Global Times | 2012-11-14 18:20:04
By Li Yuting
Photo: Cai Xianmin/GT
Known in the record industry as the “Hitman,” David Foster turned the Shanghai Grand Stage into a talk show with music on Tuesday night. During Hitman: David Foster and His Friends, he was sometimes the quiet piano player, occasionally the good-humored host, at times the modest singer performing a few lines, and at other times the talent scout offering audience members an impromptu 20-second audition.
During the golden age of pop music in the 1980s and 90s, this songwriter and producer won 16 Grammy Awards and was a three-time Oscar nominee. Among his smash hits down the years are “I Swear,” “I Will Always Love You,” “Because You Loved Me,” “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” and “The Prayer.” Some 20 of Foster’s hits were performed at the Shanghai gig by four of his biggest stars: Chaka Khan, Babyface, Peter Cetera and Hayley Westenra.
Now 63, this Canadian-born discoverer of new talent admitted that he felt “nervous and scared” before the Shanghai gig. “I love great voices, and everyone you see on stage has a great voice – except me,” he modestly told the Global Times.
A little more assertively, he continued: “I probably have a good sense of melody. Everybody says to me, ‘you’re a magic guy; you found Celine Dion when she was 10, you found Michael Bublé singing at a wedding, you found Josh Groban here, Charice there.’ But I would say I’m just an average person. I do have some skills such as playing piano, writing songs, arranging and producing, which are God-given talents,” he said.
This is Foster’s third time in China, and his second in Shanghai, but it was his first-ever concert in the country. The Global Times caught up with him beforehand.
GT: Do you think your songs have had much influence on Chinese audiences and musicians?
Foster: I have no idea, but when I played in Bangkok and Jakarta, amazingly audiences sang along to everything we played – and not just the major hits.
The pianist Lang Lang is my friend, and I love his soul and spirit, as well as the composer and conductor Tan Dun, who is such a peaceful person.
GT: You have been a composer, arranger, producer and television host. Which of these roles do you most enjoy?
Foster: You know, when I go to the doctor’s and I fill out the form and it asks for “occupation,” I still put musician, because that’s what I still I feel I am as a piano player. I think I’ve been working hard to make the most of my talent in roles like, as you said, television, composing, producing – the glamorous parts of my life. But my favorite job is still piano playing.
GT: What is the secret behind your inspiration and energy when it comes to making music?
Foster: In the show you can see different performance styles but they are all based on my core belief – I love melody and I love quality. In the 1970s, I was just learning “how to be me” like anyone else when they were young and stupid. In the 80s and 90s I had so many hits and I really found where I belonged musically. All my classical influences as a child, and all the hardships that my parents endured to get me piano lessons and orchestra lessons, all came together to ensure I made quality music. In the 2000s, I wasn’t able to write top 40 hits anymore, so I changed direction and found people like Michael Bublé and Josh Groban. And when I work with Andrea Bocelli, Rod Stewart and Seal, I still find ways to make music, to keep myself happy and to still sell CDs. I want to sell and I want people to buy what I do. It’s tough in the digital era, but it’s not impossible.
GT: You are closely associated with female superstars like Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. Do you like the title “the diva maker?”
Foster: I have six sisters and five daughters, so maybe I prefer working with women, or are better with them. But you know, I’ve worked with many men, too: Michael Bolton, Bocelli, Chicago and Michael Jackson among them. I don’t think I’m a “diva maker,” but I’m good with women.
GT: Are you still scouting for new talent today?
Foster: My latest discovery is 12-year-old Jackie Evancho who really understands music. It’s not just like she sings the songs, but she really knows what her job is. And also on this tour, I’m featuring a new group I signed and love called “Dirty Loops.” They are three young kids (average age 25) from Sweden, who perform jazz-style music.
GT: Any advice for young Chinese musicians and singers?
Foster: The road of any career may zigzag, but you have to try to go straight. That means putting all your energies into it, 24/7. You have to work on Saturdays and Sundays, because if you don’t, there is someone else who will and he will get there before you. And you have to be the leader, not a follower. I know in Asian culture there are a lot of followers. It’s ok to be influenced by music of America and the UK, but don’t copy it.
GT: You’ve won so many Grammys and other awards. What is left to achieve?
Foster: I want four more! 20 Grammys would put me in the top 10 of all-time winners. I’d like people to say about me: “He did good, and he did his best.”