Concert on March 27th To honor Frank Foster Will Benefit “Shiny Stockings”

Every now and then you get some priceless encouragement just when you’ve been wondering if you are out of your mind. I had that happen to me a few weeks back when I got an email from Todd Woodson, drummer and board member of the Central Virginia Jazz Orchestra. (CVJO) Todd had read a blog post I did a while back on Marc Myers blog JazzWax.

Frank is honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Richmond Jazz Society

The article brought a lot of kudos for my work on the film and creating a happy ending for its subject, Frank Foster. I received several congratulatory notes that meant a lot to me and certainly made me feel great. I even got a check for $50 from a reader in Michigan.

I never wanted to be one of those “Independent Filmmakers” pleading for finishing money, Perhaps I was a bit naive and optimistic when I embarked on this adventure. Then again, I may not have started or gotten as far as I have had I not been both naive and optimistic.  However, the truth be told, I’ve invested an awful lot of my own money into making this film to date. I knew it was a gamble and I recall telling a pessimistic (realistic?) friend that I knew my faith would be tested. I had been given an A-list of people that would presumably kick in some dough and use their entertainment connections to promote the film if I put together a great demo. That was all I needed. I dove headlong into the project as the economy collapsed and funds that may have been available somehow dried up as even the wealthy tightened their belt buckles. The wind to fill my sails has yet to materialize.

I didn’t give up. I still haven’t. And now, thanks to the generosity of the Jazz Orchestra in Richmond, and their dedication to their art and their appreciation of what Frank Foster has done for that art and, of all things, my efforts to bring his story to light, I have a new boost both spiritually and financially. On March 27th The CVJO will perform a benefit concert and tribute to Dr. Frank Foster. Thanks one and all, especially Frank and Cecilia Foster. I was told that the orchestra originally wanted to split the proceeds between the film expenses and the Fosters. They said, “No, give it all to Brian, he deserves the support”.

I had mixed feelings about that. I spoke to Cecilia on the phone and told her I didn’t think that was right, that it’s Frank’s work that created the opportunity and I feel a bit odd having a benefit done for my film. She said “Brian, you’ve done so much for us and put so much work into this thing. Your making a movie about Frank has done so much for his spirit, and now it has to get finished and shown and it will do more good that way than any money from this concert could.

Now THAT’s encouragement!

Please read the Article in the Richmond Times Herald

Jazz Foundation of America’s Jazz Loft Party

I recently did some pro bono work for the Jazz Foundation of America. It’s a great organization that more people should donate to. I had the honor of documenting their recent Jazz Loft Party which is an annual fundraiser. This year they raised over $275,000 in donations and Terrell Batiste, a trumpet player from New Orleans is going to get a pair of prosthetic legs. Wow! All in one night!
The Jazz Foundation has been dedicated to helping musicians in crisis for over 21 years. Despite the fact that they take on an average of 1600 cases per year administering millions of dollars worth of donations, very few outside of the organization know about all their great work.

In the relatively short length of time I’ve been closely following the New York Jazz scene I have heard countless testimonials from musicians that have been first hand recipients of their incredible works. So why haven’t more people heard about them? Perhaps it’s because their beneficiaries would rather you not know of the trouble they’ve seen. Perhaps it’s because their donors would rather take care of the musicians than attract the publicity.

I’ve been involved with the Foundation on a voluntary basis for a few years, providing video production services for their fundraising events. I’ve interviewed b0th of the above groups of people and from what I can gather my assumptions are true. I won’t betray the confidence I’ve earned but I will share one thing that is part of the story of my film Shiny Stockings.

When Frank Foster suffered his debilitating stroke he had no health insurance and no means to pay his mortgage. The JFA stepped in and took care of both.

You can visit their website ( ) for more information but here are some highlights of what the JFA does from the site:

Teaching Gigs
The Agnes Varis Jazz & Blues in the Schools Program creates performance opportunities for elder masters of jazz and blues.

Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund
In 1992, the Jazz Foundation established its first Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund to save musicians from eviction and provide emergency living expenses.

Emergency Housing Fund
The Jazz Foundation has been keeping elderly musicians from eviction and homelessness for over 20 years. In 2001, E*TRADE FINANCIAL became our first housing sponsor and made it possible, under the auspices of Jarrett Lilien, to do this for the past seven years, with over $1 million spent.

Pro Bono Healthcare
JFA started a network of dental care and dentists who either donate their services completely free or for the minimum amount to cover actual costs. These services are available to horn players and vocalists as the dentists’ time and case loads allow. Since 2001, this network of amazing doctors has grown to other states where we have found uninsured musicians who need help. These doctors have opened their hearts and their care to our musicians in times of crisis.

Since 1994, our Angel-partners at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center’s Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund have provided pro bono medical care – to date, worth over five million dollars – to over 1,000 of our uninsured musicians. Their amazing generosity literally keeps jazz and blues alive.

It all started when jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie passed away in 1993: one of his last requests was that any jazz musician in need of medical care be treated for free at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. After Dizzy’s passing, trumpeter Jimmy Owens made a musical tribute called 100 Trumpets for Dizzy at Englewood. It was there that the head of Englewood hospital said that they would honor Dizzy’s last request.

He’ll Never Leave Me

Benny listens to fellow Basie-ite Frank Wess at a Jazz Mobile gig earlier this year.

I think about Benny Powell every day and I think I always will. I hope I always will. It’s still difficult and I still get the lump in my throat and the pain in my head. But it’s still worth it. I recall his ability to soothe. I recall his way of putting things in perspective. I recall his need to warm his mouthpiece on the way to a gig. I’d say something superfluous and he’d say “I can’t talk about that right now, I got too many notes running round through my head.” there would be a minute of silence and then he’d start singing.
“Blee doot…blah dah blah blee blah blee doot”.
I’d shut up and listen. A minute or two later he’d start talking about his daughter or his granddaughter. Or about how lucky he was to be doing what he loved to do, living where he could walk or take a taxi to a gig, or how he could do anything he wanted at the drop of a hat. He would add “And if it ain’t fun, I don’t have to do it”

This is a Joyful Music

My first interview with Benny Powell was at his apartment on 55th street. We had just met the week before when he had hired me to document a concert he was putting on at the New School where he taught an ensemble workshop. It was the first time I heard his original music and saw his easy going stage presence. I decided halfway through the concert I wanted to get to know him better and that I should interview him to supplement the concert footage. The interview and concert shoot resulted in a short we called Benny Powell Meets Count Basie.

During the interview we spoke about a lot of things and we connected as kindred spirits. We continued our talks on and off camera for 7 years. We had plans to make a more ambitious film about him. Other projects kept popping up and he would always tell me to work on them first. “We’ve got time, I’ll be here when you’re done with that” whatever that was.
This clip was one of my favorites.

My Favorite Years

Early on in my friendship with Benny Powell I would often think of the film “My Favorite Year”. It’s about a young writer in an entry level position at a television station that is assigned to take care of an aging, misbehaving movie star during a week of rehearsals for an upcoming appearance on a variety show. While I was not quite Benjy Stone nor Benny a misbehaving drunk as was Peter O’Toole’s character Alan Swann, there were some surface similarities. There was the gap in our ages. When we met I was just turning 40 and he was 72. There was the respectful awe I had for him and the fatherly advise he would give me when we were alone, driving him to a gig or hanging around his apartment on 55th street. There was him up on stage and me sitting in the audience at The Blue Note or The Jazz Standard. I watched from a distance as he interacted with legendary figures of Jazz.

One of the closest parallels to the film was when he brought me along to Rock Hill South Carolina where he was playing a large benefit concert. He was the headliner and since it was a small town in South Carolina he was a pretty big fish that week. I guess that would have been a good time for me to say as Benjy does in the final scene “This is how I like to remember him”.

His sister was active in the local church and had asked him if he would play the concert to benefit the building of a new church. There had apparently been a good deal of publicity around his appearance. He was treated like a star from the moment we arrived. He was there for 4 or 5 days and would direct the band through a series of daily rehearsals, teach a master’s class at the local High School and do a meet and greet at an art gallery opening prior to the big show.

There was no need for babysitting Benny as Benjy had to sit Swann in My Favorite Year. He was a consummate professional in every way. He didn’t drink or get out of hand at all so again, the similarities were limited. But what I experienced was the backstage, uncensored true essence of the man while he dealt with the public, his family and the kind of issues that arise when someone that has been travelling around the world for 50 years comes to a small town. It was delightful.
At the end of each day his nephew Michael would drive us around Rock Hill. We’d try to find a place to eat before going back to the hotel. This wasn’t easy since we were on the late supper schedule and Rock Hill shut down at 9pm. Benny was much younger than his years and in some ways closer to his nephew than with his sisters. He LOVED his sisters, don’t get me wrong, but he was more himself in the car and we would talk about the funny things that happened during the day with the choir director or at the high school. Michael was more like a cousin to him and Benny was like a kid when we got away from the rest of the family.

Sayuri Goto was on the trip too. She’s Benny’s piano player and at the time they were romantically involved as well. This was on the down low in public since Sayuri was in her early thirties and Benny was very conscious of his image. I myself was unaware of their relationship for the first few weeks when I had first met him.

We all each had our own room and I would get up in the morning and walk to a Starbucks for coffee and breakfast. It was the only thing out there that was anything like home. I’d bring it back to the hotel and we’d get together in Benny’s room and have our morning treats and laugh again about the day before. One morning I knocked on his door and he answered it in his briefs striking a superman pose. You have to imagine the physique of a 75 year old man that weighed less than 140lbs in his underwear. I laughed so hard I almost dumped the coffee on the floor and pissed myself.

It might sound strange but by the time I found out Benny and Sayuri were “dating” it didn’t seem strange to me at all. One of my daughters said it best a few years later after they had gotten to know him.

“He doesn’t seem like he’s old at all, I always forget he’s almost as old as pop-pop. He’s more like a kid in an old man suit.”

When Benny told me they were no longer together I actually felt like my parents were breaking up, even though she was younger than me.

“I told her she has to move on because I’m not always going to be able to take care of her.” he told me. “I can’t even take care of her now the way she needs it.”
He was very pragmatic. He thought she should have a younger, more upwardly mobile partner that could buy her a nice house and a car and support her better.
A few years later she was married, living in Westchester and at the time of his funeral she had a pair of twins. She was still his piano player though and they remained very close.

We had so many adventures together since then. There was a family built around him. It consisted of Barry Cooper, a former student that ended up in the same chair Benny had as trombonist in the Count Basie Band, TK Blue, his bandmate in Randy Weston’s band, Sayuri and me. They would play gigs together and I would film them. We’d travel together, hang out in his apartment, go out to eat together, etc. And when we weren’t together he would call us all individually and fill us in on what the others were doing.  He was like a father, an uncle, a brother and a best friend to all of us.

We spoke on the phone so often that there were times that I’d open my cell phone to call him and I’d hear his voice saying “hello?” before I dialed his number. I’d say “I was just about to call you.” and he’d say “Well, I did just call you but you answered before it rang.” I think I miss that the most; being able to just pick up the phone anytime at all (not before noon) and talk about anything under the sun. There is no one else that I call just to say “hi” anymore.

He was so encouraging to me in my work. He’d tell me how important the work I was doing was and that I was touching people’s lives in ways that I didn’t yet understand. Coming from a guy that had played such beautiful music for so many people in his lifetime this was pretty heavy.

Benny represents my largest personal loss to date. I’ll never stop hearing his voice, his advice and his encouragement- but with him gone I can’t help but feel I’ve passed through my favorite years.

WBGO Journal Spotlights “Shiny Stockings”

I was recently interviewed by Doug Doyle of WBGO Jazz88 for the WBGO Journal.

Listen to the interview on the Archive page available here:
WBGO Journal July 9th 2010

Final Triumphant Scene of “Shiny Stockings” is Captured

A series of Stills from the final scene of Jazz Legacy Film's "Shiny Stockings"

We recently shot the final scene of the film in a hotel room in Newark NJ when Frank and Cecilia Foster were in town for the Hank Jones Memorial service.

The ”Happy Ending” was captured when Frank signed a termination notice which will set in motion his reclamation of the title song and a few other compositions of the same era. The Community Law Clinic of Rutgers School of Law- Newark has been working on the process that will allow Frank to republish his signature tune under his own publishing company in the near future, resulting in his receiving 100% of his royalties directly.

See NPR’s blog entry on the subject.

On the saddest note possible I was driving away from Newark, headed to a friend’s house when I got a call from Bill Saxton, one of Frank’s protoges.

“Did you hear about Benny?”

Trombonist Benny Powell was in the hospital for back surgery and I had spoken to him the night before. He was in good spirits, his back was feeling better than it had in 2 years. I thought Bill may have just found out he was in the hospital and was worried about him. He knew I was good friends with him because the last time I saw Bill just 2 weeks earlier I cut our conversation short because I had to pick Benny up and take him to his gig at the Lenox Lounge.

“Benny’s cool, I spoke to him last night. He’s in the hospital but he’s recovering and he’ll be out in a few days” I said.

Bill sighed. “Something happened early this morning brother, Benny’s gone”.

I pulled over to the side of the road and cried like a baby.

Frank Foster Takes Back his Shiny Stockings

Press Release June 26th, 2010-Please share!

Frank and Cecilia Foster with Filmmaker Brian Grady

Composer and arranger Frank Foster, who penned one of the Count Basie Band’s most popular tunes, “Shiny Stockings,” has initiated a contract termination process with the help of faculty and students in the Community law Clinic at Rutgers School of Law–Newark. The Clinic, under the supervision of intellectual property rights attorney Clinical Professor John Kettle, has sent notice on Foster’s behalf to the current holder of copyright that Mr. Foster will be exercising his rights in accordance with a little known provision of The Copyright Act of 1976.

As a young composer, to have a piece of music you’ve written appear on a recording by a well known bandleader in return for a small share of the residuals is very appealing. Often a young artist will sign a poorly negotiated contract without understanding the long-term ramifications. A song like “Shiny Stockings” becomes part of a catalogue of songs that are “owned” by a publishing company that can be bought and sold as an investment. Eventually, parties that had nothing to do with the creation of a work can collect the lion’s share of royalties and license fees throughout the life of the property. “Shiny Stockings”, considered an “evergreen” property has been recorded hundreds of times over the years and continues to be used in films and television shows. This represents significant potential earnings. The Copyright Act of 1976 provides for the opportunity for authors and composers to terminate prior agreements regarding the use of or transfer of rights of a copyrighted work.

A young Frank Foster at a recording session with Sarah Vaughan circa 1957

Having had a long career of recording and touring and recognized by his peers as one of the greatest Tenor Saxophonists of all time, Mr. Foster suffered a stroke in 2001 that left him partially paralyzed and unable to play his instruments. Mr. Foster’s economic situation grew bleak in the years following his stroke as reported in an interview aired on National Public Radio in 2005. If not for the residual income from his earlier published works and what he earns as an arranger he would be in dire straits.

Mr. Foster’s life is the subject of a documentary film by Director Brian Grady and produced by Mr. Grady’s company Jazz Legacy Films. The song was selected as a hook for the story as it was Mr. Foster’s best known piece of work. As part of his research for the film Grady looked into the history of the song and found it to be one of the most popular tunes of the Basie repertoire. Coincidentally, a friend who is a copyright expert in the music industry had told him of the Copyright Act and its obscure detail.

“My friend Bill Stafford explained that agreements entered into prior to 1978 can be terminated 56 years after initial vesting of copyright, and that there is a 5 year window in which an author or their descendents have to act.  They must serve notice of termination at least 2 years in advance. “Shiny Stockings” was published in March of 1956.  That meant that in order to take full advantage of the composition’s shelf life, this had to be acted upon as soon as possible.”

Professor John Kettle of Rutgers School of Law- Newark, discusses Frank Foster's copyright issues with members of the Community Law Clinic at The Rutgers School of Law.

“Frank taught in the Jazz Studies program at Rutgers–New Brunswick back in the 1970s. Rutgers–Newark is now the home of The Institute of Jazz Studies, the largest Jazz archive in the world. I made contact with Professor Kettle to see if he was interested. He was, and assigned the project to the Community Law Clinic whose students, among other activities, provide legal guidance on copyright, trademark and related IP issues. Under Professor Kettle’s supervision they identified several pieces of music that fit into the timeframe and could potentially generate a significant revenue stream in the future.

The movie “Shiny Stockings” has been awarded a Sponsorship from The New York Foundation for the Arts. Mr. Grady is now seeking grants and corporate sponsorship. He hopes to have the film completed by year’s end and to premiere it as part of Black History Month in February 2011.

A Partnership with PBS Station WHRO

Frank Foster shakes hands with fans.

I seem to waver between being incredibly organized and slipping into complete chaos. Somehow it seems to work out. It ain’t easy being your own admin, PR guy and fundraiser. I’m new to all these things.

So I’m filling out yet another application for a funding opportunity and of course under a tight deadline. I get to the 80% completion mark of the application which needs to be mailed out for an overnight delivery on the west coast.  Of course you’re supposed to read the entire application guideline manual prior to starting but who has time for that? Whoops! The grant is matching funds based on how much in-kind support I have from my PBS partner station. PBS PARTNER STATION?!? uhh, I don’t have one of those.

Not one to give up easily I email the funding organization and explain that a serious family health issue has set me back a week on the application. They graciously agree to an extension. Now I just have to find a partner right?  That would be nice. I came up with the bright idea of looking up a public television station near Cheasapeake VA where Frank resides. I was lucky enough to find WHRO in Norfolk on the PBS website. Using my mad Social Networking skills I look for people that work at WHRO in LinkedIn. I find a Barbara Hamm Lee, Chief Community Outreach Officer. Sounds like a good candidate. Searching her name in the online telephone directory I found her work contact and took a chance at calling her directly at her office. Did I mention this is happening at 5 pm on a Friday afternoon? Barabara wasn’t at her desk but was nice enough to have her cell number on her outgoing voice mail message. I dared calling her on her cell at 5:15 and left a message there. I hang up and decide to throw in the towel. To my astonishment she actually called me back within 15 minutes. I explained to her the project, which I had summarized in the message I had left and as I was telling her about Frank Foster’s contribution to music and his being local to the station she politely interrupted by saying “Oh I know about Frank Foster, I just emceed the Frank Foster Scholarship Fund’s Annual Gala, I LOVE Frank Foster!”

I nearly collapsed. I sent her a link to our demo of the movie and our Facebook moviepage. Barbara quickly worked her internal connections at WHRO and by the end of the following week I was working out a partnership with the station’s Chief Enterprise Officer, John Heimerl.

Did I get the app in on time? No. A partnership requires having the station commit to not only airing the program but as I mentioned, In-Kind donations. A letter of committment is required by the funding organization and that requires some discussion with management that would be rather difficult to get done in a matter of days.  It would be unrealistic to expect to get that all in place and make the deadline. My contact at the funder suggested I apply for another round due in August and if I want I can apply for the partnership matching funds next year. OK I will!

BUT: We now have a commitment with WHRO for In-Kind contributions of up to $50k and to air Shiny Stockings on Frank’s local PBS station. I suspect it will be a little easier to ask for funding now that I know Shiny Stockings will be aired on a PBS station. SO, I continue the hunt for funding and by hook or by crook I will finish this film amd people will see it.

Man I love it when things come together!

Shiny Stockings Receives NYFA Sponsorship

Our Film “Shiny Stockings” has been selected for
Fiscal Sponsorhip from The New York Foundation for The Arts.
The NYFA sponsorship allows us to raise funds under their 501 c-3 designation, apply for Government and Foundation grants and will supply a certain amount of administrative help in managing the project going forward. It also lets everyone know that our film is worthy of support based on subject matter and the work we’ve achieved so far.

Thanks to everyone that has supported our efforts for the past 2 years!

Please visit the Film’s FaceBook page or visit our YouTube channel to view the demo, trailer and get updates on the project as it happens. FB users click “Like” on the FB page…

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