Robert Kraft '76 (Former President of Fox Music)
By Sean O'Rourke MAT '68
Our Harvardwood Highlights Profile reporter, Sean O’Rourke had the opportunity to interview Robert Kraft, President of Fox Music and Class of 1976 at HarvardCollege. Robert has been an avid supporter of Harvardwood and currently serves on the Harvardwood Advisory Board. Sean caught up with Robert on the Fox lot in West Los Angeles, where they shared the following lively exchange.
Harvardwood Highlights (HH): How did you come to work in the music industry?
Robert: “I have always loved music. From the time when as a toddler I would climb up onto the piano bench and pretend to be ‘performing’ right through this morning when I was working with a composer and a ninety piece orchestra on the score for a new Fox film called ‘The Family Stone.’ Music has always been special to me.
HH: Did you have an incident, a teacher, a song, or something else from your time at Harvard that illustrates your love of music?
Robert: “I had three important musical experiences at Harvard. The first occurred when the chairman of the Music Department told me that I was ‘unprepared’ to concentrate in music. He was correct. I wanted to explore the work of George Gershwin, Thelonious Monk and Steely Dan, and he wanted me to sight read the compositions of some dead white Europeans. Fortunately I found a wonderful home in the Visual Studies Department where I was introduced to music for film and wrote my junior thesis on Leonard Bernstein’s score for ‘On the Waterfront.’
My second [experience] came from meeting Myra Mayman of the Harvard Office for the Arts. She had a small fund to underwrite music lessons for students, and she introduced me to an experimental composer in Cambridge named David Patterson who had a huge influence on me. He was out of his mind in the best possible way and showed me that music comes from many sources. After two years of studying with him I wanted to be the next John Cage.
My last musical breakthrough at Harvard came in my junior year. As I was leaving Lamont Library with a group of seniors, someone said, ‘I am so stressed about what to do after college.’ Crossing Quincy Street, I realized, ‘I am not stressed about that at all. I am a song writer, and after college I’m going to write songs.’
HH: Do you have any anecdotes or funny stories to share from your time working in music?
Robert: “I have a million anecdotes, but the first one that comes to mind is something that happened while I was writing and producing the score for “The Mambo Kings.” I was in the studio with Tito Puente’s Orchestra, which included some of the finest Latin jazz musicians in the world. Sitting in the control room with me was Mario Bauza, then eighty-six years old and the ‘godfather’ of Cuban mambo in New York City. He had written many of the classics of that era, and at this session he was increasingly distressed with the way the band was playing one of his songs.
Finally he got up, walked into the studio on his cane and asked one of the alto sax players for his horn. Then he signaled for me to start recording. With his body and saxophone he showed the musicians how he wanted the song to go, and did it ever swing!
From that incident I learned that music knows no age, that artists have a spirit that burns throughout their lives and that we should never discriminate because people seem ‘past their prime.’ I also had a delightful afternoon recording take after take of ‘Tanga,’ Mario’s classic mambo featuring the Mambo King himself on alto.
HH: What influenced your transition into the business side of music instead of just focusing purely on the creative?
Robert: As a musician and composer I found it hard constantly to be in a position where someone else decided my fate whether it was the record company, the booking agent or the film producer. I wanted more control over my life and my music plus I was always anxious about getting my next gig regardless of how successful my last production had been. By the time my first son was born, I was in my thirties and thinking seriously about taking a full time job in music, preferably one that allowed me to be creative.
The offer from 20th Century Fox was a dream come true and a complete surprise. I would select and supervise the music for dozens of films and television shows, effectively serving as the ‘ears’ of a hugely productive media company. Initially the job terrified me, but after eleven years, two hundred fifty films and thousands of television episodes, it continues to be enormously satisfying, one hundred percent creative, and less anxiety provoking than working as a song writer looking for his next gig.
HH: Who have been your major influences?
Robert: I would name my mother and, to some degree, Jim Henson. Mother took her passion – tennis – and made an entire life for herself around it both on and off the court. Jim Henson showed he could be an artist, a businessman, and an entrepreneur, all at the same time.”
HH: Thanks so much for your time.
Robert: My pleasure.