| HAL WILLNER |
HAL WILLNER, Curator
Hal Willner is among the most eclectic and original producers in contemporary music, helming a series of wildly ambitious concept albums and live shows which tapped the talents of artists running the gamut from pop to jazz to the avant-garde. Growing up in the sixties and seventies, he turned childhood obsessions of TV variety shows, sixties FM, comedy albums, and any music that his classmates hated into an inimitable career. He first earned notice in 1981 with Amarcord Nino Rota, a tribute to the legendary composer best known for his collaborations with filmmaker Federico Fellini. In addition to contributions from pop icon Debbie Harry and jazz piano great Jaki Byard, the collection also featured appearances by then-unknowns Wynton Marsalis and Bill Frisell. That same year, Willner signed on as the music supervisor for the long-running NBC sketch-comedy series Saturday Night Live, a position he still holds.
That's the Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk, which included interpretations by Dr. John, Joe Jackson, and John Zorn among others, came out in 1984, and a year later Willner produced Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill, featuring Sting, Tom Waits, and Lou Reed. After turning to film with work on a pair of 1987 projects, Heaven and Candy Mountain, a year later Willner earned considerable notice for Stay Awake, a tribute to the classic music of Walt Disney's animated films which featured Ringo Starr, Sun Ra, Waits again, Sin´ead O'Connor, and other diverse luminaries. Animated music remained one of Willner's preoccupations in the years to follow, and in 1990 he assembled The Carl Stalling Project, a collection of vintage cartoon scores from the legendary Warner Bros. studio composer. (A sequel appeared in 1995.)
In 1989, Willner began a stint as producer on the innovative but short-lived syndicated television series Michelob Presents, Night Music. In 1992 his album Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus, another all-star tribute, featured Elvis Costello, Keith Richards, and Henry Rollins. A year later, he collaborated with filmmaker Robert Altman on the acclaimed Short Cuts, a working relationship which extended into 1996's Kansas City and its accompanying Robert Altman's Jazz '34. He has worked as music supervisor on numerous other films, including Finding Forrester and the Will Farrell hit Talladega Nights.
After wrapping up 1998's Closed on Account of Rabies: Poems and Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (spotlighting performances by Iggy Pop, Ken Nordine, and Jeff Buckley), Willner signed to Howie B.'s Pussyfoot label to release his proper solo debut, Whoops, I'm an Indian! More recently Willner collaborated with Robert Wilson on the theater piece White Town in Copenhagen, produced the sound track to Stormy Weather, a biopic about Harold Arlen, featuring among others Jimmy Scot, Shannon McNalley, Debbie Harry, Rufus Wainwright, Eric Mingus and Sandra Bernhardt, and has dreamed up and/or presided over a host of unique multi-artist live events. These include The Harry Smith Project (at Royal Albert Hall, London and Royce Hall, Los Angeles); Closed on Account of Rabies and Never Bet the Devil Your Head, two Halloween evenings of Edgar Allan Poe (Royce Hall); The Doc Pomus Project (St. Mark's Church, New York); Shock & Awe: The Songs of Randy Newman (Royce Hall); Let's Eat! Feasting on the Firesign Theater (Royce Hall); the Rainforest Benefit (Carnegie Hall); Dream Comfort Memory Despair: An Evening of Songs by Neil Young (Celebrate Brooklyn Festival); Perfect Partners: Frederico Fellini and Nino Rota (the Barbican, London); and Came So Far for Beauty: An Evening of Leonard Cohen Songs (Celebrate Brooklyn festival 2003, the Brighton Dome for the Brighton Festival 2004, the Sydney Opera House for the Sydney Festival 2005; the Point for the Dublin International Theatre Festival 2006). Recent albums produced by Willner include Bill Frisell's Unspeakable, which won a Best Jazz Album Grammy in 2005, Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man the Motion Picture Soundtrack, which captures performances for the Brighton and Sydney productions of Came So Far for Beauty, and Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys, which includes contributions from Bono, Sting, Nick Cave, Bryan Ferry, Lou Reed, Lucinda Williams, Loudon Wainwright III, Richard Thompson, Gavin Friday, Van Dyke Parks, Andrea Corr and Rufus Wainwright among others.