Al Foster set to drum up a jazz storm at Half Note in Athens

Talking to Al Foster is an experience. A drummer with a long history, he has collaborated with true giants: Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Joe Henderson and Herbie Hancock, to name but a few. A dominant factor throughout Foster’s career has been his long friendship and collaboration with Miles Davis – in his autobiography, the late jazzman dedicated a few interesting and tender words to the drummer. Born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1943, Foster began his career with Hugh Masekela in 1960. Kathimerini caught up with with him prior to his appearances at the Half Note Jazz Club which begin on Friday and run to February 22. Tell us about your first steps in music. My mother says that the first music I ever heard was Benny Goodman’s «Sing, Sing, Sing,» with Gene Krupa on percussion. Krupa was the greatest drummer at that time. Even though there were sensational black drummers around, I dedicated myself to Krupa, I grew up with his sound. You grew up at a time when rock-‘n’-roll overshadowed jazz. Yes, I listened to Elvis and doo wop [vocal-based rhythm and blues]. When I was 11, I listened to an album featuring Max Roach and Clifford Brown – «Cherokee.» It was fantastic. It was a Mercury album my dad had bought for me at an outdoor bazaar for 80 cents. I realized then that I wanted to get serious with jazz. Then I listened to Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis and Art Blakey and things just took off from there. When did you start working as a musician? In 1960. It was an amazing time. I lived in New York and every week you had a great musician playing at the Apollo Theater: Miles with John Coltrane or Cannonball Adderley. There are some fantastic saxophone players out there today, but when you’ve worked with geniuses like Sony Rollins, you’re biased. I was lucky I got to work with almost all the people I listened to on the radio when I was growing up. I was in love with these people. I remember practicing along to Miles’s «Milestones.» And then you got to work with him. Our collaboration lasted from 1972 to 1985. For a while, Miles withdrew from public life, but we still got together all the time; we were close friends. He helped me like few people in this world. He was a generous man, sure he had his bad side, just like everybody else. But he was a true friend. He was shy, insecure, but he had a big heart. You have to have a big heart to play like he did. We remained close until the end. How did he influence you on a musical level? It’s a tough question to answer because he approached me when I was very young and I did whatever he asked me to. But he had already taken a different path by then, he was playing more rock. We split up in 1985, when he was looking for a more funky sound. I wanted to play pure jazz. We disagreed but we didn’t argue.

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