BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
These days, while the Atlanta Hawks are busy scorching opponents in Philips Arena, the Twitterverse is equally active — but not only about the game.
“Big ups to @sir_foster for playing Biggie jams as a tribute today.”
“@sir_foster is killin as usual on the organ tonight.”
“@sir_foster just played The Office theme song after Mike Scott dunked and my life is now complete.”
The Sir Foster of social media glory is Foster Carson, the spitfire keyboardist/organist for the Hawks whose popularity and national profile have sprouted as the home team dominates the NBA Eastern Conference.
But while Carson, a fixture in Section 108 of Philips Arena, is currently enjoying the attention that befits a championship-caliber team, he’s cultivated his own cheering squad in the six seasons since he answered a Craigslist ad to become the next Hawks organist.
Atlanta-based artists — Ludacris, Outkast, Jeezy — are in heavy rotation on his playlist. And if Carson spots any of those local rap luminaries courtside, he bounces and bobs behind his customized keyboard with even more zany passion.
“If I see them in the audience, I want them to know that I see them … and they like it,” Carson said.
Peter Sorckoff, chief creative officer and senior vice president of marketing for the Hawks who helped hire Carson, agreed that Carson’s relationship with the crowd creates some buzzy moments.
“If he knows that 2 Chainz or T.I. is in the house, he’s going to have a couple of tracks ready, and if we walk them into a game and he plays their song and they point over to him, to the audience that feels like a collaborative moment,” Sorckoff said.
On a recent afternoon in Atlanta, Carson is dropping by Encore Film and Music Studio, a massive visual production entity tucked away off Fulton Industrial Boulevard.
There is a litheness to the musician, a native of Fort Valley, Ga., about 100 miles south of Atlanta, as he bounds around the studio; a compact, muscular package with a high-wattage smile.
Carson studied mass communications at Fort Valley State, but always had a keyboard in his room, ready to play a dorm room talent show. His love of music stems from the church, partially from the gospel music his parents played around the house, but also thanks to the piano lessons he received in first grade from a kindly churchgoer.
Carson estimates that he now knows a couple of thousand songs, which he attributes to “the gift of perfect pitch and an extremely good memory.”
But go back a bit further, when he was a teen glued to MTV, and a clearer picture of his encyclopedic knowledge of popular music emerges.
“MTV used to play a lot of videos, and you’d have Bone Thugs-n-Harmony come on right after the Goo Goo Dolls or Green Day. Even when I was very young, I had that background of seeing and hearing everything,” Carson said. “If it sounded good, I liked it.”
But as a kid, he didn’t like it quite enough to ever think he’d be in his current position — possibly the best-known organist in sports.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d be doing this,” Carson said, flashing a wry smile and shaking his head. “Growing up, I wanted to play in the NBA. I was watching the Knicks with my dad on TV and he said, ‘You hear that organ player? You’re taking piano lessons; maybe you can grow up to be like that guy.’ And I was like, who wants to be THAT guy? I want to play basketball! Who wants to play music for all of the games?
“But I grew up to be that guy, and I think about that conversation at least once a week now and I’m like … wow.”
Part of being “that guy” is meticulous preparation.
While there is nothing extraordinary about Carson’s routine on game day — go to the gym, have some lunch, get to Philips Arena around 5 p.m. for a 7:30 tipoff, set up and play — he’s always got his head in the game.
“Every day is Game 7 of the finals for me,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s Tuesday night against Milwaukee or Friday night against Cleveland.”
Or, for that matter, the 2014 NBA All-Star Game or this year’s Rising Stars Challenge at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on All-Star weekend. Carson was the in-house organist at both, further elevating his national prominence.
“That has been his mentality since Day 1,” Sorckoff said. “And along with his abilities as a musician, it’s what immediately sold us on him (six years ago). He’s made an art out of it.”
But at any game, the zippy pace can force a momentum shift in a nanosecond.
So Carson, who attributes his latter-day keyboard knowledge to hearing players in Atlanta jazz clubs, is always ready with a song “in the chamber.” Most game days, he tries to learn a new song before arriving at the venue.
Quick thinking is a necessity in Carson’s business, and he still gets a gleam in his eyes when he recalls one of his proudest moments this season.
“We were blowing the other team out and one of their dudes did a big dunk to go from being down 20 to down 18 and he was running down the court like it was going to matter. So I whipped out ‘Let It Go’ from ‘Frozen.’”
A satisfied smile spreads across Carson’s face.
The musician, who also plays saxophone and sings, has even more reason to glow these days.
His full-length debut album, “Future World Record Holder,” is currently available on iTunes, at the Hawks Shop in Philips Arena and at Moods Music in Little Five Points.
“I wanted to make a bold statement,” he said of the album’s title (look closely at it in print and the word “Future” is crossed out). That is also Carson’s reasoning for choosing his regal moniker.
The influences of Prince can be heard on the opening track, “Wonder Land,” while “Fireplace Interlude” showcases Carson’s jazz interests.
“I wanted (the album) to be something you can sit at home and listen to and you can ride in the car and listen to,” Carson said of his handiwork, recorded at the Hub in Decatur and Spotlight Sound Studio in Alpharetta. “It was like creating a painting with music. It was therapeutic, it was fun. I learned a lot about myself.”
As the playoff-bound Hawks continue to charge toward the postseason, it means even more output from Carson — and that is fine with him.
“I’m always listening to music. It can be different at different times of the day,” Carson said, “but I never get tired of music.”
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