Press Release - January 10 2007
Discovered 30 years after its master tapes were thought to be lost, Frank Foster and The Loud Minority’s Well Water (Piadrum) finds the two-time Grammy Award winning tenor saxophonist, composer, arranger and jazz educator leading a roaring big band performing his own compositions and those of Clifford Brown, Elvin Jones and Frank’s brother-in-law, David Jones. A former member of Count Basie’s orchestra (1953-1964) and Basie Band director (1986-1995), Frank Foster, who composed such Basie classics as “Shiny Stockings,” “Blues In Hoss’ Flat”, “Blues Backstage,” “Back To the Apple” and “Four Five Six,” is heard at an artistic peak on Well Water, surrounded by 17 strongly supportive musicians in a clearly joyous and inspired performance.
Recorded in 1977 at New York’s Plaza Sound Studios (located in Radio City Music Hall), Well Water was believed to be lost for three decades until inquires by Cecilia Foster led to its discovery at the home of Don Hunerberg, the session’s original engineer. Well Water is practically a live-to-24 track recording, with only one overdub of Foster’s rich tenor saxophone. Recorded more than a decade before Foster took the helm of Count Basie’s band, and shortly after he had been a member of Elvin Jones group, Well Water presents the sound of a forward thinking 1970s big band pushing the boundaries, with the legendary drummer firing the musicians to all-around great performances. Recorded on a blustery Manhattan weekend in the fall of ‘77 while a major hurricane threatened the City (and in between sessions for debut LPs from Blondie and the Ramones), Well Water documents a big band performing at the zenith of its powers as Foster and his 20-piece Loud Minority Big Band reveled in a thrilling atmosphere that is clearly felt and heard.
“Everybody was up for the session,” Foster recalls from his home in Chesapeake, Virginia. “The guys were really gung ho. My goal was to get the music out there so people could hear it, as I had a big band concept that I thought was very valid. It was definitely not based on the Count Basie idiom; it involved the use of somewhat more modern harmonies, and melodies that would be considered hip. Coltrane and McCoy Tyner were then my main idols, so my idea was to develop those influences as bases for my big band concept.”
The Loud Minority Big Band of 1977 included pianist Mickey Tucker, Earl May on acoustic and electric bass (still a member of LMBB), the late Babafumi Akunyun on percussion and trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater (still a member of LMBB) among its stalwarts, as well as the mighty Elvin Jones, who at the time was considered the co-leader of The Loud Minority.
“Elvin was delighted to do the session because he and I had already agreed to be co-leaders of the band,” Foster explains. “Elvin’s career kept him busy on the road with his quintet most of the time, so he wasn’t able to devote his full energies to it, badly as we both wanted to do it.”
Elvin’s performance, including an explosive rendition of his own “Three Card Molly” (in quintet format here), is a marvel of passion and power, a welcome addition to the late master’s recording canon. “We loved to play ‘Three Card Molly,’” Foster says. “It was such a smokin’ tune; It was really hot. I think it is much better here than the version Elvin recorded on his album recorded earlier. Other than the fact that a special spirit was in evidence that day, I would love to have done a big band chart on that track. Anyway, as it is it offers a nice diversion on the recording.”
Foster’s recollections of the album’s other songs are just as vivid: “The title tune (Well Water) was adapted from a Russian folk song I heard from this old Russian record given to me by an independent promoter who wanted to take my quintet to Russia. ‘Well Water’ is like a backwoods Russian folk melody, I just jazzed it up into a jazz waltz. It turned out to be a thematic monster. The other songs included Clifford Brown’s ‘Joy Spring,’ which I loved playing. I had never heard a big band arrangement so I wrote a chart. The ballad, ‘There’ll Be A Time,’ was written by my brother in law, David Jones, and I altered the melody to make it a little more jazzy. C.I. Williams plays the alto sax solo there; he was one of the stars of my band. He had a wonderful tone and a whole lotta soul. The other songs came from my book of the time.”
The story of how Well Water was lost for 30 years is nearly as engaging as the music itself. Engineer Don Hunerberg picks up the tale:
“Back in ‘77 my friend Joe Blot had just heard The Loud Minority at a club and was blown away by them. He approached Frank and asked him if he would be interested in bringing the band into the studio for a gratis session. Joe and I really just wanted to record the band. They came down on the weekend, and they were such wonderful warm people. It was a real high.
“Plaza Sound was originally designed as an NBC broadcast studio,” he continues. “Toscanini even made broadcasts from there. The entire room was floating on springs and cork to isolate it from the rest of building and had superb acoustics. The drums and the entire band were all out in the big room. Joe and I were mostly concerned with getting a nice live performance on tape but in the studio. I think it has the best of both worlds without the overly perfected production values of the Pro Tools world of today. The original master has complete takes with no editing. The performance magic is there and that’s 90% of a good recording!”
After the recording session, hopes were high that The Loud Minority would be signed to a label that would release the tapes, but months, then years passed with no deal. Eventually, Foster became busy with other projects and the tapes were relegated to the tape archives of Hunerberg’s Floral Park, New York home.
“I had the 2-inch masters,” Hunerberg says. “After the session I made a rough mix, and stored them safely away. Months, then years went by -- I kept thinking ‘I have to call the Fosters and return their master tapes.’ 30 years later I get a call from Ron Aprea, a friend of Frank and Cecilia’s; they were trying to find out if I still had the tapes. They had been convinced they didn’t exist anymore. I assured him they were safe and sound and in perfect condition, and I gladly gave them the tapes.”
After full restoration and remastering Well Water is finally ready for its proper unveiling. As an added bonus, the album’s liner notes contain Foster's wonderfully detailed and vivid descriptions of the band member's contributions and interplay in the various album selections. Well Water is a double treasure, a historical document of a special weekend in 1977 and thrilling testament to the talent, skill and perseverance of Frank Foster and The Loud Minority Big Band.
“The mood was really up,” concludes Foster. “The musicians were happy and everybody was hopeful that something would come out of the sessions. My guys always loved playing with me and they relished playing my music. I don’t know how we got so tight ‘cause we didn’t have many chances to rehearse before the session. Affording rehearsal time back then was like finding water in the desert.”
In conclusion, Well Water could be the door opener to a fresh new beginning in the history of The Loud Minority Big Band and its leader Frank Foster. Foster feels that this production offers a fitting tribute to its members who have departed this life, as their contributions to Well Water were numerous, powerful and highly significant. The colorful Babafumi Akunyun, the short in stature but ten-feet-tall and soulful on alto sax C. I. Williams and the thunderous drumming Elvin Jones will live on thanks to this album which has finally awakened from its 30-year sleep.