Jan Hammer is a very well known Czech keyboardist, composer and pianist. He is particularly known for his soundtrack in Miami Vice series from the 80s. He has also gained a lot of recognition in the world of jazz fusion. He got his first big audience during his participation in the Mahavishnu Orchestra while playing keyboard in early 70s. Even with major criticism from jazz purists about his work, Hammer clearly left a visible mark wherever and whenever he performed.
Hammer was born in Prague into a family of musicians and started learning piano when he was just four years old. By the time he was 14, Hammer was already working with jazz ensemble. He joined the Prague Academy of Muse arts to study theory and composition but in 1968 Czechoslovakia was invaded by Soviet Union and he had to move to United Stated. He attended the Berkeley School of music for a year after which he started working with Sarah Vaughan on a touring engagement that lasted for a year. His role there was both of a conductor and a keyboardist. Hammer moved to Manhattan in 1970 and started working as a sideman with Jeremy Steig and Elvin Jones. It was after this that Hammer joined the Mahavishnu Orchestra and worked for three years with them, making appearances on renowned albums like Birds of Fire and The Inner Mounting Flame. He later joined violinist Jerry Goodman and released an album named Like Children in 1974. In 1975, he released The First Seven Days and founded the Hammer Group to back his supporting tour. The group did a lot of recording for two years which also included collaborations with the famous guitarist Jeff Beck. Later on Hammer dismantled the group and launched Black Sheep, an album in which he went truly solo and played all instruments by himself.
In the early 1980s he worked with Neal Schon, Al DiMeola and also supported Jeff Beck in-studio. His increased involvement in pop/rock music eventually took him into composition for films and TV shows. His debut in the film scene was with a soundtrack that he composed for A Night in Heaven. Miami Vice gave him a proper entry into the world of film composition when he landed a contract as the weekly score composer for the show. In 1985, a soundtrack album was released which contained many of Hammer’s own works and also the rock songs from the series. His opening track which was the theme music of the series hit the top spot on pop singles charts. This hadn’t happened for the theme of any TV series since 1976. It gained success on a global scale and Jan Hammer ended up winning two Grammy Awards for the “Miami Vice Theme”.
Hammer kept on composing for the Miami Vice series till 1988, after which he decided to retire and constructed a home recording studio in upstate New York so that he could resume doing solo recording. As a result of that his first production Snapshots got released in 1989. Just like Black Sheep this too had Hammer playing all the instruments himself. After that he started composing soundtracks again and that also included the score for 1992’s animation project named Beyond the Mind’s Eye which got a lot of recognition. After doing his first non-soundtrack recording for Drive in 1994 after five long years, Hammer continued to work for several film, TV, advertisement and also video game projects till 2010.
Jan Hammer has become less active now but is still working and whatever he produces is always a piece of art.