Frank Foster Songbook
Street Date: July 27, 2019
Trumpeter and educator Kenyatta Beasley is pleased to announce the release of Frank Foster Songbook by the Kenyatta Beasley Septet. Beasley leads the album’s fiery septet through the compositions of Frank Foster, bringing a burning dynamism to his late mentor’s work. The Frank Foster Songbook was recorded live over the course of two nights at Brooklyn’s Jazz 966 in 2013. Beasley’s septet features Dezron Douglas on bass, Alvester Garnett on drums, Anthony Wonsey on piano, Eric Wyatt and Mark Gross on saxophone, and Vincent Gardner on trombone. The album features special guests Wynton Marsalis, Mark Whitfield, Keith Loftis, and Carla Cook.
The career of Frank Foster, the famed composer, arranger, tenor saxophonist and educator, was shaped by two celebrated stints with the Count Basie Orchestra. The first as a sideman and star soloist (1953-64), the second as leader and key revitalizer of the Basie Band after the Count’s death (1986-95). The countless compositions Foster wrote over his 40+ year career have since become standards of the jazz idiom. Beasley was tasked with the responsibility of narrowing Foster’s life’s work down to the eleven compositions that can be heard on this recording. The impetus of this project was when Beasley was working with students at Ohio State University to write a book to add Foster’s music to the lexicon of written music used in jazz education. After making several trips to Foster’s home towards the end of his life, Beasley decided to shift his focus, for the time being, towards recording this project. Beasley arranged Foster’s tunes for the ensemble heard in the recording, weaving Foster’s arrangement ideas in with his own.
Regarding the atmosphere at Jazz 966, Beasley says “The dance floor often fills up right away, so I wanted tunes that had some bounce. We wanted to be up onstage having as good a time as the audience was.” The driving nature of Foster’s compositions, and the lively crowd surrounding the bandstand contributes to the energized, convivial performances displayed on this recording. The blues-fueled first track on the album “Hip Shakin’” sets the tone for the record; driving performances of tight arrangements. The tune features esteemed guitarist Mark Whitfield performing a burning solo. Next, singer Carla Cook delivers an impressive vocal rendition of Foster’s flagship “Simone”. Keith Loftis ignites the bandstand with his inspired solo over Foster’s changes.
Highlighting the tremendous range of the ensemble, and of the composer of the material, the band steams through the afro-carribean rhythms of “Chiquito Loco”, and through the brazillian rhythms of “Cidade Alto”. “Cidade Alto” features a breathtaking performance from trombonist Vincent Gardner. Master trumpeter Wynton Marsalis joins the ensemble on foster’s mid-tempo “Katherine the Great” blowing over the tune with ease, espousing the tradition of the music with his horn. Beasley ends the set with a masterpiece of Foster’s, which Beasley notes was the composer’s personal favorite, called “Cecilia is Love”. This masterpiece, performed by Foster’s proteges Loftis and Beasley was written for the late saxophonist’s wife and manager. The tender musings of Loftis’ soprano saxophone, Dezron Douglas’ bowed bass and Anthony Wonsey’s gentle accompaniment transform into a bright-tempoed bossa, ending the set and the album on a high.
Kenyatta Beasley arrived in New York to attend the prestigious Mannes School of Music where he received his Bachelor of Arts in Jazz composition and Performance. Earlier, (at the age of nine) Beasley’s precocious talent was evident when he was selected over 2,000 musicians to portray a young Louis Armstrong in the touring musical Satchmo: America’s Musical Legend. He later studied at the esteemed New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, whose alumni include Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr. and Terence Blanchard. Cutting through the clutter of New York City’s musical landscape, Beasley’s innovative sound led to his first break: he joined Lauryn Hill to record and support the tour of her multi-platinum album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. He took his horn worldwide to accompany a range of musical acts: Shakira, Wyclef Jean, Fantasia, Chaka Khan, the Wu Tang Clan, P. Diddy, Usher, Carlos Santana, Gloria Gaynor and Gladys Knight. He also appeared on nationally broadcast shows including Ellen, American Idol, Saturday Night Live, the Today Show, MTV’s TRL and the Latin Billboard Awards. Between tours Beasley also recorded his debut album, Brooklyn Mardi Gras.
When not on the road, Beasley continued his education by receiving a Master’s degree in film composition from New York University’s Music Composition/Film Scoring program. “As musicians we have to diversify our portfolios. Performing is a part of me, but not all of who I am.” While at NYU, Kenyatta studied under the tutelage of Sonny Kompaneck (Three Kings, De-Lovely) and eventually composed the score for the short film Earnie, which won the NYU/New York Magazine First Run Film Festival award for Best Original Score and also was a finalist at Sundance. The success of Earnie caught the ear of Quincy Jones who hired him as a contributor to the underscore on Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. He then went on to win Best Original Score at the Brooklyn Arts Council Film Festival for another short film, Heroes Wanted. The trumpeter also composed the scores for other short films include Jeffrey’s Calypso, Dentist Visit, Heart Attack and the award-winning Pariah. His first solo, full-length film score was written for the Vivica A. Fox film, Three Can Play That Game. He also returned to touring on the Mary J. Blige/Jay-Z “Heart of the City” jaunt.
Beasley continued his evolution as both musician and educator when he took a position at Ohio State as a professor of Jazz Studies then a professor of audio production at Long Island University-Brooklyn. in 2018, Professor Beasley created and became founding director of the Music Technology/Entrepreneurship and Performance Program at Long Island University- Brooklyn Campus.
Ben is currently on the teaching faculty at The Juilliard School: Jazz Division.
MAKING A SCENE
"Beasley and company did Foster more than proud. At times, they threaten to damn blow the roof off the club. This one sizzles almost completely throughout, unlike many albums of this type that pace with burners and ballads. As Beasley said, the band was intent on having as good a time as the revved up audience." Read the full review here.
"These are long, hard-swinging tunes with plenty of room for everyone to blow. On “Manhattan Fever,” Marsalis gets a long solo, but he’s not treated like a star gracing the band with his presence — the guys before and after him hit as hard as they can, too, and the result is a blowout." Full review here.
"Trumpeter Kenyatta Beasley has released a record project he’s been considering for more than a minute, an exploration of the compositions of one of his mentors, the late saxophonist-composer Frank Foster." Interview here.
"An awful lot has happened in the world since trumpeter Kenyatta Beasley recorded Frank Foster Songbook, over two nights at Jazz 966 in Brooklyn back in 2013. But the salient fact of the album — Foster’s towering influence on Beasley, and his enduring place in the jazz pantheon — is no less true today. Which makes the album, releasing this Friday, at once a testimonial time capsule and a timeless testimonial." Track premiere here.
"Frank Foster Songbook by the Kenyatta Beasley Septet is my vote for one of the finest straight-ahead jazz recordings of 2019." Read the full review here.
"Kenyatta has clearly hit this one out of the park. Frank Foster would be proud of his acolyte. Let’s hope that Kenyatta has a future ambitious plan for another jazz project." Full five star review here.