George Foster, popularly known as "Pops" Foster, was a jazz musician for more than 70 years. Foster played both tuba and string bass, but is recognized for solidifying the predominance of string bass in jazz music.Foster was known for his musical imagination and his unique bass slapping technique, which was later copied by other popular musicians. Foster performed and recorded with some of the biggest names in jazz musical history, and had one of the longest and most prolific careers of the jazz musicians of his era.
George Murphy Foster was born on May 19, 1892, on a plantation in Louisiana. Music was a central part of Foster's childhood. When George Foster was seven years old he began playing in a family band. The Fosters played at dances around the plantation. After school they would all do their homework and then practice music.
In 1902 the family moved to New Orleans. New Orleans was filled with music when ten-year-old George Foster arrived. Foster continued to play in local bands and develop his skills. He went to school at New Orleans University, but did not do well academically because he focused all of his attention on music. He dropped out of school in the fifth grade to take his first professional job with the Munson People at Audubon Place, performing at lawn parties and fish fries. In 1906 he became a regular for the Rozelle Band, which was founded by his brother, Willie. It was Willie who bought the young George his first real bass instrument.
Around the time Foster started playing bass professionally, jazz music was just starting to develop. In 1908 the Rozelle Band broke up and Foster joined the Magnolia Band, started by Louis Keppard. Shortly thereafter Joe Oliver, who would become a legendary jazz trumpet player, joined the band. The Magnolia Band performed regularly in the District, the area of the French Quarter of New Orleans. From 1910 until 1914 Foster worked as a freelance bass player in the District. In 1914, at the beginning of World War I, the District was closed down and many musicians left the city or worked for the war effort. Foster took a job in an iron foundry.
For the next few years, Foster played with some of New Orleans' finest musicians, including Frankie Dusen, Kid Ory, and Freddie Keppard. Aside from playing in clubs, Foster also played on passenger boats and train trips. He played regularly at lawn parties, country dances, and funerals, which was typical for New Orleans musicians at that time. When the District closed, many New Orleans jazzmen moved to Chicago or California to continue their careers. Foster stayed in New Orleans and worked on the riverboats. In 1917 he began working for the Fate Marable Jazz Syncopators on the S.S. Belle of the Bend. Musicians lived and played on the boats for weeks or months at a time, making possible the spread of New Orleans jazz music to other cities in the country. Although Foster is best known as a string bassist, he also played tuba. He bought his first tuba in 1921 when he joined the Eddie Allen band on one of the riverboat tours.