Monday, October 10, 2011

Jerry Goodman & Jan Hammer - Like Children 1974

Rock has had very few star violinists, mostly because the violin isn't usually regarded as a rock instrument -- David Cross of King Crimson, Darryl Way of Curved Air, and John Weider of Eric Burdon & the Animals come to mind, and that's about it. Except for Jerry Goodman, the only American in the bunch and arguably the best known of the bunch, thanks to the amount of airplay received by his most successful group recordings.

Goodman was born and raised in Chicago and took up the violin as a boy. He was classically trained and had the dexterity for a career in classical but not the dedication to the field -- trained in classical technique and repertory, he found the music unfulfilling, and initially ended up on the periphery of music, working as a roadie for a Chicago-based outfit called the Flock, who had lately changed their name from the Exclusives and were making some noise locally on a local label. Goodman's joining the group brought a vast new range of color to their sound, concurrent with the rock-jazz fusion boom -- a contract with Columbia Records followed, and their self-titled first album followed. An immediate cult favorite, The Flock was the first large-scale showcase for Goodman's playing. The group was soon accepted as a junior member of rock's new elite, playing festivals alongside the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin, even making it into the European rock festival documentary Stamping Ground. Goodman's tenure with the group ended in 1970, and he retreated from the music business, withdrawing to rural Wisconsin.

He was still there when John McLaughlin came calling in early 1971, in search of a violinist. His first choice was Jean-Luc Ponty, but Ponty wasn't an American and there were potential problems with his immigration status. The Flock led McLaughlin to Goodman, and Goodman, in turn, to participate in recording McLaughlin's solo album My Goal's Beyond. That recording, in turn, led to Goodman's becoming a member of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, where his playing truly moved into the spotlight, even sharing it with McLaughlin and keyboard player Jan Hammer. Across three LPs, The Inner Mounting Flame, Birds of Fire, and Between Nothingness and Eternity, Goodman achieved an international following with his mixture of folk, rock, classical, and jazz influences, all played in a manner coupling assertiveness and lyricism. The group only lasted until 1973, when it broke up amid much acrimony, leaving sessions for an unissued studio LP behind (The Trident Sessions) which saw release more than two decades later. Goodman and Hammer turned around and, for the Nemperor label, recorded the album Like Children.

Goodman wasn't heard on record for another decade. He re-emerged in the mid-'80s on the new age-oriented Private Music label, with On the Future of Aviation and Ariel. The first album was a major surprise, featuring very little violin, while the second LP was more in a string-focused mode. Goodman in more recent years has also worked in film music, in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), The Truth About Cats and Dogs and Waiting for Guffman (both 1996), and Best in Show (2000). He has also been a member of the reformed Dixie Dregs -- a fusion group heavily influenced by the Mahavishnu Orchestra -- since the 1990s.

To pop music fans, keyboardist Jan Hammer is best known for his work on the soundtrack of the stylish '80s cop series Miami Vice. But Hammer also achieved considerable success in the jazz fusion world, both on his own and as a charter member of John McLaughlin's legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra. Though jazz purists often decry major portions of his solo work, Hammer has undeniably left his mark, both musically and commercially.

A native of Prague, in what was then Czechoslovakia, Hammer was born into a musical family (on April 17, 1948) and began studying piano at age four. By age 14, he was working with a touring and recording jazz ensemble that also included future Weather Report member Miroslav Vitous. Hammer studied theory and composition at the Prague Academy of Muse Arts, but when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, he emigrated to the U.S. After attending the Berklee School of Music, he landed a year-long touring engagement with Sarah Vaughan as both keyboardist and conductor. In 1970, Hammer settled in Manhattan and recorded as a sideman with Elvin Jones and Jeremy Steig. The following year, he joined the Mahavishnu Orchestra, appearing on landmark fusion albums like The Inner Mounting Flame and Birds of Fire. After the group disbanded at the end of 1973, Hammer reunited with Mahavishnu violinist Jerry Goodman for the album Like Children (1974). Hammer released The First Seven Days himself in 1975, and he assembled a backing unit called the Jan Hammer Group for the supporting tour. The Hammer Group recorded prolifically over the next two years, including collaborations with guitarist Jeff Beck, and their brand of fusion shifted towards R&B-styled grooves. After 1978's Melodies, Hammer disbanded the group and recorded a true solo album, Black Sheep, playing all the instruments himself. In short order, though, he formed another backing band, this one called simply Hammer.

The early '80s found Hammer working with, among others, Al DiMeola (Electric Rendezvous) and Journey guitarist Neal Schon (Untold Passions and Here to Stay), as well as supporting Jeff Beck in the studio. Hammer was becoming increasingly involved in pop/rock session collaborations, and by 1984, he had already moved into composition for television and film as well, debuting as a soundtrack composer with the film A Night in Heaven. His big break in this arena came when the producers of a new MTV-style police series called Miami Vice tapped him as weekly score composer. When a soundtrack album was released in 1985, including several Hammer compositions as well as rock songs featured in the series, Hammer's driving opening theme music hit number one on the pop singles charts, the first TV theme to do so since 1976. The album was a worldwide success, and "Miami Vice Theme" won Hammer two Grammys (Best Pop Instrumental Performance and Best Instrumental Composition).

Hammer remained involved with Miami Vice until 1988, when he retired to upstate New York to construct a home studio and return to solo recording. The first result was Snapshots, issued in 1989, another true solo album on which Hammer performed every note himself. Subsequently, Hammer rededicated himself to soundtrack composition, including 1992's acclaimed computer-animation project Beyond the Mind's Eye. 1994's Drive became Hammer's first non-soundtrack recording in five years; for the remainder of the decade, Hammer continued his profitable work for TV, film, commercials, and even video games.

Keyboardist and violinist Jerry Goodman away from Mahavishnu. They play all instruments (overdubbed). "Country and Eastern Music" and "Steppings Tones" were high-water marks for this new breed (at the time). AMG.

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