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Jazz legend writes for the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra

Legendary saxophonist and bandleader Frank Foster doesn't remember exactly when he met trumpeter and Cleveland Jazz Orchestra artistic director Sean Jones.

"I must have been somewhere in Middle West," says the octogenarian, who is best known for his work with the Count Basie Big Band, which he joined in 1953 and led from 1986 to 1995. "I forget where I was. He was featured with some big band, and I was very impressed with him and the tenor sax who was playing with him. I was hoping some day I would get to work with him."

Foster suffered a stroke in 2001, losing the use of his left side — and with it, the ability to play saxophone. That will keep him from performing with Jones, but not from working with the great trumpeter. Foster has rewritten a love song he wrote almost 50 years ago for Jones to play as part of It's All Love, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra's celebration of Valentine's Day this weekend. He wrote the piece for his girlfriend at the time, Cecelia Foster, who eventually became his wife and manager. Foster's contribution is an example of Jones calling on his contacts to bring major talent to the CJO.

"My wife got a call from Sean Jones saying he needed a piece to feature him," says Foster. "When I asked which orchestra, he said it was his orchestra, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra. So I am reworking 'Cecelia Is Love.' It's a Latin-flavored piece with a swing section in the arrangement. I'm going to feature Sean mainly, but there will also be a tenor solo."

The program also includes Wynton Marsalis' "Love Supreme Suite." The CJO's performance will be the first time it has been performed by any group other than the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.  

Foster remains busy as a composer and arranger, creating works for his band the Loud Minority (which still performs in New York, even though Foster stepped down as its leader after his stroke) and working on commissions.

"I thank God for the fact that there's a program like Finale," he says, speaking of the popular music-notation software package. "This keeps me from missing playing too much. I realized I like to write equally as much as I like to play."

The two-time Grammy-winner has worked on commissions for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and a multitude of others. He took a break from working on a large commission from the Duke University Jazz Ensemble to work on the piece for Sean Jones.

He says that when he writes music, he keeps in mind the abilities of the person he's writing for. Writing for someone with Jones' formidable chops gives him a lot of leeway.

"First, I will attempt to write something that will challenge his greatest abilities," says Foster. "It's got to be a piece that is substantive. I wouldn't feature him on a modal rock and roll tune or anything like that. It would have to be a piece with some challenging chord changes. If you know Sean, you know I can push him a long way."

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