"So what instrument is irreplaceable, what instrument can never be relinquished in a jazz ensemble," I once asked a guitarist who also happened to be the leader of a radio big-band. The reply was instant and somehow perfectly predictable. "The bass! Take away the bass and you take away everything," he said emphatically.
Pops Foster is listed as a sideman on twenty-five pages in the Penguin Guide To Jazz. Not once is he listed as a leader, which, of course, is remarkable if one again considers the statement made by my guitarist friend. The selected discography at the back of the book gives an entire series of "playing with" recordings, and this is one man who appears to have played with just about everyone - just look a bit closer at those LP sleeves or in the CD booklets, you will be amazed.
The now late Tom Stoddard, a man of great enthusiasm for Jazz and especially Pops and Co., took it all down. Taping endless conversations with the man, and then editing them, must have been quite an experience. Pops Foster releases an endless stream of reminiscence, quite in the mode of "...and then there was this guy who played with...I forget his name...but I know that he played the best trumpet/drums/saxophone around town and he was really cool with the chicks and..." in other words, Pops Foster rambles and his rambling is fascinating. After all, there can be few who have led such an interesting life. There are naturally parallels with the life of Louis Armstrong, and as far as my knowledge runs there seems to be few discrepancies. Pops was a merry prankster who must have figured at an early age that life is for enjoying, as long as you can outrun the enemy, a lack of humor. "Alma (his wife) gives up something she likes for Lent. I give up what I can't get." Now that's real philosophy for you. And the story about "the singing chickens" on page 171 is hilarious.
It all started in New Orleans and the rest is not just history for it could easily be described as the history enhanced by the scenery, the backdrop, to a life that was the making of Jazz. The real value of this book, and what makes it such a good read, is the coloring, you could say the harmonics, of the Jazz life as Pops Foster lived it. There are a few bits of gossip that are new to us, and Pops maintains a few things that could be libelous if they hadn't been uttered about times so long past.
An extremely precious part of this book is given by the pictures. It is fascinating to see those old shots of the stars and the bands - and there's lots of them - and run your finger along the line-ups, identifying people.
Ron Carter has provided a foreword that - what else? - is nothing less than eulogizing in the very best way. There is an introduction by Bertram Turetzky, an author, educator and composer who writes well of Pops and as equally well of technique and all things basic about the bass.
This is a great read; everything about this book makes it valuable to anyone wishing to know about Jazz as it was and about one of its great interpreters. Buy it, you won't regret it.
by Lawrence Brazier
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