Kashif–An appreciation

Singer-songwriter-producer Kashif died Sept. 25 at 59. He had only recently resumed performing after a long absence from the concert scene—and was working hard on a documentary series about the history of R&B.

But outside of his self-published 1996 book Everything You’d Better Know About the Record Industry, little had been heard from the multi-talented R&B artist, who was such a major force in the 1980s.

“He was turning everyone’s head around about the electronics of R&B,” says music researcher/historian and former Billboard columnist Brian Chin. “That was when his song ‘I’m in Love’ by Evelyn King was sold out in every record store, and I was hearing it several times in one afternoon–on every radio station I was monitoring.”

That was 1981, when Evelyn “Champagne” King’s recording of Kashif’s “I’m in Love” topped both soul and dance charts in Billboard—and reached No. 40 on its Hot 100. Also in the ‘80s, he recorded his own albums—as Chin notes, heavily employing electronics and synthesizers—while working with the likes of Melba Moore, George Benson, Meli’sa Morgan and Kenny G. He produced Whitney Houston’s first big hit “You Give Good Love” for her self-titled 1985 debut album and duetted with her on its “Thinking About You,” which he also co-wrote.

He scored, too, in the New Jack Swing era of the late ‘80s, with his own hit “Personality.”

“Kashif was so impeccably qualified top-to-bottom that his how-to book inevitably was titled Everything You’d Better Know About the Record Industry,” says Chin. “He remained accessible for three decades of hit-making, and that’s why I know I’m always going to feel his loss personally.”

Concert Highlights–Bobby Rydell featuring City Rhythm Orchestra at Damrosch Park, 7/6/2016

Bobby Rydell at Lincoln Center Midsummer Nights Swing, July 6, 2016
Bobby Rydell at Lincoln Center Midsummer Nights Swing, July 6, 2016 (photo: Russ Titelman)

Not sure who was more excited to meet Bobby Rydell backstage at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing series at Damrosch Park on July 6, me or Russ Titelman.

A few years older than me, Russ was no less starstruck in the presence of early 1960s teen idol Rydell after a great, mostly pop standards set with Philadelphia’s City Rhythm Orchestra, songs including several Sinatra staples and a Bobby Darin tribute, the only Rydell hits being “Wild One” and “Volare.”

“It goes back to my childhood!” Russ marveled, except that Rydell’s set had contemporary relevance for him as well, as he also sang “Teach Me Tonight,” the 1950s Sammy Cahn-Gene De Paul standard that Russ just recorded with Holly Cole.

After the show–and our meeting with Rydell–Russ, who’s famously produced the likes of Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, recalled the impetus for the Cole cut, within both Sinatra and Darin contexts. Turns out he was a guest of Quincy Jones at the 1984 sessions in New York at A&R studio for Sinatra’s L.A. is My Lady album, which Jones was producing. Michael Jackson was there, so was late Broadway musical luminary Michael Bennett (A Chorus Line), and among the stellar musicians in the band was George Benson.

“Mr. S sang ‘Teach Me Tonight’ and ‘Mack the Knife,’” Russ recalled. “On a break I suggested to George that we do ‘Beyond the Sea’–one of my very favorite songs and the B-side of Darin’s ‘Mack the Knife.’ He said he already had an arrangement. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and he answered that Frank Foster, who had written the ‘Mack the Knife’ arrangement for Sinatra, had written him a big band arrangement of ‘Beyond the Sea.’ When I heard that, I said, ‘We’re doing it!’ Mr. Foster said it was one of his favorites of all his arrangements!”

Russ still considers the version of “Beyond the Sea” that he produced for Benson’s 1984 album 20/20 the best ever.

Rydell, meanwhile, sang both “Beyond the Sea” and “Mack the Knife” outdoors at Lincoln Center, not to mention Sinatra’s “The Lady is a Tramp” and “I’ve Got the World on a String.” He was equally at ease singing Darrin and Sinatra.