HAL WILLNER (Music supervisor) is among the most eclectic and original producers in contemporary music, helming a series of wildly ambitious concept albums that tapped the talents of artists running the gamut from pop to jazz to the avant-garde. Born in Philadelphia in 1957, 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 also signed on as the music supervisor for the long-running NBC sketch comedy series "Saturday Night Live," a position he holds to this day.
"That's the Way I Feel Now -- A Tribute to Thelonious Monk," a showcase for acts ranging from Dr. John to Joe Jackson to John Zorn, followed in 1984, and a year later Willner launched "Lost in the Stars -- The Music of Kurt Weill," which featured contributions from Sting, Tom Waits, and Lou Reed. A year later, after turning to film, he worked on a pair of 1987 projects: Heaven and Candy Mountain. Willner earned considerable notice for "Stay Awake," a tribute to the classic music of Walt Disney's animated films that featured Ringo Starr, Sun Ra, and Sinead O'Connor. Music for animated films remained one of his preoccupations in the years that followed 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," followed in 1992 by "Weird Nightmare -- Meditations on Mingus," another all-star tribute, this time featuring Elvis Costello, Keith Richards, and Henry Rollins. A year later, he collaborated with filmmaker Robert Altman on the acclaimed Short Cuts, a working relationship that extended to 1996's Kansas City and its accompanying "Robert Altman's Jazz '34." 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!"
Other record-producing assignments followed, notably albums for Lou Reed ("Ecstasy," Warner Bros.), and Laurie Anderson ("Life on A String," Nonesuch), as well as a series of live-event tributes to Edgar Allan Poe, Allen Ginsberg, Harry Smith, Lenny Bruce, and the Marquis De Sade. These tributes featured an incredibly diverse group of performers including Lou Reed, Wynton Marsalis, Elvis Costello, Will Ferrell, Gavin Friday, Beck, Steve Earle, Anthony and the Johnsons, Marianne Faithful, David Johannsen, Chloe Webb, and Philip Glass.
More recent music supervision projects in film include building a score from obscure Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman recordings for Gus Van Sant's Finding Forrester, collaborations with Bono, Daniel Lanois, and Brian Eno on Wim Wender's Million Dollar Hotel, and Adam McKay's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, both starring Will Ferrell.