out some keepers
Writing this kind of column involves
a certain amount of guesswork. The albums come in early and music critics
are supposed to imagine how much, if any, impact a given work will have
out- side the columnist's turntable room.
Of course, our ilk
often sink into a Public Be Damned mode, perching ourselves on the end
of a limb and daring anyone with a saw to prove us wrong.
I've ended up at the
bottom of the tree. more than once: canonizing singer/writers like John
Hiatt, John Prine and Steve Goodman for example, none of whom has ever
risen above cult level. And then there was that review of the new pop singer
I considered over- promoted, with a "strong voice battling the usual disco/soul
mush," Whitney Houston.
But I seem to be doing
all right in calling the career of one Jan Hammer, best known as the ace
composer of "Miami Vice" music.
When the show was on
the brink of cancellation, I put together a three-part, Nielsen Be Damned
series which culminated in an interview with Hammer. Just before the third
column was published "Vice" associate Producer Fred Lyle told me that NBC
I predicted not only
Hammer's Emmy nomination but the establishment backlash which would rob
him of the "Outstanding Achievement in Musical Composition" award. ("Murder,
She Wrote" won the statue that first year.)
When Hammer reacted
bitterly and felt like quitting the show, I suggested producer Michael
Mann hire him someone to lighten the weekly load. They have.
My interview column
also revealed that the composer had been a child actor in his native Czechoslovakia
and I asked if he'd enjoy a small on screen role in the crime drama. Sure,
but no time, he answered. By golly, though, next season there he was, doing
a cameo in a wedding scene, type-cast as the organist.
All these are examples
of correlation, of course, not cause and effect. Mine is a nice little
column but probably not real influential out there in Television Land.
TV is the career which
Jan Hammer has been trying to phase out of. The album Escape From Television
is his bridge burner. Ten of the 12 instrumentals are from past episodes.
All are remarkable, for several reasons.
Even with the many
bad imitations around, Hammer's "Vice" work remains unique. The sound is
clearly different from the telegraphed schmaltz of the competition; different
even from much of the groundbreak technique of new motion pictures.
Hammer's style does
what good movie music should do: help develop the visual plot, draw the
characters, signal the emotion. Sometimes the effect is subtly ironic,
in contrast to Lyle's often outrageously pointed choices of pop tune insertions.
As this collection shows, the TV pieces are good enough to stand alone.
That was confirmed two years ago when his elongated version of the show's
theme hydroplaned to Number 1 on the Hot 100
What is most amazing
to me is that he created these gems—and the underscore for 69 full episodes
—on a weekly deadline. The Tuesday he talked to me he had just begun looking
at incomplete video cuts of a show which would air a week from that Friday.
Moreover "Miami Vice" is filmed in Florida and edited in California. Jan
Hammer lives and works in a farmhouse in upstate New York.
two new compositions, "Forever Tonight" and ‘'Before the Storm." They are
upbeat and fairly conventional. I'd like to hear them with lyrics. (Har.)
Three tracks are especially
familiar to fans of the series. “Crockett’s Theme,” a multi-million seller
in Europe, has been used sporadically during the run most recently in the
Sonny Gets Shot episode late this season. The slice never fails to make
me feel warm and lazy.
"Rico's Blues" sews
a very sweet guitar line through thick furry musical fabric. Despite that
overall feeling, there is something imperceptibly dangerous going on here.
The 2:26 "Miami Vice
Theme" is fun to listen to, but I still prefer the 1:00 TV version. Although
l usually timeshift "Vice" on the VCR, I never fast-forward past those
sparkling credits. Somehow, the theme "contains" those 69 episodes inside
its 60 seconds.
Jan Hammer was born
six time zones east of upstate New York. But he has become an American
EAR RATINGS: @@@@@
Celestial, @@@@ Excellent, @@@ A keeper, @@ Mediocre @ Don’t bother
Fond du Lac, Wisconsin