Al Foster was born in Richmond, VA, but was raised in New York. He taught himself drums at about the age of 13, and by the age of 16 he was recording with Blue Mitchell (as "Aloysius Foster" on the Blue Note album The Thing to Do). In 1969, at the Cellar Club on 95th St. in Manhattan, Foster got his big break; as he was backing up bassist Earl May in a quartet, his drumming was noticed by trumpeter Miles Davis. Davis hired Foster on the spot as a replacement for Jack DeJohnette, who was then departing the ever-enlarging Davis group of that period. This indeed would prove a long commitment for Foster, who played on every Miles Davis album ranging from Big Fun to You're Under Arrest, and toured with him extensively.
Foster left Miles Davis in 1985, and since then has worked independently, sometimes as leader, sometimes as sideman. Over his lengthy and enduring career Al Foster has worked with Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Haden, Thelonious Monk, Freddie Hubbard, Dave Liebman, Herbie Hancock, and Joe Henderson.