David Foster Honored With Star On Hollywood Walk Of Fame
When David Foster assumed the title of chairman at the Verve Music Group a year and a half ago, some naysayers may have worried that the hiring of a consummate adult-contemporary hitmaker bore bad tidings for the label’s future as a jazz mecca. Little did they know they may have an ally on the inside.
“Most of my favorite artists growing up were on Verve,” Foster says. “I have of photo of myself with Stan Getz when I was 13; I snuck backstage, and he let me hold his saxophone. There’s also a letter that Oscar Peterson sent me when I was 14, saying ‘keep up the good work.’ It’s framed in my office — I’m looking at it right now.”
In other words, Foster is well aware of the legacy he inherited when Universal Music Group honcho Lucian Grainge gave him carte blanche to renovate the label group. He’s also aware that his presence brings a certain commercial expectation.
A tireless songwriter, producer, arranger and gimlet-eyed talent scout, Foster may not command the popular imagination as he did in the 1980s, when his hits for Chicago, Chaka Khan, Barbra Streisand, Kenny Rogers and Earth Wind & Fire made him one of the industry’s most in-demand talents. Or in the mid-1990s, when his work with Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Toni Braxton and others rendered him literally inescapable for anyone who dared turn on the radio or visit the local multiplex.
But peek a little bit behind the curtain, and the 16-time Grammy winner’s grip on his particular brand of pop has hardly loosened. Already this year, two of his latter-day discoveries — Josh Groban and Michael Buble — have notched No. 1 albums, while Andrea Bocelli’s “Passione,” which Foster produced top-to-bottom, bowed at No. 2 in January.
“We are acutely aware of our responsibility to keep jazz alive,” he says, noting Verve’s continued successes with Diana Krall and Trombone Shorty, as well as new act Dirty Loops, a Foster-signed young jazz trio from Sweden.
Yet his name always brings with it a certain aesthetic, and the producer has hardly been shy about Fostering the label’s offerings. Called upon to breathe new life into the venerable if faded label, Foster has given himself a three-year span in which to turn things around. He spent much of his first year assembling his team — a lean 14-person staff — and the fruits of his labor are beginning to ripen.
Perhaps his biggest coup thus far was the capture of Rod Stewart, whose yuletide collection “Merry Christmas, Baby” has moved more than 2 million copies for Verve since last fall. He recently tapped Natalie Cole — whose multiplatinum “Unforgettable” album was a Foster project from the start — to do a collection of her father’s Spanish-language songs. He was also behind the signing of Motown great Smokey Robinson, who will release a duets album through Verve later this fall. And Bocelli remains an evergreen moneymaker for the label, one whose best English-language projects have tended to have Foster’s name behind them.
Granted, of these four, only Cole could be considered a real jazz artist. But if the push-pull between traditional jazz and adult contemporary at Verve seems like it could be a delicate balancing act, Foster would argue that a shake-up was needed.
“If you analyze what’s happened with jazz, smooth jazz is pretty much dead,” he says. “There used to be a hundred smooth jazz stations, now there’s nine, I think — and that was a year ago, so there’s probably even less. Bebop is almost nonexistent except for us freaks who want to go back and listen to our Miles records all the time.”