Doreen and Brenda
Mick Foster
Jackie Free

Mick Foster

Audio Details

Interview date 1st January 0001
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Forename Mick
Surname Foster

Interview Transcription

Interviewer: So, if we could just start with you telling me your name, and your date of birth and where you were born.

Mick: Yeah so, Mick Foster and I was born 10th December 1970 in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

Interviewer: OK and could you just tell me your background in music initially and your parents if they were involved in music and what they did.

Mick: Yeah my Dad played piano in an amateur sort of way but he was a good piano player and could play piano by ear and read music, and I started learning clarinet when I was about eight; learnt at school, and at the College in Harrogate, and then I went on to the Guild Hall and studied saxophone and clarinet there.

Interviewer: And, I know you do a range of Jazz activities now, could you just give us an overview of what your Jazz activities are and what your big investments are with in Jazz - what interests you.

Mick: Yeah I do a big range of Jazz playing from small group playing which I do on all the saxophones but I mainly play baritone and alto sax in that sort of context sometimes soprano; and I play in big bands, I do show playing, the small band things I do range from my original compositions, Jazz standards - transcriptions of sort of West Coast Gerry Mulligan type things – big mixture, I played bass sax in some contexts so yeah, big mixture of Jazz.

Interviewer: What are your main Jazz activities in terms of playing music at the moment? What are the main ones you’re involved in most of the time?

Mick: Each week varies from week to week so it might be some small band playing in Jazz clubs, I do a lot of Jazz clubs on the circuit places like Folkestone Jazz club and places up and down the Country, so it might be some small band playing there, it could be some small band playing even in a pub - there are some pubs round here that do Jazz. It could be theatre work, I do theatre work. I’ve been in Glasgow doing a big Celtic orchestra, a thirty-six piece orchestra - not strictly Jazz but kind of related, so a big mixture of things. I do some teaching I also teach for Trinity, [LOB?] and for the Guildhall, you know doing some teaching as well.

Interviewer: And do you think because obviously there’s a lot of Jazz activity in Southend itself, is there something special about Southend that draws people here?

Mick: Well there seems to be a lot of musician here. When I first moved in to the area which was about thirteen actually longer, probably about fourteen years ago now, I met quite a few people who lived here, people like Digby Fairweather – who’s a neighbour of mine he lives up the road so we play together quite a lot and he introduced to other older musicians people like Ken Baxter who’s been promoting Jazz here since the 1950’s, Ken and Tony that I met then and started playing with them as well so… There’s a couple of Jazz clubs - Annie’s Jazz club down in Salt Bay which used to be up at The Smack and a couple of pubs, it seems to be going… quite a lot going on. I think now, musicians are moving out of London and there’s a lot of Jazz centres around the Country that tend to be on the coast, places like Margate, Hastings - Jazz musicians moving to these sort of places and Southend is one of them, so you get a lot of younger musicians coming up from London for that reason. [03’17”]

Interviewer: That’s great. Also I’ve done a little bit of background about you - you have your own record label?

Mick: That’s right I do, I put out my own records these days, I did a record years ago for a label and everyone seems to be doing their own these days, I think with recording becoming easier you can do things at home, you can do things in studios, you can mix you can be more in control of it, so I do put my own recordings out on Hainault records now.

Interviewer: Yeah, thank you. So what would you say has continued to motivate you over the years to not only invest in the Jazz playing and writing but to branch out and to keep trying new things within music?

Mick: I think I’ve always been attracted to Jazz I don’t really know why, I’ve always been attracted to the sound of it, all different types of Jazz as I’ve got to know different types, as I was initially attracted to saxophone players I suppose, being a saxophone player. So there’s always been a connection, I’ve always wanted to do it. I enjoy writing music and have found that I can channel that into my jazz playing and writing although I like the variety of different styles you can have with Jazz musicians. So one night I might go out and do other people’s music – a west coast thing, another night I might go out and do a contemporary thing - I play with a contemporary big band for the London Jazz Orchestra that plays compositions by all its members, we all write for that ensemble. That’s another type of outlet, so I think the variety of music that is possible within Jazz keeps you going and you might go and do a 1920’s thing one night, you might be doing something that’s totally free the next night. It’s that variety I don’t think you get with…well you do get it in other types of music but it seems to sit very easily in Jazz - the musicians don’t really bat an eyelid about people dong that sort of thing. Classical music is slightly different I think. There seems to be more delineation between styles. In Jazz everyone can do everything and I think that’s what keeps them going. [05’15”]

Interviewer: And have you found that the connections that you made over the years - do you tend to keep collaborating with the same people or do you make new connections with each project?

Mick: Both actually- you meet different people on projects that you do; and if I was called to do something I would meet a whole bunch of people if I hadn’t met them before. But then I’ve got my own band, my own quartet one of the members of that – Dominic Ashworth - I’ve been working with him for many years and certain people that you will keep coming back to if you work together and it works, and you’ll keep doing that, and in another context you’ll meet new people, so I would say both.

Interviewer: Thank you and so how would you say because again where you’re doing a range of different things, how would you organise this range of Jazz activities. How do you get gigs and how do you find time to write music and to put out records?

Mick: I think you are just working at it all the time really and you do different things at different times, so if I decide that I wanna do a record, then I’ll focus my energy into getting that recorded, mixed and think about some marketing, send it out to reviewers. I think the range of things you have to do is very wide, and sometimes people like to get other people to help them do that, like maybe a publicist to help them get reviewers, things like that. Getting gigs – everyone would love there to be a magic way of getting gigs but the reality of it is you just have to email people and get on the phone, and talk to them and that’s really it and developing contacts - people get to know you and that’s how it works. Unless it’s other people’s bands. If you’re working freelance and they’re getting the gigs and they call you to go and do it, so it depends what you are doing.

Interviewer: Thank you. And with the different range of bands you are involved in as well, do you do band practice as well? How do you go about that when you’ve got such arrange of things going on as well?

Mick: As I say, no two weeks are the same. You might have a couple of rehearsals with the group, you might be doing some teaching, you might have some gigs and the rest of the time you might be trying to do some practice or do some writing. So as I say no two weeks are the same. If I had some gigs coming up with some new music I would definitely want some rehearsals around that. Once projects are up and running, they tend to look after themselves. So you might be able to go to the gig, just turn up on the gig, and have a play through of anything new the hour before in the sound check - something like that, but when you are developing new things you definitely need to get rehearsals together. There is a band I’m working with at the minute, which is a polyphonic jazz ensemble, that’s very interactive that’s quite specific to the people in the band so we have to rehearse quite a lot. We are rehearsing regularly now for that because it’s much more an interactive thing. [08’06”]

Interviewer: Are your band…makes you travel for that or do you do a lot over the Internet now how does it work in the twenty first century?

Mick: For the rehearsals? You tend to still get together, it might be at a central point at a rehearsal studio in London that tends to be easy for people – there’s some good ones or you might get round to someone’s house – a lot of that happens at round peoples’ house. Or it might be at a College where we teach. There might be a room there in the evening or something that you can get but it’s still meeting up with people and playing. I don't think there is many rehearsals going on on the Internet yet – you can talk to people on the Internet but rehearsing I’m not sure.

Interviewer: That’s great thank you. Have you had anything informal or not that has helped support your Jazz activities over the years, be it funding or spaces in order to practice or any sort of things that has supported your Jazz activities?

Mick: Yeah I seem to remember when I was younger I had the use of a church when I used to live in London. I used to go and do a bit of practice there - they let me do that. I often say to students if you can find a friendly church hall and offer to put on a couple of concerts for them then they often like that sort of thing. Arts Council is good, Arts Council funding - it’s direct now. It used to be through something called Jazz Services that people used to access to tours for Jazz but now it’s direct from the Arts Council but I’ve just done a tour with Jim Ruskin the French horn player and that was Arts Council funded. So it’s still going on - these tours wouldn’t really be able to happen without that because the venues can’t pay enough to get people there, pay the petrol, the travel costs, decent fee – that sort of thing. Arts Council is still very important.

Interviewer: And do you find that there are a lot of places for Jazz in order to still play around the Country?

Mick: Yeah there’s seem to be. There’s older more established clubs, that’ve been there for years, there’s new places popping up, there’s a whole raft of places that younger musicians, graduates of Jazz that have come out of college and found their own places to play by sussing out rooms in the back of pubs, things like that so there’s a different scene there. I think it’s changing, maybe the theatre gigs aren’t quite as big but certainly there’s new places coming up there’s new [inaudible] actually happening quite a lot, there seems to be quite a range of places to play and it seems to be evolving as it changes.

Interviewer: And do you find that because obviously you teach as well that a lot of people are still interested in Jazz coming through?

Mick: Yeah – they seem to be. I mean it’s interesting there’s a lot of people doing it, that sometimes translates in to the audience and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s funny, some places have a much older audience, some places have a much younger audience, there’s often not a lot of mixing between the two which I find interesting, I think there could be more of that. There is definitely an audience, but I think there are different audiences for different types of Jazz, or people’s different perceptions of what they think Jazz is.

Interviewer: And would you say that’s changed over the years or has it been pretty constant in terms of –people going to gigs and mixing or not?

Mick: I think it’s probably the same. I think there’s quite a few younger people on the hipper side of things that are in to it. It’s interesting actually because when you look at something like the London Jazz Festival, that happens for ten days in November that seems to bring everyone out. You get a really big mix and that’s the time when the Barbican Hall, the Festival Hall are full with people listening to Jazz, it doesn’t seem to happen at the rest of the year, it’s a peculiar thing but I think that proves that there’s definitely an audience. [12’03”]

Interviewer: That’s interesting and how do you, in terms of when you’re playing or promoting your album as you say you do a lot of it yourself now how do you communicate to these different audiences as well if they are not always in the same place, how do you go about communicating about your activities?

Mick: About what I do? I put everything on the website so all my gigs are on the website, I do a bit of Facebook not a great deal but I do a bit of that and the promoters – a good promoter will know their audience and will communicate with them in a way that they know that they do communicate. A lot of older people don’t use email they still don't use a computer so for those sort of clubs I think a leaflet saying what’s going to happen for the next few months is really important, people want something to come through the door or something they can pick up. So people communicate in different ways. Younger people… if you are going for a young audience it’s all on things like Facebook or Twitter, all on the Internet and that’s how the younger people engage with it. There used to be a publication called ‘Jazz in London’, that was really important, that’s stopped now but it’s all gone digital, there’s a site, there’s a website that’s taken over that role but I do hear a lot that older people don’t always engage with electronic communications; but I suppose that’ll change in time as they get more used to it. But as I say the promoters that have an older audience need to engage with them in a way they know that they can.

Interviewer: In terms of actually selling records do you find that digital downloads are more important than physical CDs now in Jazz?

Mick: It’s interesting. I think it depends on what you’re trying to achieve by it. All my records are on iTunes so people can download them, they sometimes do, they’re on steaming as well, they’re on things like Spotify that doesn’t really encourage sales but then that encourages your profile. So it depends whether you’re trying to raise money from selling records or whether you’re trying to raise your profile. I think the streaming thing is important, I’m not sure if everyone’s got to a point yet where they can take things off streaming to encourage people to buy. So I think most people – certainly what I do is get a few CDs printed, get it online, get it on streaming, again older people probably like to buy CDs more than they like to download, they like to have something at the end of a gig, especially if you get the band or yourself if you offer to sign it. They like that – it’s something to takeaway so they will buy a CD. A few do that.

Interviewer: Thank you and on the opposite side of talking about people who have helped you along the way, have there been any big barriers that have ever held you back along the way?

Mick: No, I’m pretty positive about things like that so I tend to walk away if I feel that a barrier is being put up. I haven’t really come across people trying to put me off doing what I’m doing. The only thing I could say is that if you offer a type of music to a venue that you know they are not really gonna, that their audience isn’t really gonna be in to it I think you have to be a little bit careful with that. It’s not to say that you can’t play original compositions at a place where normally standards are played, it’s just you have to be a bit careful and maybe not do a whole evening of that but do some of that and mix in a bit of what you know people are going to like. So a bit of careful programming, that’s other only thing I can think of if you present something very different from what the club thought it was going to get.

Interviewer: Thank you. And in terms of obviously, again you have a range of bands you play in and different things that you do, do you have a particular sort of Jazz that you really like or that you particularly enjoy playing.

Mick: I think at different times I like different types of Jazz. So I’ll always go back to 1950’s, West Coast - I love listening to that sort of stuff but then I love listening to John Sermon, I love listening to original compositions, I love listening to big bands, through the Modern Jazz that I like, I’ve learnt to love the earlier Jazz, where it all sort of came from, from the 1920’s which I didn’t always do actually. I think peoples’ ears are directed in to the environment in which they grew up, so the contemporary sounds that they absorb to begin with are probably going to lead them in a particular direction. From there they can research and come to love other types of music. So it really depends - I don’t see myself being a particular sound, although at different times you like them better than others.

Interviewer: And when you’re writing music do you have any particular influences?

Mick: Whatever’s around you. I think Classical music has influenced me quite a lot and I like the form, I like the structure of Classical music and I do try to build that into Jazz compositions, Folk sounds I suppose I like those sorts of things, occasionally Rocky sounds, it just depends what takes your ear – Jazz is like a melting pot so you can put anything in to it. Classical music is like that as well, you can put Jazzy sounds into Classical music. I think the writing can cross boundaries because you can really do what you like, everyone expects you to do what you like when you’re writing. When you’re improvising, people maybe expect it to be in a certain direction.

Interviewer: That’s interesting, thank you and would you say that you were influenced by other sorts of music as well would you say that things like Rock ‘n Roll other types of music have had an impact on Jazz more generally whether it's negative or positive?

Mick: Yeah absolutely I think Jazz musicians ears are always open and they will always be big magpies in a way - taking little bits of what they like and put it in to their own music, I think in the 70’s you got Jazz Rock in the late 60’s and 70’s. Jazz musicians started to experiment with electronic or electric instruments and that influenced the sound of Jazz then. In the 80’s it came back to being a bit more traditional with acoustic sounds. But also got a more heavier Rock influence, people like Mike Brecker and Dave Sanborn - massively influenced the sound in the 1980’s. So I think Jazz musicians will respond to what’s going on around them definitely. [18’38”]

Interviewer: And, would you say that Jazz generally has had any impact on things like race relations and attitudes towards race because obviously when it first came out it was obviously such a big thing, do you think that has influenced anything?

Mick: Amongst the musicians, not really. I think this is a point that often it’s made more than it is by the media and people talking about Jazz. There have been sort of groups that have been – Black groups or White groups - I mean the Jazz Warriors is a good example of that. But amongst the musicians I have always found that it really doesn’t make any difference - you just - musicians play together whatever nationality they come from, whether you know there is obviously the Black and White thing, with Jazz originally being an Afro Caribbean music. But then the White musicians assimilated it and White musicians were also performing at the same time in New Orleans. So there’s always been a lot of mixing and I think the musicians wouldn’t really… well most musicians I work with it’s not really an issue.

Interviewer: This may not apply to you because I think it’s usually people of a slightly older generation that it may apply to but has your Jazz been influenced by any political views or Trade Union type involvement?

Mick: Personally no, I know it does, I know people use all music as a political sort of way of communicating but for me – no. It’s purely music for me.

Interviewer: Thank you in terms of - and if we go back to when you were first starting out then, did your parents, or the older generation have a particular attitude towards you being involved in Jazz music over the years?

Mick: I think they liked it. I think they knew I wanted to play the saxophone after having played the clarinet probably because of an interest in Jazz that I wanted to do that. So they were definitely up for encouraging me to explore whatever types of music I wanted to explore.

Interviewer: In terms of your friendship group growing up as well did you find that quite a few of them were interested in Jazz music or not?

Mick: No I think the people that played instruments and played in the sort of bands that I played with, so some big bands, either a youth big band or a semi-professional big band and people that we got together to play with, they were interested in Jazz and I used to go round to a guitarist’s house and we used to listen to records and talk about Jazz and rehearse. So again amongst the musicians but probably my contemporaries at school were more interested in Punk bands and post Punk bands and Prog Rock and things like that.

Interviewer: So when you started learning instruments then did you say the clarinet was your first instrument?

Mick: That’s right.

Interviewer: Yeah and then you moved on to saxophone?

Mick: That’s right.

Interviewer: So what other instruments do you now use in your repertoire?

Mick: Yeah well I play all the saxophones so from soprano right down to bass. Including the c melody saxophone. I play clarinet and bass clarinet that sort of thing, I play flute, as a saxophone player you have to play clarinet and flute. And I play piano and keyboards – really for writing and for accompanying students and for working things out rather than playing in clubs

Interviewer: And were those all picked up in childhood or are you still learning as.

Mick: Well you never stop learning but yeah, clarinet and saxophone were the main ones I studied, flute a little bit later and I always played piano all the way along as well.

Interviewer: Yeah. And in terms of when you actually went more professional and actually you went to do gigs was that something you always intended to do and have done since a young age then?

Mick: Yeah. It’s always something I have done from about the age of 16. Doing gigs, doing concerts and when I went to college - you start to slowly get outside work as you are a student and then you leave and you hopefully get a bit more so it’s always something that I’ve done. I think the nature of the gigs probably changes as you get older you probably do different types of thing. It is something I’ve always done.

Interviewer: And I had a little look at your website and I noticed that your market is much more worldwide now as well. Do you find that different audiences have different things that they want or that they purchase or that they’re interested in in terms of Jazz?

Mick: In different countries?

Interviewer: Yeah.

Mick: Yeah I think people in other European countries are often – I think the scene seems to be a bit younger. And people are often up for buying more original music. I think in countries like the Far East - Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, China actually as well now, there’s a real interest in Jazz and they’re interested in the range of it, they’re definitely interested in Classic period standards, those sorts of things and there’s a big market in the Far East for Jazz now. And also for Jazz Funk and electric sounds, so yeah depending on the country.

Interviewer: In terms of nationwide, you mentioned festivals are there any other significant ones in other parts of the Country – you mentioned London – that you find helps you engage with the Jazz community in the UK?

Mick: Yeah, there’s Jazz festivals in Manchester, there’s a good one there, there Edinburgh, there’s the one in Brighton, fairly new one in Brighton, there’s the Bristol Jazz and Blues festival, there’s quite a few actually all over the Country and Norwich, there was one there for a while. And they’ve all got different slants, some are more modern festivals some go with more contemporary compositions, some are more mainstream festivals and people wanna know what they’re hearing a bit more. So yeah there’s little festivals all over the place.

Interviewer: And in terms of over the years then what would you say your big achievements have been to your mind so far, things you’re particularly proud of that you’ve done?

Mick: Well I’m proud of being a saxophone player, and playing to a national or international level, playing with lots of different people, playing with people like Stan Saltzman, Mike Garrick, luminaries of the British scene, people like Digby of course. Meeting people that I used to listen to and you know getting a chance to actually play with them, that’s really a big achievement and I just want to keep doing it really.

Interviewer: And would you say that Jazz and your music has had an impact in terms of the local environment and even nationwide?

Mick: My own contribution?

Interviewer: Yeah and Jazz generally, both.

Mick: I know locally you can see it’s definitely had an impact locally. You see a lot of people at gigs that know a lot about music and love the music. They go to the jazz centre on Saturday, down at the Civic Centre and the Beecroft Gallery and you see people hang out and listening to records looking at memorabilia, being in to it. Sometimes when I play, if you play original music and people come up to you and say they really like the composition, they really like something, it’s had an effect on them. You quite often get reactions that are sometimes surprising, that you don’t realise the effect that music has on people, it’s the same for all music but Jazz touches certain people in certain ways. I think it does have an effect but yeah locally and nationally although if you think of the Country is probably created from little communities everywhere. So this local area is one community and that’s replicated all over the country. So you can see the sort of similar effect.

Interviewer: Yeah. In terms of the future then what do you intend to do in the coming years in terms of music, writing, and even your record label that you currently have?

Mick: Yeah I think I’d like to put out more music for myself. I’ve spent the last twenty years doing a lot of playing for other people and playing in different peoples projects, so I’d now like to concentrate a little bit more on my own stuff as well as still playing for other people. Possibly because I play quite a lot of written music even within Jazz, sort of big band things or more tightly composed things - still up for more improvised music but as well maybe putting my own projects together a little bit more just a bit more time on those.

Interviewer: So thank you very much in that case.