Songwriter, producer, and composer David Foster is a modern-day musical Midas. He's collaborated with, produced for, and written for most of the world's one-name divas at one point or another: Whitney, Chaka, Barbra, Madonna, and, most prolifically, Céline. He's credited in varying roles on songs as timeless as Cheryl Lynn's "Got to Be Real" and Houston's "I Have Nothing" and "I Will Always Love You."
Yet Foster is remarkably unburdened by the reputation. He peppers his sentences with more obscenities than one would expect and is both self-effacing and charming in conversation, even joking about being known for making what he calls "schlocky and schmaltzy" music.
Foster is all too aware that the power-ballad format he perfected from the '70s to late '90s has fallen out of favor. Adult-contemporary radio stations mostly play electronically driven dance-pop. That's part of the reason he's turned to writing musicals. He has three in the works, including one he's writing with Jewel, based on the Amy Bloom novel Lucky Us.
"There's so much great music today," Foster says. "The fact that it's made differently than what I'm used to, it only means that I don't know how to do it. It doesn't mean that I don't enjoy it." He rattles off a list of artists who he says are making some of today's best music — Bruno Mars, Pink, Ariana Grande — and name-checks Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You" as a "brilliant" song that "just moves" him.
Some of today's top pop artists, the most intriguing being Drake, have approached him to profess their appreciation of his work. "There's a respect level there that is nice, and it feels good," he says. "I don't know what I'd do if I went in a room with Drake; I can't imagine that there's anything that I have that would be of any interest to him, but he seems to think there is."
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Though Foster's fingerprints are all over music he's composed, a surefire-hit method eludes him. "You honestly just never know," he says. He was astounded when "Unforgettable," the posthumous Nat King Cole duet he arranged with daughter Natalie Cole, became a runaway commercial and Grammy-winning success. "It was a major event, but when we did it, we had no clue... but I played it for a couple of people and they would cry."
Foster took the past year off of making music — "for no other reason other than I was bored with myself in that department." But he's recently returned to the studio with longtime collaborators Michael Bublé and Barbra Streisand. Now he's on the road on his Hitman Tour, an evening filled with the songs that made him one of the most consequential writers and producers in modern music history.
"I've had time to reflect and listen. I don't listen to my stuff often, but I've gone back and listened to albums that I've done. Some of them hold up great, and some of them are just really awful — they don't hold up at all, and the songs are not good. But there are enough good ones in there to make me feel like I've earned my spot."
David Foster's Hitman Tour. 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing
Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $39 to $125.