In between recording sessions and on days off, Count Basie had no problem with his musicians recording on their own. Basie knew that if he wanted to hang onto the titanium talent he had on board, he'd be well-served to give his men the economic and creative freedom they wanted. Jazz fans are certainly better off for Basie's policy. That's how all of those terrific Frank Wess recordings were possible in the '50s for Savoy and other labels.
Wess' reed-mate Frank Foster also took advantage of Basie's leeway—but not nearly as frequently and mostly as a sideman. One of the small-group albums he recorded as a leader during his years with the Count was Basie Is Our Boss. The album was recorded in February 1963 for Argo during one of Basie's many extended club stays in Chicago and in between the band's Hits of the 50's and 60's and More Hits of the 50's and 60's recording sessions in January and April.
On the Basie Is Our Boss date were Al Aarons (tp), Frank Foster (ts) Eric Dixon (ts,fl), John Young (p), Buddy Catlett (b) and Philip Thomas (d). All were relatively new additions to Basie's band, except Young and Thomas, who were Chicago players. Foster, of course, joined in 1953. Dixon joined Basie in '61 from Quincy Jones' orchestra. Aarons came aboard in '62, and Catlett, another Jones alumni, joined in '60.
One of the many reasons why this album is so special is how Foster's arrangements make so few sound like so many. If you didn't know how many musicians were on the date, you'd swear there were more. Another reason why this album is special is Foster's evolving sound, shifting from big band player to small-group leader.
The first track is a blues original by Foster, the second is a standard and a ballad showcase for Foster, the third is a Foster hard-bop blues, Samba Blues is a light latin blues credited to Esmond Edwards—the session supervisor and cover photographer—and Kelly Blue by Wynton Kelly is taken at a jaunty pace. The final track, a standard, is perhaps the oddest on the album. Taken mostly in 6/8 time, it features Foster widening-out in a Wayne Shorter mode.
Interestingly, the arranging here by Foster isn't in the Basie vernacular. Instead, he seemed to be starting to arrange for the strength of a small group and its individual players rather than shrinking a big band into six parts. While his charts make the group seem larger, there's a certain soul here that transcends the formality of Basie's orchestra.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Frank Foster's Basie Is Our Boss as a Japanese import here.
A big JazzWax thanks to David Langner.