He left the studio having supervised the scoring of such films as “Titanic,” “Avatar,” “Waiting to Exhale” and “Moulin Rouge” and such TV shows as “The Simpsons,” “Ally McBeal” and “The X-Files,” the music for which cumulatively resulted in four Oscars, 14 Grammys and 11 Emmys.
Ask Kraft about life after running a music department, and he’ll remind you of his long and productive career as a songwriter, performer and record producer before he took over the Fox Music department in 1994.
Thirty years ago, he was a mainstay of the Manhattan nightclub scene, playing sold-out shows at places like the Bottom Line and Radio City Music Hall. He’s been revisiting that music, and that scene, with appearances last week at Joe’s Pub in New York and this week at L.A.’s Largo.
Both are in connection with Vivid Sounds’ release of a 5-CD box set of Kraft’s 1979-89 albums (including a previously unreleased album showcasing his 1980 appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival) and Milan Records’ single-CD greatest-hits retrospective, the latter cleverly titled “Consensual Sets.”
“Being a studio executive was an aberration,” Kraft says, sitting in the courtyard of Jim Henson Studios (the old A&M lot) where his new company, Kraftbox, now has offices. “I had a whole career as an artist. At the height of disco and punk, I had a quintet doing these Django Reinhardt-meets-Steely Dan, contemporary, latenight gigs.”
In 1983, he was invited to write a song for TV’s “Fame,” which led to other more high-profile gigs including TV themes (“Who’s the Boss”) and film scores (“Hudson Hawk”). He received an Oscar nomination for his “Beautiful Maria of My Soul” song from 1992’s “The Mambo Kings” and produced the music for “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” among other assignments.
And when the offer came from Fox chief Bill Mechanic to run the music department, “my first thought was, that sounds really adult,” Kraft quips. “Are they really clear that they’re getting a singer-songwriter-bebop nut as their head of music?” In fact, he had the ideal resume: experience as an artist, an Oscar nomination, and business savvy from running Henson’s record company.
The most stress he felt was when he wrote a song with Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds for “Anna and the King” in 1999 — and then, donning his Fox business hat, decided they couldn’t afford vocalist Toni Braxton to sing it.
Now Kraft is a producer and a consultant. With Frank Marshall, he has sold a pilot idea to CBS for “a comedy set in the world of music” and is developing film projects with Paula Wagner and Mark Gordon. He’s also consulting for Warner Bros. Records.
But, with two live shows behind him, could he be bitten by the performing bug again? “I’m going to adhere to my promise,” he says. “Two shows per century. On Nov. 5, I will have rung the bell.”