Technological advances and the globalization of the recording industry are making it harder for some musicians to get gigs.
"In the last two or three years, we've seen the biggest changes," said Foster, a Kansas University graduate who plays saxophone, clarinet and flute and is in high demand worldwide as a free-lance player. "In the past, the large percentage of film scores were recorded in Hollywood. Now it's across the country. It's now in other countries."
And few television shows hire full-size orchestras for their theme and background music these days.
"TV is mostly done by synthesizers. I do 'Diagnosis Murder' in a condo with the composer and recording engineer," he said.
A full plate
If you watch television or go to the movies, you've heard Foster's playing. In addition to "Diagnosis Murder," he contributes to such television shows as "Family Guy," "Pinky and the Brain" and "Anamaniacs." ("The Simpsons" was on last year's list.)
His movie soundtrack credits include "Batman and Robin," "A Bug's Life," "Analyze This," "Dick," "Inspector Gadget," "South Park," "Runaway Bride," "The Kid," "The Patriot," "The Klumps," "The Emperor's New Groove," "102 Dalmations," "What Women Want" and the upcoming "Pearl Harbor" and "A Night at McCool's." (His first soundtrack was for "The Miniskirt Mob" in the 1968; his first "sizable movie" was "A Man Called Horse" in 1970.)
Plus, he was a member of the 55-piece orchestra performing at this year's Academy Awards broadcast, which spotlighted performances by Sting, Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma and Bjork.
Foster, who was in Lawrence last week for a concert at Kansas University, gets calls from conductors and recording executives throughout the world who want him to play on their projects. He's recorded with Pancho Sanchez, Barbra Streisand, Mel Torme, Natalie Cole, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Liza Minnelli, Diane Shuur, Kenny Rogers, Barry Manilow, Manhattan Transfer, Vince Gill, Diana Krall, Linda Ronstadt and others.
"I like the diversity," he said, explaining what has kept him in the music business for four decades.
It's how you play
Foster, who lives near Los Angeles, enrolled at KU as a transfer student from a small Missouri college so he could study with clarinet teacher Don Scheid, who is now retired.
"He corrected my bad habits," Foster said.
At that time, KU did not have a jazz program; in fact, jazz was frowned upon by most instructors. Nonetheless, Foster and other students gathered for jazz sessions.
"We learned by trial and error," he said. "We had no instruction, but we had a lot of drive."
After getting his master's degree, Foster moved to Los Angeles to try to break into the music industry. A few years earlier, he had met legendary big band leader Stan Kenton, who gave Foster advice and emotional support as he started his career. Later, he met composer-pianist Clare Fischer, who became his mentor.
"It's about how well you play and not about what professional degrees you have," Foster said. "It's about finding a place to find visibility and to show what you can do. " If people have patience and never stop working and are staying on top of it (they can succeed)."
Foster continues to stay on top of it. Later this month he will head to Chicago to do some studio work. In May he will record a movie soundtrack with composer Randy Newman, though Foster doesn't know the title of the movie and won't see the score until he shows up for rehearsal.
In September, he will travel to New Zealand to perform with pianist Alan Broadbent and the Aukland Philharmonic Orchestra. Paul Haar, a KU alumnus and conductor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, has invited him to perform on that campus next spring.
-- Features-arts editor Jan Biles can be reached at 832-7146.