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Checking in with Jan Hammer

Leah Greenblatt tracks down Jan Hammer, the composer for the ”Miami Vice” TV series — and asks why he wasn’t involved with the movie’s score

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Miami Vice: Ray Fairall/Everett Collection

Some 20 years on, the music made for the Miami Vice series by Czechoslovakian jazz composer Jan Hammer remains one of the most evocative and popular theme songs in television history. So why its pointed absence in the big-screen version? We had a quick chat with Hammer on a New York City stopover, and also learned what he’s been up to in the years following the golden era of killer synths and sock-free loafers.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: No doubt you’ve been asked this question a million times recently, but why aren’t you involved with the new Miami Vice film soundtrack?
JAN HAMMER: Well, I can only give you an educated guess, because I wasn’t ever approached about it. I have a feeling that there was some kind of a sense of trying to be so modern as to be ”too cool for school” [laughs]. They just had this pile which was labeled ”’80s,” and all the clothes went there, and other things, and all of a sudden my music was labeled and put there too, which was a mystery to me. Because the music, in the case of this show, was such an integral part, almost as to be a co-lead character, and it was so cutting-edge and ahead of its time, so therefore, I was surprised. But I mean, I understand having new people do the score. It is always kind of a crazy process with Michael Mann. Still, I was really shocked that they didn’t even attempt to get somebody to come in and maybe use some of the real iconic stuff, which became a part of the DNA of the show, like the theme, and something that really was almost bigger, ”Crockett’s Theme.” It’s a mistake, I think, but also it’s water under the bridge. I mean, what can we do?

Well, you’ve done a sort of MV reprise, haven’t you?
Yes, I’ve put out a CD of my favorite bits from the score that were never released before, and a new recording of the Miami Vice theme, and now it’s getting played on the radio everywhere, which is really good. This is all new recordings.

Cool. And you recently got voted the top all-time television theme song in a TV Guide poll… Are you still proud of that music, or are you kind of sick of it at this point?
No way, no way! I still feel the same as the day that I wrote it. It was an expression of a certain level of musical energy that I felt. It really came together in that one piece. It’s sort of a blend of real rock sound, and real electronic sound, and it really worked in this hybrid. It was sort of a shocking sound to come out of the TV when the show first started.

Well, the show was pretty arty and progressive for the time.
Yes, it was very cinematic in its approach, where music was allowed to take over and carry the narrative. And that carried into the four years of my scoring.

So what are you up to these days?
Well, I’m getting back a little bit to playing live. I played in New York City last month, and also went out on tour with my friend, Jeff Beck; we played all over the U.K., on the occasion of his 60th birthday, two nights sold out at the Royal Albert Hall in London. It was one of the highlights of my life.