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Kerry Strayer Septet featuring Gary Foster
- Kerry Strayer baritone & soprano saxes, all arrangements
- Gary Foster alto & tenor saxes, flute, clarinet
- Barry Springer trumpet, flugelhorn
- Earlie Braggs trombone
- Frank Mantooth piano
- Bob Bowman bass
- Todd Strait drums
- Gary Helm percussion (tracks 2 & 5)
- Saturday 10AM Gary Foster
- Gaviota Clare Fischer
- A Flower is a Lovesome Thing Billy Strayhorn
- Sweet Lips Gary Foster
- Siempre Me Va Bien David Torres
- Don't Ask Why Alan Broadbent
- Yardbird Suite Charlie Parker
- In Your Own Sweet Way Dave Brubeck
- The Peacocks Jimmy Rowles
- I Hadn't Anyone Till You Ray Noble
- Warne-ing Gary Foster
From the liner notes
As a collector of words to live by, I often return to the following to be reminded of simple, but basic, wisdom gleaned from two great authors.
The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and, if they cant find them, make them.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
If you havent the strength to impose your own terms on life, you must accept the terms it offers you.
Kerry Strayer, in developing his personal music, has instinctively acted on this advice. In a world that often never seems to need one more individual effort, Kerry has created musical situations that give all involved a chance to be remembered.
Gary Foster, (15 February 2003)
We all have special people in our lives who inspire and encourage us and help us find our way. Gary Foster has been such a person in my life. Gary has always freely shared his talents, knowledge and experience with students and colleagues alike. This recording is my way of saying thank you to a gentleman and true professional for all he has given to all of us who have benefited from his kindness, friendship and generosity.
Kerry Strayer, (20 February 2003)
This wonderful collection of exuberantly arranged originals and standards exemplifies the power of positive swing. It also documents the multi-faceted musicality of Kerry Strayer, bandleader-composer-arranger-baritone saxophonist extraordinaire. Additionally, the date is a de facto testament to the range and depth of musical talents currently enlivening the contemporary Kansas City jazz scene.
The session is also a showcase for the sublime artistry of Gary Foster, a first-call L.A. studio pro whose woodwinds have helped lift bandstands with jazz greats Toshiko Akiyoshi, Clare Fischer, Warne Marsh, Cal Tjader, Shelly Manne, Lee Konitz and Poncho Sanchez, moreover illuminate big screen epics such as the recently released Catch Me If You Can and Chicago. In fact, the genesis of the date springs from Strayers admiration of the Kansas-born, Kansas University-educated Foster. I truly consider Gary Foster to be my mentor, says Strayer.
We first met in 1976, when I was a freshman at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, and Gary was the guest artist for our jazz festival, Strayer recalls. We were reacquainted in 1984 when Gary began a long residency at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music, where I was completing a masters in saxophone performance. I was able to take private lessons with Gary, and he became an important role model for me in terms of musical preparation and learning about the music business. Since graduation, hes been consistently supportive and a great inspiration as our relationship has shifted from student-teacher to colleagues.
Gary, for his part, recalls Kerrys strong drive to be a professional musician. After graduation, Kerry established himself as an important new performer, arranger, teacher and contractor in Kansas City. Over the years, its given me pleasure to have Kerrys friendship and to observe his success. Interestingly, the sessions title came as a surprise to Gary. I hadnt heard Mentor mentioned in connection with the project until I received the test pressing. To view it in retrospect and realize that Kerry had that title in mind as he developed the music is exceptionally satisfying and flattering. Still, the credit for the high quality of the CD belongs entirely to Kerry.
While paying homage to Gary and satisfying Kerrys long-standing ambition to record with him, Mentor continues the leaders exploration and expansion of the jazz septet documented in the CDs Why Not Now? and Jeru Blue. Years ago I chose the septet format because it allowed for the excitement and creativity of small group improvisation and let me flex my arranging muscles. In fact, writing for the septet is now a means of expression as important to me as playing. It should be pointed out that Kerry regards the group as an orchestrated combo. I hate it when people describe my group as a little big band. Its a description that misses the point completely.
The empathic interplay among the seven musicians, while a tribute to Kerrys artfully crafted charts, is also a reflection of shared histories. [Trumpeter] Barry Springer and [trombonist] Earlie Braggs are charter members of the septet which I started in 1991. Weve played together so much over the years that we instinctively know how were going to interpret whats on the page. Ive worked often with [bassist] Bob Bowman, [drummer] Todd Strait, and [pianist] Frank Mantooth. They all have well-earned national reputations, and after working with them on another project, I knew theyd be perfect.
Kerry has warm recollections of the session. We had a lot of fun, he recalls. It was pure pleasure sitting next to Gary. He played great and we all learned a lot. Even though the charts were intricate [check out the hand-in-glove rendering of Garys Warne-ing for a sample], we never did more than two takes. There were only a few places where we punched in to fix a mistake. All the solos were recorded live. I dont like to overdub since you tend to lose the interaction between the soloist and rhythm section, Kerry explains.
Mentor opens with a rousing version of Garys Saturday 10:00AM, a subtly swinging tribute to the late Dick Wright of KANU-FM, who for decades was the voice of jazz in Kansas City and northeast Kansas. With a cooking ensemble punctuated by bluesy riffs worthy of Basie, and inspired solo flights by Gary (on alto), and Earlie and Kerry, its an ear-opener with great rhythmic as well as melodic and harmonic appeal.
Gaviota, a Latin-accented delight by Garys West Coast friend Clare Fischer, effervesces with an exotic front line of flute, flugelhorn, trombone and bari, and breezy flights by Gary (on flute) and Frank Mantooth. Its mid-tempo Latin jazz at its best, at once laid back and simmering.
A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing is one of Billy Strayhorns great ballads. Kerry recalls falling for the classic line when I first heard Harry Carney playing it on Duke Ellingtons Unknown Sessions album. Here, Kerrys heartfelt bari steps forward against an astringent yet lush backdrop evocatively colored by Garys flute, Barrys flugelhorn, and Earlies trombone.
Gary wrote Sweet Lips as a tribute to the great clarinetist, Wilbur Schwartz, who created the clarinet lead sound with Glenn Miller, and with whom Gary played many Hollywood studio dates. A swinging, mid-tempo showcase for Garys eloquent clarineting, Sweet Lips also spotlights engaging turns by Barry, Earlie, and Bob. At the end of the session, Gary said some of the arrangements reminded him of Strayhorn, Kerry recalls. Its one of the greatest compliments that Ive ever received.
Siempre Me Va Bien, by pianist-composer David Torres, a mainstay of Poncho Sanchezs band with whom Gary often plays, is a Latin treat with Garys alto, Barrys trumpet, Franks piano, and Earlies trombone leaning into the breeze. Looking for a ballad to feature Garys luxuriant alto, Kerry turned to the atmospheric Dont Ask Why by Alan Broadbent, in which Garys impassioned arabesques evoke noirish reveries of Bogart and Bacall.
For unabashed bop-based swinging with a Kansas City twist, the romp through Charlie Parkers Yardbird Suite cant be beat. Again, Gary flies on alto. And while evoking the spirit of Bird, Gary displays his own uniquely evolved Fosterian argot. Other ear-grabbing episodes are the tag-team interplay between Gary and Kerry, and Franks sparkling foray.
To savor Garys singular clarinet work, one need look no further than Kerrys insouciant setting of Dave Brubecks In Your Own Sweet Way. Jimmy Rowless languorous The Peacocks is a ballad feature for Kerrys impressive work on soprano saxophone. Over the years, Ive developed a liking for soprano, says Kerry. Still, baritone sax will always be king with me.
Kerry first arranged Ray Nobles enduring I Hadnt Anyone Till You for Kansas Citian Warren Durrett. Warren was a wonderful musician and a good friend. I learned a lot playing in his big band. Here, Garys sophisticated, heart-on-sleeve solo sails to the heavens.
The curtain closer is Garys flowing and technically demanding Warne-ing, an inspired line set atop the changes of What Is This Thing Called Love. Dedicated to the late Warne Marsh, the nonpareil tenor saxophonist who along with Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz created a still vibrant alternative to bebop, Garys tightly coiled line sets up ensembles and solos that race with precision and panache.
In looking back at the session, Kerry recalls wanting the arrangements to capture the essence of how Gary approaches music. In a word, that essence, which applies to both Garys classy playing and Kerrys dashing arrangements, is taste.
In concluding, I am pleased to defer to Gary, whose experiences working with so many of the worlds top musical artists give his adjudications authority and perspective. Viewed from the standpoint of a studio musician, Kerrys project falls into the category of art music the most desired music in a professional life. Making music with Clare, Warne, Toshiko, Alan, Lee, and in all the other situations where a good eight bars is lifes real objective, had exactly the same feeling as being a part of Kerrys project.
To that, I can only add, Amen.
Dr. Chuck Berg, University of Kansas, February 2003
DownBeat; JazzTimes; Jazz Educators Journal; Contributor to the Oxford Companion to Jazz and the Gramophone Guide to CD Jazz; National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences