David Foster makes his music on the piano, but if he were to master another instrument, it would be the sax.
Why? You get more bang for the buck with the sax. Musically speaking, of course.
"I love piano, because that's what I play, but I'd love to play sax," Foster says. "For a piano player to turn on a crowd, you have to work really, really hard. But a sax player can play just one note and move an audience. I'm somewhat jealous of sax players, actually."
The seemingly tireless producer, songwriter and musician is back for his second consecutive weekend on a Las Vegas stage this weekend, heading up the "David Foster and Friends" show Friday at Mandalay Bay Events Center (for tickets, go to Ticketmaster or the Mandalay Bay website, or call Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000 or Mandalay Bay at (877) 632-7400).
As the Friday night lineup reflects, Foster is friendly — creatively and personally — with artists that cover every musical genre. Taking the stage at Mandalay Bay are Earth Wind & Fire, Seal, Ne-Yo, Martina McBride, Donna Summer, Charice, Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, Kenny Loggins, Michael Bolton, "America's Got Talent" runner-up Jackie Evancho, the Canadian Tenors, and Ruben Studdard.
"Surprise guests" are promised, too, as if the show lacks sufficient an entertainment value. The performance will be recorded for an upcoming PBS "Great Performances" special, and are to be released as a concert CD/DVD.
Foster always has thrived on a big stage filled with a sample platter of stars backed by a full orchestra. Last weekend Foster served as music director for the "Andre Agassi Grand Slam for Children" at Wynn Las Vegas, where he was joined by the Canadian Tenors, Jason Mraz, Rob Thomas, Jennifer Hudson and Elton John.
For his "Foster and Friends" shows, Foster says he has but one mandate: "If I don't have some sort of connection, they don't appear."
As an example, Foster played piano on Donna Summer's disco hit "Last Dance," which was the first hit record he ever played on.
"I remember the producer saying, 'Start it as a ballad and speed it up,'" Foster says. "I thought it was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard. I thought it was the Bay of Pigs for me (a reference to having no artistic air cover, he explains), but it was a hit and I'll never forget it."
During a 20-minute phone interview, the man who discovered Celine Dion, Michael Buble, Josh Groban and Charise (who he showcased two years ago at the Agassi event) offered the following:
• He's working on a musical based on Betty Boop. The song he's most recently been working on is titled, "Say You Remember," about two people in their 70s who were lovers 40 years earlier who finally reunite. Foster is casting the roles now, actually, so if you know anyone ...
• He's a fan of all "CSI" shows, the game show "Deal or No Deal" and says, "Last night I fell asleep to Jimmy Kimmel."
• He's reading "A Lifetime in Music" about Rachmaninoff. "It's been a tough read, but I'm something of a Rachmaninoff junkie."
• He says he appreciates working with Las Vegas musicians. "I gravitate toward musicians who can get changes on the fly. In Vegas, the musicians are so used to that. They are absolute professionals."
• The emerging artist who has caught his eye is Evancho, who was a late addition to Friday's show. "She is a huge talent, probably so good that she could have a 50-year career. She's fantastic."
It's wild! Wild, I tell you!
Wayne Newton is serving as the official host of this weekend's Nevada Wild Fest at Henderson Pavilion. The official launch of this three-day country music concert and fair is Friday morning at 10:30, when Newton, Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen, and hundreds of local school children join in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Henderson Pavilion.
The event is the first of its kind for the 5,500-seat venue. The event cut three ways: Classic Country is the first night, featuring country stars Kenny Rogers, Glen Campbell and John Ford Coley. Crossover Country is the Saturday theme, with Jason Michael Carroll, Love and Theft, and Lonestar. Sunday is Country Rock, starring Montgomery Gentry, the Eli Young Band and Lee Brice. On Saturday, Jeanette McCurdy of the Nickelodeon kiddie show "iCarly" will be on hand to meet fans and sign autographs.
Tickets include admission to the event's Wild West Fair, a carnival of rides, games, food and exhibitions. (Tickets are $25, $45 and $65 per day; go to the event's official website for info.)
The event is a benefit for the Lili Claire Foundation, aiding in its quest to open a new facility planned for 5.5 acres of land adjacent to Nevada State College in Henderson. Lili Claire will need to raise $100 million over five years to fund the center, which is to be the first of its kind for the Foundation in the country.
Packing it in
Closing alert: "Sandy Hackett's Rat Pack Show" at the Sahara has closed. Rival producer Dick Feeney of "The Rat Pack is Back" at the Plaza sent out this "breaking news" update via e-mail, with the subject line, "fat lady sings swan song."
In NFL, they call this sort of thing, "Taunting."
Using his lead right
If you need to update your Mike Tyson autograph collection, the former heavyweight champ and (last we heard) vegan dieter is appearing Saturday at Painted by Oil at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood.
Tyson will be signing from 1-3 p.m. and again from 3-4:15 p.m. He will meet fans, take pictures and sign autographs. Tickets can be purchased for $100 in advance or at the door, and photos of Tyson are available for sale separately at the store.
Goodman pays tribute to sister, ballet
Mayor Oscar Goodman has been on fire with personal appearances over the past several weeks, but this one has a deep familial connection for him. At 1:45 p.m. Friday he will join dancers from Ballet West, Aspen Santa Fe, Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Nevada Ballet Theatre to honor Goodman's late sister, Erika Goodman, at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign.
Erika Goodman was a member of the Joffrey Ballet who was selected by Twyla Tharp to be featured in what is considered her breakthrough ballet, "Deuce Coupe," in 1973.
NBT performs "A Tribute to Robert Joffrey" this weekend at Artemus Ham Hall. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $10-$75; go to the NBT website for information.
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.