Hal Willner (April 6, 1956 – April 7, 2020) was an American music producer working in recording, films, television, and live events. He was best known for assembling tribute albums and events featuring a wide variety of artists and musical styles (jazz, classical, rock, Tin Pan Alley). Willner died during the COVID-19 pandemic from complications brought on by the virus.
|Born||April 6, 1956|
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||April 7, 2020 (aged 64)|
New York City, New York, U.S.
Willner was born in Philadelphia in 1956. His father and uncle were Holocaust survivors. Willner moved to New York City in 1974 to attend New York University, but did not graduate.
In the late 1970s, Willner worked under record producer Joel Dorn, credited as associate producer on Leon Redbone's albums Double Time and Champagne Charlie, and The Neville Brothers' Fiyo on the Bayou. Willner became the sketch music producer of Saturday Night Live in 1980, where he chose the music to be used in sketches for four decades. From 1988 to 1990 he produced the TV program Sunday Night (later renamed Night Music), which was hosted by David Sanborn and presented musicians from a wide variety of genres.
Willner produced albums for Marianne Faithfull, Lou Reed, Bill Frisell, Steven Bernstein, William S. Burroughs, Gavin Friday, Lucinda Williams, Laurie Anderson, and Allen Ginsberg, among others. He produced a live tribute concert to Tim Buckley, that ultimately launched the career of Tim's son Jeff. He released one album under his own name: Whoops, I'm an Indian, which featured audio samples from 78 rpm records from the early-mid 20th century.
Following earlier stagings, in January 2010 Willner produced his pirate-themed concert event Rogue's Gallery for the Sydney Festival. The multinational cast included Marianne Faithfull, Todd Rundgren, Tim Robbins, Richard Strange, Gavin Friday, Anohni, Peter Garrett, Baby Gramps, David Thomas, Sarah Blasko, Katy Steele, Peaches, Glenn Richards, Liam Finn, Camille O'Sullivan, Kami Thompson, and Marry Waterson.
At the time of his death he was married to television producer Sheila Rogers, and they had one son Arlo.
Willner had symptoms consistent with COVID-19. He died at his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on April 7, 2020, one day after his 64th birthday during the pandemic in New York City. A tribute to Willner was played during the April 11, 2020 episode of Saturday Night Live, featuring both the reminiscences of current and past cast members and a choral rendition of Lou Reed's song "Perfect Day".
This section needs additional citations for verification. (April 2020)
Concept albums produced by Hal WillnerEdit
- Amarcord Nino Rota (1981) Willner's first tribute album salutes Italian composer Nino Rota, and features interpretation of his music for Federico Fellini films by jazz musicians including: Wynton and Branford Marsalis; Carla Bley; Muhal Richard Abrams; Bill Frisell; Steve Lacy; and Jaki Byard; plus singer–songwriter Deborah Harry.
- That's The Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk (1984) features pop and jazz musicians including NRBQ, Steve Lacy, Dr. John, John Zorn, Donald Fagen, and Peter Frampton.
- Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill (1985) features musicians ranging from Sting to Charlie Haden
- Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films (1988) features performances of songs from Walt Disney movies by a large cast of artists ranging from Sun Ra to NRBQ, Michael Stipe, Ringo Starr, Yma Sumac and Ken Nordine
- Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus (1992) is a tribute to Charles Mingus, featuring instruments designed and built by American composer Harry Partch, on loan from his estate. Performers include Bill Frisell, Vernon Reid, Henry Rollins, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Don Byron, Henry Threadgill, Gary Lucas, Bobby Previte, Robert Quine, Leonard Cohen, Diamanda Galás, Chuck D, Francis Thumm, and Elvis Costello
- September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill (1994) re-creation of the previous Weill tribute as a Canadian TV special directed by Larry Weinstein. A CD was issued including performances by Nick Cave and PJ Harvey. The list of performers on this recording is different from the list of performers on his previous Weill tribute. Some of those that are on both tributes, such as Lou Reed and Charlie Haden, provide new recordings of the pieces they contributed previously. Many of the songs included are the same, although the new recording tends toward more historical recordings (Lotte Lenya, Bertolt Brecht, and Weill himself), while the previous one tended toward more avant-garde tributes.
- Stormy Weather: The Music of Harold Arlen (2003) another Larry Weinstein TV program. The CD includes performances by Rufus Wainwright, Debbie Harry, David Johansen, Eric Mingus and Sandra Bernhard
- Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man (2006) soundtrack for Lian Lunson's documentary film about Willner's Leonard Cohen tribute event Came So Far for Beauty
- Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys (2006) Double CD includes performers ranging from Bono to Van Dyke Parks.
- The Harry Smith Project: Anthology of American Folk Music Revisited (2006). Recorded at Hal Willner's Harry Smith Project events in London (1999), Brooklyn (1999) and LA (2001), plus a DVD documentary.
- Son of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys (2013) is a compilation album of sea shanties and the follow-up to 2006's Rogue's Gallery.
- AngelHeaded Hipster : The Songs of Marc Bolan & T. Rex (2020) is a compilation album that pays tribute to 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Marc Bolan and his group T. Rex, although the songs included on the album cover both the T. Rex and the earlier Tyrannosaurus Rex eras. Willner relates in the notes to the album that he was exposed to the Tyrannosaurus Rex albums A Beard Of Stars and Unicorn in the early 1970s while still in high school, and later to the seminal Glam Rock album Electric Warrior by the by-then T. Rex. Decades later, BMG approached Willner to produce a tribute album to Marc as a composer, and AngelHeaded Hipster is the result. The double CD and vinyl album includes performances by Kesha, Nick Cave, Joan Jett, Devendra Banhart, Lucinda Williams, Peaches, BORNS, Beth Orton, King Khan, Gaby Moreno, U2 and Elton John, John Cameron Mitchell, Emily Haines, Father John Misty, Perry Farrell, Elysian Fields, Gavin Friday, Nena, Marc Almond, Helga Davis, Todd Rundgren, Jesse Harris, Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl, Victoria Williams and Julian Lennon, David Johanson, and Maria McKee. The album was released in September 2020, following Willner's death from COVID-19 related symptoms in April 2020.
Themed concerts produced by Hal WillnerEdit
- Greetings from Tim Buckley (Brooklyn 1991)
- Nevermore: Poems & Stories of Edgar Allan Poe (Brooklyn 1995), which led to the album Closed on Account of Rabies (1997), then Hal Willner's Halloween Show: Never Bet the Devil your Head (Los Angeles 2002), then Closed on Account of Rabies: Poems and Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (Los Angeles 2001)
- Tribute to Allen Ginsberg (Los Angeles)
- Marquis de Sade's writings (New York 1998)
- The Harry Smith Project (London 1999, Los Angeles 2001)
- The Doc Pomus Project (New York City 2001)
- Came So Far for Beauty, An Evening of Songs by Leonard Cohen (Brooklyn 2003, Brighton 2004, Sydney 2005, Dublin 2006)
- Dream Comfort Memory Despair: The Songs of Neil Young (Brooklyn 2004), followed by Hal Willner's Neil Young Project (Vancouver 2010)
- Perfect Partners: Nino Rota & Federico Fellini (London 2004)
- Shock and Awe: The Songs of Randy Newman (Los Angeles 2004)
- Let's Eat: Feasting on The Firesign Theatre (Los Angeles 2004)
- Forest of No Return: Hal Willner Presents Vintage Disney Songbook (London 2007), followed by Stay Awake: 20th anniversary of the classic recording of Disney songs (Brooklyn 2008) (Hal Willner's Stay Awake at UCLA was scheduled for October 30, 2008, but was cancelled due to unavailability of some performers)
- Rogue's Gallery (NYC 2007, Dublin 2008, London 2008, Gateshead 2008, Sydney 2010)
- Hal Willner's Bill Withers Project (Brooklyn 2008)
- Begats: Readings of the Work of Burroughs, DeSade & Poe (Brooklyn 2009)
- Gotta Right to Sing the Blues? Music and Readings from A Fine Romance, Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (NYC 2010)
- An Evening with Gavin Friday and Friends (New York, Carnegie Hall, 2009) 
- Hal Willner's Freedom Riders Project (Brooklyn 2011)
- Shelebration: The Works of Shel Silverstein (New York 2011)
- Hal Willner’s Amarcord Nino Rota (London, The Barbican, 2013; New York, Lincoln Center, 2018)
- The Bells: A Day Long Celebration of Lou Reed (New York, July 30, 2016)
- 'Tomorrow Is A Long Time: Songs from Bob Dylan's 1963 Town Hall Concert' (New York Town Hall Thursday, May 24, 2018)
Spoken word recordingsEdit
With the increasing prevalence of tribute albums in the late 1980s (such as Red Hot + Blue), Willner decided to turn his attention to spoken word recordings.
- Dead City Radio (1990) by William Burroughs has musical backing by Sonic Youth, Donald Fagen, John Cale and others.
- Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales (1996) by William Burroughs with music by The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.
- The Lion for Real by Allen Ginsberg (Mouth Almighty Records 1989) features musical accompaniment by Bill Frisell, Philip Glass, Paul McCartney and others.
- Closed on Account of Rabies (Mouth Almighty Records 1997) consists of readings of Edgar Allan Poe poems and tales by Iggy Pop and others. As Willner's only "spoken word" tribute album, it fits in the context of his other music-based tributes.
- In with the Out Crowd (Mouth Almighty Records 1998) by poet Bob Holman.
- Let the Buyer Beware (2004) is an authoritative six CD box set of historic recordings by the comedian Lenny Bruce.
- The Carl Stalling Project: Two CDs of music composed and/or arranged by Carl Stalling for Warner Brothers cartoons. The first CD was released in 1990; "Volume 2" was released in 1995.
- The soundtracks to Robert Altman's films Short Cuts (1993) and Kansas City (1996).
- Music Supervisor or Producer for The Million Dollar Hotel (Dir. Wim Wenders, 2000), Finding Forester (Dir. Gus Van Sant, 2000), Gangs of New York (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2002), Talladega Nights (Dir. Adam McKay, 2006), and others.
- ^ John Leland (September 8, 2017). "Hal Willner's Vanishing, Weird New York". New York Times. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
- ^ a b c d e Leland, John (April 8, 2020). "Hal Willner, Music Producer Who Melded Styles, Dies at 64". The New York Times. Retrieved April 8, 2020.
- ^ Hal Willner. "Hal Willner - Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
- ^ "Sydney Festival 2010 - Rogue's Gallery". Archived from the original on January 12, 2011. Retrieved October 3, 2010.
- ^ Willman, Chris (April 7, 2020). "Hal Willner, Music Producer and 'SNL' Veteran, Dies of Coronavirus at 64". Variety. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
- ^ Jem Aswad, "‘Saturday Night Live’ Pays Loving Tribute to Longtime Sketch Music Maestro Hal Willner". Variety, April 11, 2020.
- ^ "Hal Wilner". Issue Project Room at the Old American Can Factory. March 2009. Archived from the original on January 17, 2010.
- ^ "Nino Rota: Godfather of Italian music". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
- ^  Archived December 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
- ^ "Hal Willner". Evolution Music Partners. Archived from the original on February 11, 2013. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
- ^ a b "WILLNER PROJECTS - THE OFFICE performing arts + film". Theofficearts.com. Archived from the original on February 13, 2013. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
- ^ ""Came so far for Beauty" – An Evening of Songs by Leonard Cohen Under the Stars, in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, June 28, 2003. Report by Dick Straub". Leonardcohenfiles.com. June 28, 2003. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
- ^ "Came So Far For Beauty". The Age. Melbourne. January 31, 2005.
- ^ ""Came so far for Beauty" in Dublin". Leonardcohenfiles.com. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
- ^ "Hal Willner's taking risks with his Neil Young Project". www.straight.com. February 10, 2010. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
- ^ Mirkin, Steven (April 4, 2004). "Let's Eat! Feasting on the Firesign Theater". Variety. Retrieved April 11, 2020.
- ^ "Audio Plays of the Legendary Firesign Theatre Performed by All-Star Cast Led by UCLA Live Artist in Residence Hal Willner April 1" (Press release). UCLA Newsroom. January 13, 2004. Archived from the original on September 23, 2014.
- ^ Pompeo, Joe (March 14, 2008). "Stay Awake Stays Alive in Brooklyn". The New York Observer. Archived from the original on July 26, 2008.
- ^ Lewis, Randy (October 22, 2008). "UCLA cancels Hal Willner Stay Awake concert". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
- ^  Archived August 9, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
- ^ "Hal Willner presents: An Evening with Gavin Friday and Friends – Gavin Friday – Official Site". Gavinfriday.com. September 11, 2009. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
- ^ "6/16/2011 - Hal Willner's Freedom Riders Project :: Calendar :: BRIC Arts | Media | Bklyn". Bricartsmedia.org. June 16, 2011. Archived from the original on September 11, 2011. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
- ^ Pareles, Jon (August 7, 2011). "'Shelebration!,' Silverstein Tribute at SummerStage - Review". The New York Times.
- ^ Review: Hal Willner: Nino Rota Amarcord (LJF)[permanent dead link] 26 November 2013 Londonjazznews.com
- ^ Kory Grow (May 17, 2016). "Lou Reed's 'Last Project,' a Box Set of Remastered CDs, Due This Fall". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
- ^ Mitch Myers (May 25, 2018). "Bill Murray, Gina Gershon, Steve Buscemi Celebrate Bob Dylan at Birthday Tribute". Variety. Retrieved May 14, 2020.
- Hal Willner at IMDb
- The Office, production company
- Evolution Music, production company
- An article about Willner's spoken word recordings
- An interview with Willner Archived March 12, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
- Hal Willner discography at Discogs
- Meyers, Mitch (May 25, 2018). "Bill Murray, Gina Gershon, Steve Buscemi Celebrate Bob Dylan at Birthday Tribue:The May 24 concert was produced by Hal Willner and held at New York's Town Hall". Variety.