The photographic archive of Brian 'Freddy' Foskett, which was donated to the National Jazz Archive in 2018, spans the period from 1959 to 2012. Brian was born in Essex, but his family moved to Cambridge when he was a young child.
As a teenager, Brian turned his back on the possibility of art college, instead taking up work in a Cambridge record store. Here he continued to develop his interest in jazz whilst entertaining the students who poured through the door. He began his serious working life with Marshall Aerospace as an industrial photographer, juggling his day job alongside photographing visiting bands and local musicians around the jazz and blues clubs of Cambridge.
He even made time to play drums in the Riverside Jazz Band, the city's leading traditional jazz ensemble. In 1965 he found himself part of the Cambridge University Footlights Club, having evidently forged connections with sections of the city's student body through his time in the record store, his music, and his other club photography. He toured with Footlights and took to the stage with Eric Idle, the 1965 Footlights President and future Monty Python, to produce a spoof Beatles song entitled I Want to Hold your Handel to the tune of the Hallelujah chorus.
Being a jazz drummer, Brian had a feel for the music and the musicians. His work captures them in their exuberance, mostly performing but sometimes at rest. Brian entered the world of jazz photography at a time of great change following the lifting of the embargo by the Ministry of Labour, supported by the Musicians' Union, which had prevented American jazzmen and women from playing in Britain. Modern jazz, long championed by British musicians such as Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott and Joe Harriott, could now be augmented by US musicians playing in the UK for the first time.
Ronnie Scott's was the first club to host an American musician, Zoot Simms, in 1961. Brian Foskett was there to witness the revolutionary change in the range of music now on offer to British fans for the first time: from Duke Ellington performing in a Cambridge church in 1967 to a big stage event such as the Count Basie Orchestra in concert, Brian photographed it all.
The Ellington concert was but one example of Foskett being in the right place at the right time. Duke Ellington and his band were in the middle of their 1967 European tour but broke with their schedule to appear for one night only at Great St Mary's, the University Church, Cambridge. The band accepted a personal invitation by the vicar, Hugh Montefiore. The fee paid amounted to about £350 for the entire 15-piece ensemble, who attended dressed in their customary white jackets, black trousers, and red ties.
Brian Foskett photographed the band members during afternoon rehearsals and at the evening performance. It is estimated that around 1,300 fans packed into the church and the adjacent outdoor area, whilst a further 500 viewed the gig at Senate House via closed-circuit television.
The band included Ellington on keyboards, Cat Anderson on trumpet (who offered Foskett a close-up impromptu backstage image), Johnny Hodges on saxophone, Rufus 'Speedy' Jones on drums and Esther Marrow as vocalist. The programme consisted of contemporary sacred music, a far cry from Ellington's traditional offering, and included spirituals and Ellington's own composition In the Beginning God. It later transpired that Ellington's wife had died only a few days before the concert.
As a musician himself, Brian Foskett had a passport to photographing the jazz greats as well as the backing musicians who would often get overlooked. Brian could get behind the scenes and produce strikingly candid images, such as Louis Armstrong in a barber's chair or Ella Fitzgerald cooling off in her dressing room.
He was at the birth of Ronnie Scott's and other jazz venues, and never missed a North Sea Jazz Festival from the 1990s onwards. He travelled to Florida to photograph Flip Phillips at his birthday party with many of his fellow musicians, yet he was equally at home at a jazz event in a local pub in Cambridge.
It wasn't until 1997, when Foskett self-published his first book Jazz Pictorial, that his photography became more widely known. This was followed by a sequel, Jazz Pictorial 2, published in 2005. Despite the publication of the books, Foskett never sought to professionally market his images, although he doubtless could have been a commercial success. His love lay in the images he captured rather than the tedium of administrative routine.
His body of work captures the many great international artists such as Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Peggy Lee. His blues material includes B. B. King and John Lee Hooker. There are also images of British musicians at Foskett's favourite jazz clubs as well as performers from the world of pop and rock including the Rolling Stones, Bill Haley and Cliff Richard and The Shadows.
His work was mainly in black and white but he did dabble in colour towards the end of his life. His legacy is remarkable in terms of its coverage and its storytelling. Brian died in 2017.
National Jazz Archive (nationaljazzarchive.org.uk)
You can buy a selection of prints of Foskett's photographs and more from the National Jazz Archive on the Art UK Shop