Detroit, where he played with both aspiring and veteran jazz musicians, including fellow Ohioan Snooky Young. Some of young Frank’s early influences included Wardell Gray and Sonny Stitt.

Foster entered the Army in 1951. After his Army stint ended in 1953, he joined one of the great jazz proving grounds, the Count Basie Orchestra. This was to be one of his signature band affiliations, for the next eleven years and beyond. With the Basie band, he was not only a key member of the saxophone section, his keen writing skills soon came to the Count’s attention, and he became one of Basie’s most trusted composers and arrangers. His most noted contribution to the Basie book was “Shiny Stockings,” which became a Basie signature. And Basie so valued his playing, that Foster was also a member of the Count’s occasional small band, known as the Kansas City Seven. Foster’s composing and arranging gifts served him well and his skills were sought by several big bands, including the Woody Herman band, and the Lloyd Price Orchestra, which at the time was directed by Slide Hampton.

From the mid-1960s through the 1980s, Foster led his own large and small groups, including his Loud Minority big band, Living Color Band, and Frank Foster’s Non-Electric Company. He was also a much sought after saxophone soloist, composer and arranger for bands large and small. These affiliations included the Duke Pearson, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, Buddy Rich, Clark Terry, and Jazz mobile big bands. It was the Jazz mobile Big Band that performed his “Lake Placid Suite” at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. Quite skilled at working with singers, Foster arranged and conducted a record date for Sarah Vaughan. He has featured such stellar vocalists as Ernestine Anderson and Dee Bridgewater in his own big bands, as well as arranging Carmen Bradford’s vocals for the Basie band. Bradford even sang Foster’s praises on a Basie band tune called “Papa Foss.”

Foster’s small ensemble memberships during the 70s and 80s included the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, and a quintet co-led with fellow sax man Frank Wess. Two years after Count Basie ascended to ancestry; Foster took over leadership of the Basie Orchestra and swung it to good health, from June 1986 to July 1995. He assisted mightily in upholding the proud Basie tradition, thrilling old fans and winning new converts to their distinctly swinging sound.

Since leaving the Basie organization, Foster has kept busy with a broad range of small band work and jazz education. His jazz education work actually commenced years before that. He was hired as a music consultant by the New York City public schools in 1971 and 1972. In addition to his long teaching tenure with the Jazz mobile organization, Frank has taught at the State University of New York in Buffalo, and at Queens College. In 1983, he returned to his alma mater, Central State University, to receive an honorary doctorate degree.

Jack McCray is jazz critic for The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C. That about sums it up, said McCray, “but more important to me is a research project, the Charleston Jazz Initiative, a multi-year research project that documents, collects and archives and interprets the contributions of musicians from Charleston and the rest of South Carolina to the jazz world. It is a rich but untold story that has its basis in a 19th century orphanage, the Jenkins Orphanage, and a post-Civil War school for freed blacks, Avery Institute.”

McCray obtained his liberal arts degree from Shaw University and his master’s in management from Central Michigan University, eventually resettling in his beloved Charleston.

McCray can’t help but see his community through the lens of history. It was “the richest British colony at the time of the Revolutionary War and the cradle of American slavery. I grew up there after World War II under the stresses of racial segregation and at the beginning of Charleston’s emergence into the 20th century. It had turned inward since Reconstruction.” The Jazz Initiative is part of an effort to direct Charleston’s history outward to the rest of the world.

McCray’s message to the current generation of students is one of self-reliance in a diverse world. “Take the lessons learned from being responsible for yourself and being exposed to all kinds of people and treating them and yourself with dignity and respect.”