Al Foster performing live at the Village Vanguard. John Rogers for NPR/johnrogersnyc.com hide caption

toggle caption
John Rogers for NPR/johnrogersnyc.com

Al Foster performing live at the Village Vanguard.

John Rogers for NPR/johnrogersnyc.com

Live At The Village Vanguard

Al Foster Quartet: Live at the Village VanguardWBGO

Al Foster in Concert at the Village Vanguard - 05/21/2008

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/90609926/90720395" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Master percussionist Al Foster, longtime drummer for Miles Davis, brought his own quartet to New York's legendary Village Vanguard, for a performance broadcast live on air by WBGO and online at NPR Music.

To start the second night of a week-long residency at the West Village club, Foster called a mix of trusted jazz classics and savory, groove-happy originals. The quartet opened and closed with tunes penned by Foster's former employer Miles Davis, spinning a cymbal-happy take on the famous "So What" and ending with an acoustic version of "Jean Pierre," which Foster recorded with Davis live in 1981. In all, it was an affair decidedly more hard-bop-oriented than the electric funk that Foster created with Miles, but one no less full of subtly masterful performances from all hands on deck.

Raised in New York, Foster was only 19 when he made his first recording, backing trumpeter Blue Mitchell on the classic Blue Note LP The Thing To Do. Foster soon became a "first call" drummer for many of jazz's leading lights, playing with musicians like Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk.

Foster got his biggest break while playing a date at the Cellar Club on 95th Street in Manhattan. Miles Davis was in the crowd that night, and was awed enough to hire him on the spot: "[Foster] knocked me out because he had such a groove and he would just lay it right in there," Davis wrote in his autobiography. "That was the kind of thing I was looking for. Al could set it up for everybody else to play off and just keep the groove going forever." Davis would count Al Foster as his drummer for 20 years — spanning the trumpeter's wildest electric experiments — and as a friend for life.

Foster's own group included bassist Doug Weiss, who has served as Foster's "straw boss" since 1996; saxophonist Eli DeGibri, who joined the quartet in 1998 after a stint with Herbie Hancock, and the newest member Gary Versace, whose skills on organ, keyboard, accordion and acoustic piano make him one of the most in-demand sidemen in New York.

The quartet headlined a live webcast of WBGO and NPR Music's concert series from the Village Vanguard. For Foster, it also marks a return to the storied club where he recorded with saxophonist Joe Henderson, with pianist McCoy Tyner, and recently with his own group on the new Love, Peace and Jazz. "That's all we need to get along," he says.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Jazz

Terence Blanchard is the guest on this week's Piano Jazz. Henry Adebonojo/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Henry Adebonojo/Courtesy of the artist

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Terence Blanchard On Piano Jazz

The Grammy award-winning trumpeter and composer joins Marian McPartland to perform standards like "I Thought About You" with bassist Gary Mazzaroppi.

Terence Blanchard On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/530240350/530241963" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Buster Williams performs at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola. Lawrence Sumulong /Courtesy of Jazz At Lincoln Center hide caption

toggle caption Lawrence Sumulong /Courtesy of Jazz At Lincoln Center

Jazz Night In America: The Radio Program

Buster Williams: The Low End Maestro

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

The low end has always been terra firma for Williams, one of the all-time great bassists in modern jazz. Hear highlights of a recent set with his post-bop ensemble, Something More.

Buster Williams: The Low End Maestro

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/528918610/528942262" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

T.S. Monk performs at the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz hide caption

toggle caption Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

T.S. Monk On Piano Jazz

The percussionist dedicated this 1995 set with host Marian McPartland to his father, Thelonious Monk.

T.S. Monk On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/528135123/528136364" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Carmen Cavallaro performs in 1971. Dick Darrell/Toronto Star via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Dick Darrell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Carmen Cavallaro On Piano Jazz

The pianist's tender style created an ideal atmosphere for romantics everywhere. In this 1989 session, he solos on his arrangement of a Cole Porter medley.

Carmen Cavallaro On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/527052788/527052981" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Dee Dee Bridgewater performs at Jazz At Lincoln Center. Frank Stewart/Jazz At Lincoln Center hide caption

toggle caption Frank Stewart/Jazz At Lincoln Center

Jazz Night In America: The Radio Program

Dee Dee Bridgewater: Fearless And Free

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

In words as well as music, hear how seriously Bridgewater takes her role as a music mentor and how it connects to her own experience in the jazz lineage.

Dee Dee Bridgewater: Fearless And Free

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/525854612/525857247" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

2017 NEA Jazz Masters Dave Holland, Dick Hyman, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Dr. Lonnie Smith (not pictured: Ira Gitler) at the 2017 NEA Jazz Masters Awards Dinner, sponsored by BMI, on April 2, 2017. Yassine El Mansouri/Courtesy of the Kennedy Center hide caption

toggle caption Yassine El Mansouri/Courtesy of the Kennedy Center

Jazz Night In America: The Radio Program

The 2017 NEA Jazz Masters, In Their Own Words

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Hear how the artists honored by the NEA this year — Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Dave Holland, Dick Hyman and Ira Gitler — earned their stripes and paid their jazz dues.

The 2017 NEA Jazz Masters, In Their Own Words

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/524881192/524881250" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Trudy Pitts performs on this week's Piano Jazz. Andrew Lepley/Redferns/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Andrew Lepley/Redferns/Getty Images

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Trudy Pitts On Piano Jazz

The organist performs Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" with Marian McPartland in this 1992 session.

Trudy Pitts On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/515756064/515756319" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Barry Harris is featured in this episode of Piano Jazz. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Barry Harris On Piano Jazz

The seminal jazz pianist and educator joined host Marian McPartland in the fall of 2002.

Piano Jazz: 2/3/2017

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/513227454/513227735" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Back To Top