Death of Hal Willner, shadow man of American jazz and pop

His name is known to a worldwide brotherhood of music lovers, and even more to musicians, those who have never paid much attention to music category affairs. Hal Willner was one of those shadow men, the producers who marked the history of music. He died Tuesday of the coronavirus at the age of 64.

The list of records with which it is associated is sufficient to measure the talent of this native of Philadelphia, 1956: the Fiyo On The Bayou of the Neville Brothers as a plethora of recordings by Marianne Faithfull, Lou Reed “his friend”, and therefore Laurie Anderson, Macy Gray and a series of discs dedicated to the poets of the beat generation.

Sweet delirium

He was the one who also signed his name Whoops I’m an Indian, a UFO in the galaxy of electronic music on the Pussyfoot label, the same one that has been regulating the sound sequences of the Saturday Night Live. But among all the activities of this funny character with the false airs of Allen Ginsberg – another close friend for whom he put all his musical science in particular on The Lion for Real in 1989 -, it will be necessary to retain that of sound maker on projects of disks tributes to the extra large castings. First of them, the Amarcord Nino Rota where he recruited guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Steve Lacy, pianists Muhal Richard Abrams and Jacki Byard, the very young Wynton Marsalis and the visionary Threadgill. And so on.

Struck with the seal of sweet delirium, the album made a big splash when it was released in 1981 in the little world of jazz. Therefore, Hal Willner will sign others, even more explosive, both in spirit but never to the letter: Mingus and Monk, but also Kurt Weill and Disney music were entitled to this extraordinary makeover by the one who could summon John Zorn, Tom Waits, Chuck D, Leonard Cohen, Charlie Watts or Elvis Costello… List of course not exhaustive of a man whose address book spoke volumes about the talents behind the wheel. It leaves beautiful furrows in which we advise you to dive at the time of confinement.

Jacques Denis


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