Since emigrating to the US from Czechoslovakia in the late 1960s, Jan Hammer has been playing keyboard professionally in the US for almost 35 years, beginning with a year on the road with Sarah Vaughn, followed by a stint in the early 1970s as a founding member of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, one of the first, and arguably, one of the greatest of all jazz-rock fusion groups.
Hammer spent the 1970s and early 1980s playing with his own group, and with guitarists Jeff Beck, Al Di Meola, and Neal Schon. But it was in the 1980s, where he achieved his fame as the composer for Miami Vice, a TV show that both captured-and created-the flashy zeitgeist of the 1980s. Working alone in his Connecticut recording studio, Hammer composed an episode's worth of new music each week. Combined with Vice's liberal use of hit rock and pop songs, his music set the tone of the show, often making episodes greater than the sum of their parts.
In 2001, the TNN cable network began rerunning episodes of Miami Vice. Deluged with requests on his Website, in 2002, Hammer released a two CD set of Vice music, in response. It's with this new disc that we began our half hour telephone interview with Hammer.
Ed: Why did you decide to release the two-disc Miami Vice: The Complete Collection last year?
Jan: It was something that was at the back of my mind for a long time, because I knew that there was unfinished business there, and a lot of good music that should be heard. But I think the tipping point came once we started my Website, and people realized that they could sort of let me know how they feel about not being able to hear all this music.
Believe it or not, there were people out there who would tape the episodes, and just records the snippets of the score that they could hear [without dialogue and/or sound effects], and then cut together their own mixes. And they were just telling me about "this episode", and "this theme", and when "this or that happens" and all of a sudden, there were all these messages coming in, and I realized that this really made sense, and I had to do it.
Ed: I think that Elliot [Elliot Sears, Hammer's manager--Ed] mentioned that MCA wasn't too thrilled with the idea of a Miami Vice soundtrack, 12 years after the show went off the air.