Saxophonist and composer Frank Foster will finally be able to be paid for writing one of the most enduring songs in the jazz canon.
Using a provision that is written in the U.S. copyright law, Foster can now collect all songwriting royalties for "Shiny Stockings," a piece that he wrote in 1955 as a member of the Count Basie orchestra. Here's a clip of the Basie band performing his homage to hosiery:
When I interviewed Foster at his home in Virginia in 2005 for a series on the economic plight of older jazz musicians, he explained why he gave away his publishing rights and royalties: he simply didn't know any better. And every time someone recorded it, Foster had to watch the majority of the royalties go to a company that had collected publishing rights to the songs they had purchased.
He did get some money for the song, but the estimate of the entire royalty payment motivated Foster to look into the legal labyrinth known as U.S. copyright law. It became a win-win for all involved:
- Frank Foster and his heirs. Foster is one of the jazz musicians who helped shape the sound of post-World War II jazz with his playing and his writing. For as long as his song continues to captivate young jazz musicians, Frank Foster or his family will be properly rewarded. Additionally, Foster suffered a stroke in 2001 which rendered him unable to perform, and this will prove a significant income stream.
- The Rutgers-Newark legal team that helped Foster pull it all together was made up of mostly law students. I bet their GPAs went up a few clicks after this project.
- Filmmaker Brian Grady of Jazz Legacy Films was making a movie about Foster, and helped connect the dots between the saxophonist, the law school and the group that held the copyright (and collected the royalties). Now his film also has the kind of happy ending that makes for great drama, and hopefully it will attract a few more investors. Here's the trailer:
"Shiny Stockings" is not the only tune Foster wrote. I bet every night anywhere jazz is played around the world at least one of his songs is being played. But I have a theory as to why "Shiny Stockings" endures: it's so damn fun to play.
His gem has become not just a straight-ahead jazz standard, but also part of the Latin jazz songbook after percussionist Poncho Sanchez played it on his 1985 album El Conguero. I played it with a seven-piece Latin jazz band back in the mid-'80s when I lived in Fresno, Calif. That melody swings so hard. Go ahead, hum it: I'd bet the rent your toe taps all by itself. The bridge just explodes whether it's played with the clave or swing.
One of my favorite versions features Ella Fitzgerald singing it with the Basie band:
I don't think there is anyone who listens to jazz who wouldn't smile at this news and say to him or herself, "Frank Foster deserves all good things that come from writing a great song!"