Jan Hammer Biography

17 April 1948, Prague, Czechoslovakia. This former child prodigy was working in a jazz ensemble at the age of 14, and studied theory and composition at the Prague Academy of Muse Arts. In 1968, as Czechoslovakia fell under Soviet rule, Hammer won a scholarship to Berklee College Of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Two years later he was playing with artists such as Elvin Jones and Sarah Vaughan, before joining the Mahavishnu Orchestra and playing on the seminal fusion albums The Inner Mounting Flame and Birds Of Fire. Hammer also played synthesizers on albums by Santana, Billy Cobham and others. After leader John McLaughlin temporarily disbanded the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Hammer and violinist Jerry Goodman made a 1974 duo album for Nemperor. This was followed by Hammer’s debut solo set, The First Seven Days, a concept album based on the creation of the Earth.

During the late 70s, the Jan Hammer Group (Hammer, violinist Steve Kindler, bass player Fernando Saunders, and drummer Tony Smith) was one of a loose aggregation of New York-based acts creating various types of jazz rock fusion. Among the Jan Hammer Group’s more important collaborations was the one with Jeff Beck on 1976’s Wired. Hammer also toured and recorded a live album with Beck. He later recorded with Journey guitarist Neil Schon (as Schon And Hammer) and collaborated with Al Di Meola before finding a wider audience through his work in television and film music. After recording the soundtrack to A Night In Heaven, Hammer was hired to compose the score for Miami Vice, one of the most successful US television series of the 80s. When the theme music was released in 1985 as a single, it went to number 1 in the USA and also broke into the UK Top 5. The track also won two Grammy Awards (Best Pop Instrumental Performance and Best Instrumental Composition). Hammer followed up in 1987 with ‘Crocketts Theme’, which made number 2 in the UK yet failed completely in the USA.

From the late 80s onwards, Hammer has balanced his soundtrack work with solo projects recorded at his impressive Red Gate Studio in upstate New York. He has also composed special background music for computer games, and in 1992 provided the score for the Miramar Productions video album Beyond The Mind’s Eye. Hammer’s biggest hit was sadly tarnished during the early 90s when it was oddly used as the theme music for a major television advertising campaign for a UK bank.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.