The Northern Great Plainsas a band travel designationexpanded as far to the east as the border of New York State, if only because territory band activity thinned out as it moved away from the plains proper. Frank Foster
was one of the few band participants whose history in the Plains' bands had been formally documented. Foster had been interviewed as part of the National Endowment for the Arts
-funded Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program
in 1998. Foster, who died in 2011, primarily played tenor and soprano saxophone and worked as a composer, arranger and band leader as well. Before later engagements with Count Basie
(circa 1953), Foster played with territory bands out of the Ohio region. The Cincinnati native grew up in a home environment that stressed music appreciation but he had no exposure to jazz before the age of nine. Originally, he was taught clarinet but moved on to saxophone at an early age and then became a member of a local dance band that had no formal name.
In the interview, Foster recalled that "Every gig at that time was a dance. There was no such thing as a jazz concert...the first band that I got with that had actually a name...a local sort of territory band...[was] under the leadership of a man named Jack Jackson, who was a saxophonist. He had this band called Jack Jackson's Jumping Jacks. I played with men who were by far my senior...I was about 14 years of age...We had lots of stock arrangements that were bought in the music store, and a few special arrangements that were made by one or two members of the band. We played for black folks. There were no mixed audiences in those days. You either played for all-black audiences or all-white audiences." Foster recalled several downtown Cincinnati venues that welcomed black territory bands: "There was a place called The Barn. It was a nightclub in downtown Cincinnati. Another place called The Hanger. These were just nightclubs, not dance halls, but just neighborhood bars. Black musicians played there, in trio or quartet format. Black patrons could not go in these places. The black musicians played there." The band members wore dark suits and white shirts as they covered their territory including Southern Ohio, Eastern Indiana and Northern Kentucky where towns were "open," allowing (or, at least, looking the other way) for gambling, drinking and late night/early morning music performances.
Foster described the traveling arrangements as ..."a caravan of cars. We usually traveled in three cars. There was always a black dance in Louisville on [Kentucky] Derby Day, and we worked there. It wasn't life on the road per se. Every trip was there and back in one day, Cincinnati being the home base. We went to Chillicothe, we came back...We went to Louisville and came back. We never went on the road for more than one day. We never went on a trip from which we didn't come back the same evening, so it really was not the road. I think...I made max $10 a job..." "Almost everything that the Basie orchestra became known for...the Jack Jackson band played. Now [in] Northern Kentuckyright across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, are the towns of Covington and Newport. Newport was a wide-open town as far as gambling was concerned. They had after-hour clubs that went from like 1 a.m. to 5 in the morning. I had to get my mother's permission to work a job in this club, the Sportsman's Club, with gambling. I was only 14, 15 years of age. I was placed in the care of an older musician, who promised my mother that he would look out for me and wouldn't let me drink or smoke or anything."