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Mentor CD


Kerry Strayer Septet featuring Gary Foster



  1. Saturday 10AM Gary Foster
  2. Gaviota Clare Fischer
  3. A Flower is a Lovesome Thing Billy Strayhorn
  4. Sweet Lips Gary Foster
  5. Siempre Me Va Bien David Torres
  6. Don't Ask Why Alan Broadbent
  7. Yardbird Suite Charlie Parker
  8. In Your Own Sweet Way Dave Brubeck
  9. The Peacocks Jimmy Rowles
  10. I Hadn't Anyone Till You Ray Noble
  11. Warne-ing Gary Foster

From the liner notes

As a collector of “words to live by,” I often return to the following to be reminded of simple, but basic, wisdom gleaned from two great authors.

“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and, if they can’t find them, make them.”


“If you haven’t the strength to impose your own terms on life, you must accept the terms it offers you.”


Kerry Strayer, in developing his personal music, has instinctively acted on this advice. In a world that often never seems to need one more individual effort, Kerry has created musical situations that give all involved a chance to be remembered.

–Gary Foster, (15 February 2003)

We all have special people in our lives who inspire and encourage us and help us find our way. Gary Foster has been such a person in my life. Gary has always freely shared his talents, knowledge and experience with students and colleagues alike. This recording is my way of saying “thank you” to a gentleman and true professional for all he has given to all of us who have benefited from his kindness, friendship and generosity.

–Kerry Strayer, (20 February 2003)

This wonderful collection of exuberantly arranged originals and standards exemplifies the power of positive swing. It also documents the multi-faceted musicality of Kerry Strayer, bandleader-composer-arranger-baritone saxophonist extraordinaire. Additionally, the date is a de facto testament to the range and depth of musical talents currently enlivening the contemporary Kansas City jazz scene.

The session is also a showcase for the sublime artistry of Gary Foster, a first-call L.A. studio pro whose woodwinds have helped lift bandstands with jazz greats Toshiko Akiyoshi, Clare Fischer, Warne Marsh, Cal Tjader, Shelly Manne, Lee Konitz and Poncho Sanchez, moreover illuminate big screen epics such as the recently released Catch Me If You Can and Chicago. In fact, the genesis of the date springs from Strayer’s admiration of the Kansas-born, Kansas University-educated Foster. “I truly consider Gary Foster to be my mentor,” says Strayer.

“We first met in 1976, when I was a freshman at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, and Gary was the guest artist for our jazz festival,” Strayer recalls. “We were reacquainted in 1984 when Gary began a long residency at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music, where I was completing a masters in saxophone performance. I was able to take private lessons with Gary, and he became an important role model for me in terms of musical preparation and learning about the music business. Since graduation, he’s been consistently supportive and a great inspiration as our relationship has shifted from student-teacher to colleagues.”

Gary, for his part, recalls Kerry’s strong drive to be a professional musician. “After graduation, Kerry established himself as an important new performer, arranger, teacher and contractor in Kansas City. Over the years, it’s given me pleasure to have Kerry’s friendship and to observe his success.” Interestingly, the session’s title came as a surprise to Gary. “I hadn’t heard Mentor mentioned in connection with the project until I received the test pressing. To view it in retrospect and realize that Kerry had that title in mind as he developed the music is exceptionally satisfying and flattering. Still, the credit for the high quality of the CD belongs entirely to Kerry.”

While paying homage to Gary and satisfying Kerry’s long-standing ambition to record with him, Mentor continues the leader’s exploration and expansion of the jazz septet documented in the CDs Why Not Now? and Jeru Blue. “Years ago I chose the septet format because it allowed for the excitement and creativity of small group improvisation and let me flex my arranging muscles. In fact, writing for the septet is now a means of expression as important to me as playing.” It should be pointed out that Kerry regards the group as an orchestrated combo. “I hate it when people describe my group as a little big band. It’s a description that misses the point completely.”

The empathic interplay among the seven musicians, while a tribute to Kerry’s artfully crafted charts, is also a reflection of shared histories. “[Trumpeter] Barry Springer and [trombonist] Earlie Braggs are charter members of the septet which I started in 1991. We’ve played together so much over the years that we instinctively know how we’re going to interpret what’s on the page. I’ve worked often with [bassist] Bob Bowman, [drummer] Todd Strait, and [pianist] Frank Mantooth. They all have well-earned national reputations, and after working with them on another project, I knew they’d be perfect.”

Kerry has warm recollections of the session. “We had a lot of fun,” he recalls. “It was pure pleasure sitting next to Gary. He played great and we all learned a lot. Even though the charts were intricate [check out the hand-in-glove rendering of Gary’s “Warne-ing” for a sample], we never did more than two takes. There were only a few places where we ’punched in’ to fix a mistake.” All the solos were recorded live. “I don’t like to overdub since you tend to lose the interaction between the soloist and rhythm section,” Kerry explains.

Mentor opens with a rousing version of Gary’s “Saturday 10:00AM,” a subtly swinging tribute to the late Dick Wright of KANU-FM, who for decades was “the voice of jazz” in Kansas City and northeast Kansas. With a cooking ensemble punctuated by bluesy riffs worthy of Basie, and inspired solo flights by Gary (on alto), and Earlie and Kerry, it’s an ear-opener with great rhythmic as well as melodic and harmonic appeal.

“Gaviota,” a Latin-accented delight by Gary’s West Coast friend Clare Fischer, effervesces with an exotic front line of flute, flugelhorn, trombone and bari, and breezy flights by Gary (on flute) and Frank Mantooth. It’s mid-tempo Latin jazz at its best, at once laid back and simmering.

“A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” is one of Billy Strayhorn’s great ballads. Kerry recalls falling for the classic line “when I first heard Harry Carney playing it on Duke Ellington’s Unknown Sessions album.” Here, Kerry’s heartfelt bari steps forward against an astringent yet lush backdrop evocatively colored by Gary’s flute, Barry’s flugelhorn, and Earlie’s trombone.

Gary wrote “Sweet Lips” as “a tribute to the great clarinetist, Wilbur Schwartz, who created the clarinet lead sound with Glenn Miller,” and with whom Gary played many Hollywood studio dates. A swinging, mid-tempo showcase for Gary’s eloquent clarineting, “Sweet Lips” also spotlights engaging turns by Barry, Earlie, and Bob. “At the end of the session, Gary said some of the arrangements reminded him of Strayhorn,” Kerry recalls. “It’s one of the greatest compliments that I’ve ever received.”

“Siempre Me Va Bien,” by pianist-composer David Torres, a mainstay of Poncho Sanchez’s band with whom Gary often plays, is a Latin treat with Gary’s alto, Barry’s trumpet, Frank’s piano, and Earlie’s trombone leaning into the breeze. Looking for a ballad to feature Gary’s luxuriant alto, Kerry turned to the atmospheric “Don’t Ask Why” by Alan Broadbent, in which Gary’s impassioned arabesques evoke noirish reveries of Bogart and Bacall.

For unabashed bop-based swinging with a Kansas City twist, the romp through Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite” can’t be beat. Again, Gary flies on alto. And while evoking the spirit of Bird, Gary displays his own uniquely evolved Fosterian argot. Other ear-grabbing episodes are the tag-team interplay between Gary and Kerry, and Frank’s sparkling foray.

To savor Gary’s singular clarinet work, one need look no further than Kerry’s insouciant setting of Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way.” Jimmy Rowles’s languorous “The Peacocks” is a ballad feature for Kerry’s impressive work on soprano saxophone. “Over the years, I’ve developed a liking for soprano,” says Kerry. “Still, baritone sax will always be king with me.”

Kerry first arranged Ray Noble’s enduring “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You” for Kansas Citian Warren Durrett. “Warren was a wonderful musician and a good friend. I learned a lot playing in his big band.” Here, Gary’s sophisticated, heart-on-sleeve solo sails to the heavens.

The curtain closer is Gary’s flowing and technically demanding “Warne-ing,” an inspired line set atop the changes of “What Is This Thing Called Love.” Dedicated to the late Warne Marsh, the nonpareil tenor saxophonist who along with Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz created a still vibrant alternative to bebop, Gary’s tightly coiled line sets up ensembles and solos that race with precision and panache.

In looking back at the session, Kerry recalls wanting “the arrangements to capture the essence of how Gary approaches music.” In a word, that essence, which applies to both Gary’s classy playing and Kerry’s dashing arrangements, is taste.

In concluding, I am pleased to defer to Gary, whose experiences working with so many of the world’s top musical artists give his adjudications authority and perspective. “Viewed from the standpoint of a studio musician, Kerry’s project falls into the category of art music — the most desired music in a professional life. Making music with Clare, Warne, Toshiko, Alan, Lee, and in all the other situations where a ’good eight bars’ is life’s real objective, had exactly the same feeling as being a part of Kerry’s project.”

To that, I can only add, “Amen.”

– Dr. Chuck Berg, University of Kansas, February 2003
DownBeat; JazzTimes; Jazz Educators Journal; Contributor to the Oxford Companion to Jazz and the Gramophone Guide to CD Jazz; National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences