For over thirty years the career of Jan Hammer has been flying high like one of his trademark rapid-fire keyboard runs. As one of the truly original trail blazers of what we now refer to as fusion music, Jan along with such fellow innovators as Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, and Chick Corea, is part of the elite club of musicians that are wholeheartedly responsible for taking the fledgling jazz/rock music out of the small smoky clubs of New York, and carrying it out to the rest of the world, forever changing sound and feel of improvisational music.
Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia on April 17, 1948 at the very height of the Cold War, Jan came from a musical family. Both his parents were jazz musicians, playing and performing music, which at that time went against the highly controlled and accepted music of a country living under Communist domination. Jan began studying piano at the age of four. By the time he was in his early teens, he was already working in a jazz ensemble, recording and touring throughout Eastern Europe, which also included Miroslav Vitous, who was to later gain fame as a member of Weather Report.
Jan entered the Prague Academy of Muse, where he excelled in his studies, majoring in theory and composition. Securing a scholarship with the prestigious Berklee School of Music, Jan found himself on his way to Boston, just as the Russian Red Army was about to invade his beloved homeland in August of 1968. Upon arriving in America, Jan had also made a heartfelt decision to become a United States citizen.
After completing Berklee, Jan landed an engagement touring with the great jazz vocalist Sara Vaughn as both keyboardist and conductor. For the next year they performed together throughout North America and Japan. Settling in lower Manhattan in 1970, Jan suddenly found himself at the mecca of a very highly artistic and musical community.
It was at this time Jan was introduced to Elvin Jones and Jeremy Steig both of whom he would do some recordings with. He also met for the first time a young guitarist named Tommy Bolin. 1971 proved to be a turning point in Jan's career, as well as the year the music world was about to feel the impact of a radical change coming it's way.
Teaming up with guitarist extraordinaire John McLaughlin, violinist Jerry Goodman, bassist Rick Laird, and drummer Billy Cobham, together they formed the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Hailed as the keystone band of the rock/jazz fusion movement, they set the standards for improvisational music that still exists today. Two years, three albums and 530 shows later, the band broke up due to internal conflicts just as they were ready to explode upon the world.
In 1973, Jan collaborated with his fellow band mate, Billy Cobham, on his first solo album Spectrum. Along with the first two Mahavishnu recordings, Cobham's album is now regarded as the one of the pinnacles of the fusion movement. It was also to be the debut of the stunning improvisational guitar work of Tommy Bolin.
By the mid seventies, Jan had released his first solo album, The First Seven Days and forming his own band, The Jan Hammer Group. He also found time to collaborate with his former band mate Jerry Goodman as well as being an important factor in Jeff Beck's Wired album. Together they went out on tour and recorded the award winning Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live.
As the early '80s arrived Jan had disbanded the group and was truly working as a solo artist, but still collaborated with such diverse guitarists as Al Di Meola and Neil Schon.
Other projects included working with Mick Jagger, James Young of Styx fame, and John Abercrombie and of course working with his old friend Jeff Beck, which earned him a Grammy for "Best Rock Instrumental Performance" for his song "Escape".
Jan hit the mother lode when he turned his talents to scoring films and television programs; the most famous being the incredible theme song for Miami Vice, which earned him two more Grammys. Other awards followed as Jan concentrated on film work while constructing his state of the art recording facility, Red Gate Studios on his upstate New York property.
The '90s found Jan continuing his award winning scores including his work on the music for Super Bowl XXVI, with his theme A Day in the NFL. His work on BEYOND The Mind's Eye won both critical and commercial acclaim as he melded his talents with digital computer animation raising the musical bar once again to a new higher standard.
As the decade and the century drew to a close, TV Nova, the first commercial network in Eastern Europe, based in his old homeland, the Czech Republic, commissioned Jan's incredible talents. Jan's task was to compose the music for everything: station ID's, special programs, the news, sports and weather reports, even the commercials.
1999 found Jan once again teamed with his old sparring partner, guitarist Jeff Beck, composing the song "Even Odds" for Jeff's album Who Else? The end of the century also the saw release of The Lost Trident Sessions, the 1973 album that was to be The Mahavisnu Orchestra's third album. The album was never released due to the internal strife of the band, plus the added mystery of having the master tapes misplaced and forgotten about for over twenty-five years. The album has been greeted with open arms by fans the world over. An ironic twist of having music that was recorded almost thirty years ago, which pretty much started it all for Jan, finally being heard and once again in the charts.
But before all of the well-deserved accolades and awards, Jan befriended a young guitarist named Tommy Bolin. He has the unique distinction of playing with him at crucial points in Tommy's career â€” 1971, 1973, and 1975. Both artists being at pivotal crossroads with their music each time they met.
Unlike the bitter clash of egos and test of wills he had with John McLaughlin, or the brotherly like but sometimes very intense competition he had with Jeff Beck, Jan's relationship with Tommy seems to have been quite different. Almost paternal or that of a mentor, even though they were close in age. Despite a difference in life styles, and completely opposite musical backgrounds, Jan and Tommy seemed destined to meet and play together.
Obviously early on in their friendship, Jan saw the natural yet unstructured raw talent in Tommy. A true diamond in the rough. Whatever it was, the love of the music they were able to make together was truly the golden bond.
Early in February I had the pleasure of interviewing Jan by telephone. Catching up with him at his now famous Red Gate Studios, we spoke for almost an hour about his great career going all the way back to his school days in Prague, his turbulent years with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, his work with Jeff Beck, and of course Tommy Bolin.
Once again I've tried the best I could to relay the good feeling that was coming across during the interview. Not that we were rolling on the floor laughing at jokes, but the mood of the interview was pretty relaxed, and my goal is to try and make you the reader feel like you were there with me.
So, with all of that said, the Tommy Bolin Foundation is proud to present the exclusive interview with composer/producer/keyboardist extraordinaire, Jan Hammer.
Tuesday afternoon, February 7, 2001, 1:00 p.m.
With everything still covered in white from the recent snowstorms, it is a brilliant sunny winter afternoon. A perfect day for skiing...
AC: Hello Jan! Art Connor here with the Tommy Bolin Foundation. How are you? Have a few minutes to talk about the old times and new times?
JH: Hello! Yeah sure, I just hope I can remember, it's really going back.
AC: I'm glad you're taking the time to talk to us. Just to catch up on some things, what are you doing nowadays? I know you're very active, but you're kind of incognito.
JH: Well for a while now, I haven't been quite as active as I used to be. Simply because I got more into my family here and I gave up on trying to put together a band and traveling, that sort of kind of got old for me. I've been doing a lot of music for films and television for quite a few years and also I'm going through some old things and beginning to re-release some goodies from the past. Some of the music and records that haven't been released on CD, they are being now remastered and will be coming out soon. So I've been concentrating on that.
AC: I know the fans will be looking forward to that! Alright, if you're ready, let's start all the way back at the beginning, I have a couple of questions from our readers and the Foundation directors here. They wanted to know what was it like growing up in Czechoslovakia back in the late fifties and early sixties?
JH: It was, eh... Oh God... (Jan gives a bit of a surprised chuckle)
AC: Ah, you thought I was going to jump right into Tommy and Jeff and all that stuff! We have some really different questions here (laughing).
JH: It was probably not that much different from growing up here, you know basically. The only thing was I was very much interested in at that time, very much into jazz music. And it was very hard to get any records, so basically the only source for us to really hear whatever was happening that was new and interesting in jazz and improvisational music, was listening to the Voice of America. So we would be staying up nights, and once we got tape recorders, and we would be taping all the broadcast and then sharing the tapes and talking about it and listening to them. There was this curtain, and obviously that's what they called it, the Iron Curtain and it was keeping out interesting cutting edge music. But other than that, it was pretty normal.
AC: Your parents are both musicians aren't they? And your mother was a professional musician?
JH: My mother is a singer, oh yes, on both sides, father and mother are musicians. My mother still performs today; she's a jazz singer. (Editors note: Jan's father, who became a physician, worked his way through school playing vibes and standup bass.)
AC: Really? Still performing? That's amazing! So you left Czechoslovakia in 1968?
JH: Yeah, she still performs. Basically I was already out right before the invasion, I was working in Munich playing in a club and working in the studios there. And the thing happened with the Russians in August, so I basically had to make a decision. I was just going to stay out. Fortunately I already had a scholarship available to me from Berklee College of Music. So I just went in the fall to Boston.
AC: As a young man, although we still consider our selves young!
JH: Oh yes!
AC: I mean we have to, other wise we couldn't keep up with our kids. Anyway, you ended being on the road with Sarah Vaughn.
JH: Yeah, after about a year and half at Berklee, you just meet a lot of people, you know? And people get to hear you play, so eventually I got a chance to work with Sarah Vaughn, she liked what I was doing, and she hired me. I spent well over a year on the road with her. That was amazing.
AC: That had to be exciting times, because we were coming right out of the tail end of the '60s. With everything that had happened during that decade and the radical changes in music that were still happening, and here you are working with one of the great traditional jazz vocalist of all time, that was kind of going off into left field there.
JH: Well, I was apparently ready for it, even though I didn't know it was going to happen that quickly. You know what I mean? I was prepared to struggle and pay my dues even longer. But it was nice that it happened that quickly and made me more or less "join the club" that I was watching from a far of a certain caliber of musicians that I felt I would belong in.
AC: Now, that brings us to 1971. That found you in England with Mahavishnu John Mclaughlin?
JH: Actually, England had nothing to do with Mahavishnu, except that it's the birthplace of John and that's the only connection with England. Everybody else was from all over and we all met in New York City as far as Mahavishnu Orchestra, that was in the summer of 1971.
AC: How did that meeting of everyone come about? Jam sessions in clubs? Word of mouth? Parties?
JH: Again, at that time and I guess the scene is still happening today, but at that time it was really happening a lot. Everybody had lofts in down town New York. Very large, big spaces where we would have all musical instruments, some rudimentary recording gear, and we would be playing and jamming, experimenting with music, and people come over and play and it was just happening every night, it was a very vibrant scene.
People would go from one place to another, word gets around, and then one thing lead to another, and John wanted to put a band together, and he came over with Billy Cobham, we played and that was it. It was very simple actually â€” one, two, three.
AC: You make it sound so simple. I guess more for our younger fans and readers, when they hear or read about John Mclaughlin, they may think of the great English fusion guitarist, and you more or less put that in perspective as far as the band's beginnings are concerned.
JH: Well, I mean actually when he first came here, obviously he is English, and he played with Miles Davis and Tony Williams, so he was the "English" guy. But once the band was put together, the band was pretty much... I would call it an American band from New York City (laughing)! Even though Rick Laird our bass player was from Ireland, Billy Cobham was originally from Panama, and I was from Central Europe, and Jerry Goodman was from Chicago. But the band couldn't have happened anywhere else in the world but New York. That was the catalyst.
AC: With the Mahavishnu recordings, I have a question here about the Trident Lost Sessions, what really happened with that, and who discovered it again after all of this time?
JH: What was really lost initially was the will of the band to continue (a bit of melancholy laughter from Jan). That's really what was "lost". Those sessions were really meant to be the third album for the band. And we never finished it completely... you know we were too busy fighting and arguing. It was sort of impossible to really finish it where everybody in the band would be satisfied at the same time. So that's why we decided just to tape a live concert and put out a live album, but between us, it was an eternity. Then as time went by, we sort of forgot about it, because the band fell apart that year in 1973. And there was no trying to resurrect it, because John moved on and put another band together with the same name, but you know, it was never really the same.
People would have cassettes lying around, and then I found a good quality quarter inch and I was just playing with it trying to restore it, because I didn't even know where the multi-tracks were or what. It turns out that the multi-tracks, we never found the multi-tracks, but Columbia had in it's vaults, they found a really good high quality rough mix done right at the time of the session. And that's what ended up being released. [Editor's Note: Bob Belden is credited with finding the tapes in Columbia's Los Angles vaults. He is one of the producers and coordinators in reissuing The Mahavishnu Orchestra's recordings to CD.]
Because the multi-tracks were lost I think when Trident Studios went out of business, that's the story I heard. The Inland Revenue, the tax authority in England, probably seized a lot of the assets of the studio, including the multi-tracks in storage. And trying to go through them, you know it might take eighty years. So we just said, "The hell with that!". We wouldn't have even known where to begin to try and get them back.
AC: The sales seem to have been very good for something recorded so long ago, there is a big interest in it.
JH: Well, yes it is a fascinating piece of history.
AC: Staying within that 1971 period that is probably when you first met Tommy?
JH: Yeah, right about then I met him along with Jeremy Steig. And at first, Jeremy would just come from Boulder from a tour, and he would bring tapes, and we just sit down and listen and go, "Holy shit! Who is that?". He would have all the tapes of all the gigs that he played with Tommy.
AC: He was just coming right out of Zephyr then.
JH: Right, exactly. Eventually, Tommy showed up in New York, so we had to get together and start playing. Really it was amazing. I think at that time, Hendrix had just died. Hendrix had come over to some of our sessions when we were recording with Jeremy. And he was like very interested where we going with the improvisational approach. It's a combination of the modal, harmonic approach, combined with much more of a rock sound, more of an aggressive sound, and he really liked it and he was interested in really doing something. Unfortunately he never lived to see that day, and for us to have a chance to play with him.
Since Hendrix, I think Tommy was the first person and one of the very few that I have seen to play that way. Which is sort of... there is no effort involved. Where he just let's the thing happen, it just comes out, you know what I mean? It sort of... the best way of playing is just to get out of the way and let the stuff happen. And he was just a perfect example of that. That's what I remember the most when I first heard him.
AC: One of your great quotes from a radio special marking Tommy's thirty-fifth birthday, back in 1986, you had said that he moved the guitar at least ten years ahead of time.
JH: Yes, I would stand by that definitely.
AC: That moves us up to your collaboration with Billy Cobham, which also included Tommy, and that more or less blew the door wide open. Do you remember how that all came about?
JH: How I got Tommy to meet Billy was way before then, when we just did a demo session with one of my tunes, with Gene Perla, it was a version of Sister Andrea. That was the first time that Tommy met Billy Cobham, which eventually led to him playing on Billy's album.
AC: Now, that album stands as a landmark for the purists of the actual jazz/rock fusion. How did you set about recording that? I know it was Billy's album, but you had quite a bit of input yourself, were these songs mapped at in the studio, and you just did it live, or were they overdubbed?
JH: Oh no, the best stuff, all that you hear was all playing live in the studio.
AC: I don't think many people know that.
JH: Yeah, you don't expect that anymore after all these years and years of people polishing things to death. That was all played live at Electric Lady Studios. They were just simple vamps, you know the writing is not as important as to how the people who are playing, play together, how they clicked and where we took it with improvisation.
AC: With Tommy not being a structured musician, it was all natural talent, he couldn't read music in the traditional way if I remember correctly.
JH: Well, those were all "head" charts, there was nothing to write really, you know what I mean? The things were so simple, that you could sort of learn it by ear, and then again the crucial thing was to just grab it and run with it and take it to another place.
AC: Where do you place your Mahavishnu work, and the Spectrum album in relation to musical history now? Do you see it as the groundbreaker of fusion music?
JH: To my ears, those two records... the band Mahavishnu, and the Spectrum record, I think those albums for me are the high point of that type of music. Which is improvisational jazz/rock combination, fusion, whatever you want to call it. But really what makes it work is the improvisation.
AC: You were talking about going through all of your archives, do you have any of the Spectrum outtakes yourself?
JH: No, I'm talking about things right now just under my own name, so basically that's what I'm going through, and I'll be re-mixing some stuff and re-mastering. But you never know what you find once you really get going.
AC: Well, for us fans, that's just as good too! Do you keep in contact with any of your former band-mates from the old days?
JH: Unfortunately, no. I do talk to Jerry Goodman once in a while as Elliott Sears (Jan's longtime and friend and manager) is also his manager, so sometimes he will phone conference us together just to talk. Billy Cobham and I were planning a project together a few years back, but it never materialized. Billy lives in Switzerland now. John, I have not really spoken to in twenty years, the last time being a quick hotel conversation in 1981. John lives in Monte Carlo now. Rick Laird got out of the music business, and he is now a highly successful photographer in NYC.
AC: OK, that moves us up to into the mid-seventies... are you comfortable talking about Jeff?
JH: Sure, absolutely.
AC: Well one of my questions here, and you have already answered partly in regards to Spectrum. When Blow by Blow and Wired came out, and I know Jeff is a good friend of yours, but he always is held up as the person who broke through with fusion, but yet you and Billy and Tommy were doing this type of music two years ahead of time. Does that annoy you or does it annoy other people?
JH: No, not all! I was glad somebody finally broke through! His commercial appeal was so much wider, because he had established a huge base from the Jeff Beck Group, and TheYardbirds, and whatever, you know he was one of the holy trinity (laughing). So obviously there was a ready made situation for him, but he really made the most of it. He really listened with the right attitude, and he obviously listened to Tommy and he listened to me, and he would be the first to admit it, and he just you know, took it in his direction. And it does sound like him... he has his definite distinct tone, and a vocabulary, but at the same time, he really made it work again within that improvisational jazzy sort of rock beat.
AC: What was it like working with George Martin? He's listed as producer, but I think over the years, his role on Wired has become accepted more of a "coordinator", as opposed to Blow by Blow, where George actually did "produce" the album.
JH: Actually, I only spoke to George Martin on the phone, I was never in the studio with him.
AC: Really? (surprised by Jan's answer)
JH: Some of the basic tracks for Wired were done in London, and then Jeff came over to my studio, he brought the tapes over from England, and we did the soloing and overdubs here. And then I did final mixes on four of the tunes.
AC: So a good portion Wired was actually more in your hands.
JH: Right, exactly.
AC: Well, that brings us to 1976 and the Teaser album. Obviously, you knew Tommy for going on six years now, and he invited you to be on the album, what stands out for you from those sessions?
JH: Again, it was the same studio, back at Electric Lady (bit of a chuckle from Jan). Why go somewhere else? The studio just worked. We did Birds of Fire there, Spectrum was recorded there, all of these good things were done there. But for Tommy, it was a bit more loose (laughing). There was a more of a sense of a... at least the things I was involved in, you know it was not very structured. I don't know what it was, it was a different lifestyle, wasn't Tommy playing with Deep Purple then?
AC: That was in the works, it was coming. He had just come from the James Gang and was looking to break out as a solo artist.
JH: Oh right, yes. I remember the funniest thing we were all set to record the one tune, the reggae number ("People, People"), and we are all ready, everything is wired, everything is miked up, and Narada Michael Walden didn't show up, because he was stuck in traffic over the bridge in New Jersey.
AC: And that's how you ended up playing drums!
JH: Yes! And I said, "Let me play!" (laughing heartily) You know, we just sat down and started playing, and the tape rolled, and that was the take that ended up on the record.
AC: Were you using Narada's kit?
JH: Oh yeah, it was all miked up from the previous day for him. So there was nothing to set up, nothing to test, we could just roll tape.
AC: Actually, I spoke with Narada in December, and he told me that story, it's funny to hear your version.
JH: Yes, that's how it happened.
AC: Did you get paid double?
JH: I don't think so, probably not! (laughing still)
AC: That brings up an interesting question, being the multi-instrumentalist that you are, do you still play the drums now and then?
JH: Oh yes, definitely very much so! It's a whole different outlet. It helps with writers block, you know it shakes out the cobwebs, and it gives you a whole different angle in music. It's a physical release without a doubt. I'm also into programming too, because you can really like... I've gotten into the control situation as well, I like to control things down to much more of a detail, still for fun, I play the drums, but I don't do much recording with them.
AC: Is your kit a wooden kit or electronic?
JH: I have the same kit I've been using since 1973... It's the same kit that Tony Williams used to play, you know the bright yellow Gretch kit.
AC: I was going to say Gretch.
JH: Yeah, that's it.
AC: While we're on that drum mode, I remember reading, and we are going to the hazy, crazy days of Miami Vice now... the unusual drum sound of the theme song, that you had a peculiar way of doing that, you slowed the drum kit down on the tape or something?
JH: Ah, that was mainly... what sounded like a big tom, you know the tom fills? Those were actually a tambourine sample, played about two octaves down.
AC: Now, I don't want you to get angry with me, but on my pad, someone has put in double question marks, "Was it a trash can that you were banging?"
JH: (laughing) That's the famous tom fill that's all over the theme, but it was really a tambourine lowered a pitch.
AC: OK, getting back to the Teaser sessions. Tommy was at a major crossroads in his career, and really all of you were â€” Narada, yourself, Jeff across the ocean. Did you give him any advice in regards to what was about to happen with Deep Purple? I mean it was a dramatic change of music from what you were all recording, and he was looking to go solo then in early 1975, and suddenly Deep Purple came along. Did you talk about where he should be going musically or career wise?
JH: I don't recall anything that specific... we just really enjoyed playing together. But you know, things just have a way of happening, and I guess going with Deep Purple at that time was a good idea. I don't know how well it worked out ultimately for him, I never got to talk to him about it, but I thought it was good idea to get as wide as possible of exposure for somebody that talented.
AC: I have a few more questions for you, but one more question about these times. With all the time you spent with Jeff, what did Jeff really think of Tommy? We all know the Spectrum album influenced him, and they had met on different occasions.
JH: Well, we were on the road together when he died.
AC: Right... but there was no jamming, no hanging out after shows, anything like that?
JH: No, it was just the opening band for the main band. Again, I couldn't tell you, I don't recall any specific things said.
AC: Other than mutual musician's respect.
JH: Yes! Definitely musicians respect, where Jeff would stand in the wings off stage and just listen, and go "Wow!" And just really appreciate what he was doing.
AC: Now, on to your present day work, which has really stretched from the mid '80s to today. When you are scoring a film or TV show, do you talk the director or maybe one of the production coordinators on a regular basis about what the film is about and how the scenes are progressing? Do you have to see the film in its rough-cut, or do you wait till you have a director's or a first round edit?
JH: Yes of course, that's the best way to do it, rather than reading the script and over analyzing it, I prefer to wait for some sort of rough copy of the project and just look at it as a first time viewer. Because, you know it starts up different emotions, and emotions are the fuel to really move you along, that's the only way you can create music. If you don't feel any emotions, like it's not going to happen.
AC: I was really surprised to read in your credits, that you actually scored some video games, and one of them being Police Quest. Is that the same structure as doing a film?
JH: That's much different, because it's like an interactive, interchangeable erector set, where you have the pieces of music flowing into each other in an unpredictable order, depending what the player does. So you work in smaller segments, and you know they have to sort of lead into each other.
AC: Now, you've been described as an avid auto racing fan, have you ever raced yourself, and has this helped you with your scores?
JH: The only thing I ever drove (laughing), that would very remotely resemble a race car is the Malibu Grand Prix cars, you know the amusement park type cars? I love that thing! But that's about it. I've done everything else in simulation and video. Play Station, Nintendo, anything.
AC: You have listed here as one of your favorite albums of all times, is the Beatles' Rubber Soul. Did you ever get a chance to work with any of them over the years other than the loose association with George Martin?
JH: Well yes, I did in a way when I released my album Snapshots the first time it was released in Europe initially. We went over to shoot a video for it. And on the video for the song, "Too Much to Lose" on the record I play all of the instruments but we figured maybe we can try and do a really crazy video with different people playing just for the video. So we got Jeff Beck, and Dave Gilmour, then we got Ringo Starr to play on drums. So on the video, the four of us are playing together which is really funny.
AC: There you go! (laughing) If we can go back again to the '70s and '80s for a minute, you have worked with the world's best guitarists in the business over the years. Where would you place Tommy in that hierarchy? Not that one is better or worse than the other, but in comparison to styles and techniques, was he more jazz, more rock
JH: God, it's so hard. I think calling him just a guitar player sort of limits what he did... his appeal was I think even broader. If you think about it, a lot of the stuff was the whole kit. Including the Echoplex, his tone, and the sound that came out of him, was so much further, that judging it as just guitar playing sort of limits his contribution to the whole scene, because I think it was much bigger than that.
AC: If Tommy lived, where do you think he would be now, what do you think he would be doing musically?
JH: Wow... I mean, I know where it took me, eventually to quite a cynical stage, right now where I'm very much fed up with the way the business has gone. Where any kind of sign of passion in music is sort of frowned upon. Everything has to be sanitized for your protection, you know we're all getting "Kenny G'd" to death. I really don't know.
AC: It's hard to say. Some people like to think he would have had the big breakthrough album like Santana did.
JH: Listen, anything could have happened, but having talent like that, I couldn't imagine having all of that talent wasted and not heard by very many people
AC: Which brings us to another question about today, you are still so active in the music business, and you do have some very set ideals. Where do you see music going? Are we truly in a "world music" or is it a corporate structure where the only thing that matters is the bottom line? Where would you like to see it head?
JH: I would really like to see it shaken to its core... so all of this rigid structure can just be removed, and things can have more variety, You know what I mean? Things sound too much the same. The passion and spontaneity in music is all gone.
AC: In Sioux City, there is a Tommy Bolin Music Festival held every August in honor of his birthday. If your schedule permits, would you want to fly out and participate? Come out and jam and have a good time?
JH: Well ... (Jan pauses here to think about his answer) I don't think that's going to happen. I'm so far removed from live playing anymore.
AC: That kind of answers my next question, do you ever get the feeling on the weekends to just go to a bar or little club and jam with the band on stage?
JH: No, I go out and ski (laughing)! We have a nice ski slope about ten minutes from my house here. But really, like I said, live performing has no interest for me now.
AC: In a bit of different vein, there has been talk of trying to put together a Tommy Bolin Tribute album, getting recognized artists and maybe some artists that have been very influenced by him to record his songs. Would you be willing to participate in something like that, maybe re-doing "People, People" or "Marching Powder".
JH: Ah... that all depends on the framework. If it's like contributing a tune, or taking a solo or something, that's all possible, it can all be done.
AC: Great! The Foundation directors would love to hear that. A few more questions and I'll let you hit the slopes. This will be kind of like word association, but I'm going to do decade association. I'll say a decade, and you just tell me what you think.
JH: OK ... sounds good.
AC: Starting with: the '60s ... '70s' ... 80s ... '90s ... the new millenium.
JH: (Answering very earnestly and sincerely) Freedom ... Fun ... Work ... Home... Sky's the limit!
AC: There you go! (Both of us laughing a bit)
AC: Jan, I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed our talk; you are a wealth of information. On behalf of the Tommy Bolin Foundation I'd like to thank you and wish you and your family all the best for the coming year.
JH: My pleasure, I hope I was help. It was interesting to talk about those times again, if you need anything more, just call back during day or leave a message. You take care.
And with that, Mr. Hammer went and hit the slopes with his family.
During the course of our conversation, Jan and I talked about things like kids, as we both have teenagers, schools and stuff like that. The weather, since it had snowed quite a bit here in the East and Jan is an avid skier. Just two regular guys talking on the phone about the old days.
Only difference is one of us happened to be Jan Hammer and he has taken his God given talent and has used it to the very best of his abilities and has given us such wonderful music and memories over the past three decades. For that, I for one am very grateful. For more information on the life and career of Jan Hammer, check out his very impressive web site that includes a very thorough and in-depth discography and film credits.
For information on Jan Hammer check out this site:
For more information on the Berklee College of Music, check out their website at: http://www.berklee.edu.
My special thanks to Elliott Sears, Jan's longtime friend and manager. Elliott was very instrumental in getting Jan and I together, and also supplied some important background and clarifications for this interview. He is a walking encyclopedia on all things Jan and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Elliott, I'll be calling you again in the near future to interview you!
Of course, a very special thank you goes out once again to Scott McIntosh, Sal Serio, Jim Sheridan, and Jim Wilson of the Tommy Bolin Foundation, and Jim Wentz from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, whose invaluable ideas and creative input contributed greatly to this interview with Jan Hammer.
And to you Jan Hammer, thanks for taking the time and sharing all those wonderful memories on a very sunny, winter afternoon.
Thank you very much.