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Jan Hammer

 B i o g r a p h y

Jan Hammer's musical career is as firmly rooted in the fundamentals of classical, jazz and rock as it is committed to the future of electronics, synthesized sound, the possibilities of interactive media, television, film and animation. His walls are lined with Grammy awards and gold and platinum plaques from around the world. His name is found on dozens of recordings spanning the 1970s to the '90s -- solo albums, collaborations with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jeff Beck, Al Di Meola, Mick Jagger, Carlos Santana, Stanley Clarke, Elvin Jones and many others.

Jan has composed and produced at least 14 original motion picture soundtracks, the music for 90 episodes of "Miami Vice" (which spun-off four soundtrack albums and its worldwide #1 hit theme song), 20 episodes of the popular British television series "Chancer," and the music for "Beyond the Mind's Eye," one of the all-time best-selling music videos in Billboard chart history.

Jan Hammer was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. He began playing piano at age four; formal classical instruction began two years later. By 14 he was performing and recording throughout Eastern Europe with his own jazz trio. He entered Prague Academy of Muse Arts, but with the Russian invasion in 1968, he came to the U.S., to attend the Berklee School of Music in Boston (on a scholarship) and become a citizen.

Jan spent a year as keyboardist/conductor with Sarah Vaughan. In 1971, he became a member of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, (then) the most successful group ever to record and tour in the jazz-rock fusion genre, selling over 2 million records worldwide, and performing 530 shows before their December 31, 1973 farewell concert.

Jan's solo career began with The First Seven Days (1975), produced and recorded at Red Gate Studio in his upstate New York farmhouse. Over the next decade Jan produced and performed on nearly 20 albums with his own bands (the Jan Hammer Group, and later Hammer), and such musicians as Beck, Di Meola, and Neal Schon (of Journey), among others. In 1983, Jan joined Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker and others for a series of benefit concerts for Ronnie Lane's ARMS (Action Research into Multiple Sclerosis). Into 1984, Jan played on Mick Jagger's She's The Boss and Jeff Beck's Flash -- which included Jan's Grammy-winning song "Escape."

That same year Jan scored three major motion pictures, a number of documentaries, "made-for-TV" movies in the U.S., commercials, and station identifications. But his greatest challenge came in the fall '84, when the producers of “Miami Vice” enlisted him to commence the rigorous weekly schedule of scoring the series.

In 1985, "Miami Vice Theme" (MCA Records) hit #1 in Billboard -- the first TV theme to hit #1 since Henry Mancini's "Theme from Peter Gunn" in 1959. "Miami Vice Theme" became a top 5 inter-national hit and earned Jan two Grammy awards: “Best Pop Instrumental Performance” and “Best Instrumental Composition.” The Miami Vice soundtrack album stayed #1 in Billboard for 12 weeks, hitting quadruple-platinum and selling over 4 million copies in the U.S. alone, with worldwide sales in excess of 7 million as of this writing.

Miami Vice II and Escape From Television were both million-selling albums for Jan in 1987, both featuring “Crockett’s Theme,” which had become a smash European hit. The following year found Jan bowing out of full-time scoring duties for “Miami Vice.” He was free to spend six full months building the new Red Gate Studio on his property in upstate New York.

Several film and television projects from the new studio followed immediately, including HBO's “Clinton and Nadine” with Ellen Barkin and Andy Garcia. Snapshots was the first full album from the new Red Gate studio, with Jan composing, performing and producing every track. The promo video for "Too Much To Lose," the album's first European single, featured Jeff Beck, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, and Ringo Starr.

The '90s brought a renewed focus on scoring for film and television, starting with I Come In Peace (with Dolph Lundgren); Curiosity Kills (with Rae Dawn Chong and C. Thomas Howell); all twenty episodes of the British tv series, “Chancer”; several episodes of HBO's “Tales From the Crypt”; a thought-provoking television spot for Amnesty International, featuring Czech president Vaclav Havel, which was aired worldwide; two pilots for NBC television, “Knight Rider 2000” (starring David Hasselhoff) and “News At 12”; The Taking of Beverly Hills (Columbia Pictures), Ken Wahl's first post-"Wiseguy" vehicle; and New Line Cinema's Sunset Heat, starring Dennis Hopper, Michael Pare and Adam Ant.

Jan's next project was a giant step forward into the world of computer animation as the composer and performer of the original score for the Miramar Productions video album, "BEYOND The Mind's Eye," released in October '92 on Miramar/BMG Video. Scored note-to-frame with visuals that broke the 'virtual reality' barrier, the video was described as “breathtaking" by Roger Ebert (on "Siskel & Ebert At the Movies"), who named it his "video recommendation of the week." On his syndicated CBS Radio program, Leonard Maltin called it "a dazzling showcase for computer animation... mesmerizing... 'BEYOND The Mind's Eye' reflects a maturing of the [computer animation] art."

"BEYOND The Mind's Eye" was one of 1993’s top five best-selling music videos, according to Billboard's Top Music Videos chart. It went on to spend 112 consecutive weeks on the chart (through March 1995), and was certified triple-platinum.

1994 was dominated by Jan’s recording of Drive, his first full-fledged album of original new non-soundtrack material under his name in several years. Jan was reunited with longtime partner Jeff Beck on “Underground,” reminiscent of their supercharged collaborations of the past; while the title track blended Beck’s flamenco style with Jan’s keyboard funk. Michael Brecker’s tenor sax was heard on the smooth, jazzy “Peaceful Sundown” and on the edgy cybertech R&B of “Curiosity Kills.”

Jan returned to his scoring and soundtrack work with renewed passion and creativity as 1995 arrived. He began with the one hour Universal drama “Vanishing Son” (starring Russell Wong of Joy Luck Club), then went on to compose the theme and score for 13 episodes of the series. He composed and performed the original music for two feature films, both intended for release in 1996: A Modern Affair (with Stanley Tucci, Lisa Eichorn, Caroline Aaron and Tammy Grimes) and In the Kingdom Of the Blind the Man With One Eye Is King (starring Will Petersen and Paul Winfield). Jan wrapped up the year scoring Beastmaster 111 - The Eye of Braxus, the long-awaited sequel to the sword-and-sorcery favorite (starring Mark Singer and Lesley-Anne Down).

In 1996, Jan’s output continued to thrive. His scoring assignments included the NBC Movie of the Week, “The Babysitter’s Seduction” (with Phylicia Rashad, Stephen Collins and newcomer Keri Russell); The Secret Agent Club, a feature film starring Hulk Hogan, Richard Moll, Barry Bostwick and Lesley-Anne Down; and The Corporate Ladder (Orion Pictures), starring Anthony Dennison, Ben Cross, and Jennifer O’Neill.

Also in 1996 (and through 1997) Jan was commissioned to compose all the original music for TV Nova, the first commercial television network in Eastern Europe, based in the Czech Republic. Jan composed everything -- including themes for 21 original shows produced by the network, no less than 30 separate station ID’s, the music for the network’s first four special broadcasts, plus the music for all the news, sports and weather programs.

In 1997, Jan also composed the hard-driving rock soundtrack for the new CD-ROM game, “Outlaw Racers” (MegaMedia). his next project was the theme and original music score for the pilot and the series of “Prince Street” (NBC-TV) starring Vincent Spano and Mariska Hargitay. On another interesting note, 1997 saw six separate compilation CDs released in the U.S. containing compositions and performances by Jan. One of these, Pure Moods (Virgin) spent 49 weeks on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart and sold nearly four million copies worldwide, a true phenomenon for such collections.

Jan Hammer has earned his place as a formidable voice in the arena where modern music meets the state-of-the-visual-arts. From the neo-psychedelic heyday of the Mahavishnu Orchestra to the heady breakthroughs of "Miami Vice," up through his post-modern forays into film and television, Jan Hammer has consistently proven himself a front-line musical warrior. As he is inspired to reach further into his treasury of ideas, the world of music and art is always the richer.

January 1998. Text maybe by Steven Kandel.
Obtained from Elliot Sears, Jan Hammer's manager.

 A l b u m s

Escape From Television (MCA Records, 1986)

with Al Di Meola:
Scenario (Columbia Records, 1983)

with Mahavishnu Orchestra:
The Inner Mountig Flame (Columbia Jazz, 1971)
Birds of fire (CBS Records, 1973)