August 31st, 2013 16:08 EST
Judyth Piazza interviews Composer and Lyricist Al Hammerman
From Steve Tyrell and Patti Austin to Michael Buble and Rod Stewart, contemporary vocal greats love to mine the enduring magic of the Great American Songbook. As brilliant as their choices often are, it`s very possible that if they ever chose to explore other horizons, they just might see that well, in the words of famed lyricist Carolyn Leigh, The Best Is Yet To Come.
If those singers are looking for new songs that embody the exquisite combination of smart, sophisticated, contemporary and classic, they`ve got a fascinating one stop shop waiting for them with the fast growing catalog of Al Hammerman. No longer one of St. Louis` best kept musical secrets, he is one of today`s most versatile and prolific composers. Bringing the lyrical cleverness and melodic infectiousness of songs from those previous times to the contemporary musical landscape, he is renowned as a songwriter for the ages.
With innovative, pop/jazz/swing styled songs that evoke both story and emotion, Hammerman`s music captures the style and imagination of legendary composers such as Gershwin, Porter, Berlin and Jobim. Over the past few years, numerous film and TV music supervisors have taken note, placing Hammerman songs in the films Becoming Santa, Demoted and The Entitled, in addition to the shows The Good Guys (FOX) and The Defenders (CBS). Most recently, the composer`s whimsical Rather Be Lucky appeared in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, starring Steve Carell and Jim Carrey.
Adele`s massive success with her breakup oriented 21 and Taylor Swift`s pantheon of ex boyfriend hits notwithstanding, Hammerman says, I`ve been inspired to write songs by both happy and sad times in my life " but life sure is a lot more fun when you`re happy. I essentially write songs that I would want to listen to and truly love it when people say that my music makes them smile. At the core for me is always a catchy melody and lyrics that are relatable, but perhaps say something that`s been said a million times before, in a fresh new way.
Creatively speaking, one of the biggest boons to the more cheerful, playful and optimistic side of Hammerman` songwriting has been his very supportive wife Julia, whom he immortalizes with his charming gentle bossa-flavored song, Only Julia. Other titles reflecting the generally positive spirit where Hammerman`s musical heart dreams these days include Something About Her, Road To Happy, A Kiss Could Happen, Mr. Moon, Kiss My Jazz, Nothing But Time, Falling All Over and New Kind of Cool.
Hammerman has been a powerful musical force and impresario in his native St. Louis since 2006, when as a virtual unknown he gathered some of the city`s best local singers and produced All New Songs. This showcase performance of his all-original songs was held at the 700 seat Sheldon Concert Hall, to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a charitable organization near and dear to the songwriter`s heart. Make-A-Wish, founded in 1980, grants the wishes of children diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition in the United States and its territories. Their mission is to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.
I have seen firsthand what the power of a granted wish has on these kids`s emotional well being, says Hammerman. I really wanted to find a way to contribute, besides just giving money, and remembered that I had previously and coincidentally written a song called `Make A Wish.` I had not been in the habit of presenting my songs publically, but decided why not send this one to the Make A Wish Foundation for any potential use. Unknowingly at that same time they were seeking music for a new promotional video, loved my song and thought it would fit perfectly. I was thrilled and with that positive feedback and encouragement, I decided to record a CD of original songs to benefit the Make A Wish. Somehow though, as one thing always leads to another, I not only ended up producing a CD but also a full blown live benefit concert of my original songs.
Hammerman`s first show was so successful that he was invited by the organization in 2006 to co-chair Make-A-Wish`s next gala at the Ritz Carlton, which again featured performances of his original songs. This was followed by a second major benefit concert called Just Lucky in 2008 and a third called I Got A Song in 2011. In conjunction with each of these three shows, Hammerman released (both digitally and on CD) recordings featuring studio versions of the songs featured in the show. The CD I Got A Song includes a live version of Guys Like Us, performed as a duet on stage by Hammerman and the very talented Alan Ox.
Recently, Hammerman was asked to participate on the advisory board of a wonderful new St. Louis based children`s charitable organization called Kids Rock Cancer which uses his I Got A Song " as their promotional theme. Sponsored by Maryville University, Kids Rock Cancer is an innovative music therapy program that helps children successfully cope with the challenges that accompany a cancer diagnosis. Using a portable recording studio, a songwriter assists the hospitalized children as they write and record their very own special song based on their real time emotions, hopes and dreams. Hammerman is currently working on a new live show titled, My Kind of Music, to help raise money for the organization. The concert will include many brand new songs from his upcoming fourth CD, which is expected to be released early next year.
Much of Hammerman`s love of The Standards stems from the passion of his parents, who played great artist like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Nat King Cole, as well as musical theater soundtracks, throughout the house during his childhood. He wrote his first piano piece at age eight and took lessons at a conservatory known as the St. Louis Institute of Music through his early adolescence. During his teens, he recalls his Sunday school teacher wanting the class to put on a musical to celebrate the end of confirmation classes; she wanted Hammerman to sing Luck Be A Lady, which he did " with lyrics he had completely rewritten!
As he continues to emerge as a songwriter, Hammerman also teaches at the university level and expresses his love and appreciation for musical history in a unique way: collecting antique musical instruments dating back to the 16th Century. Among his historical treasures "which inspire musings about who originally played them "are a harpsichord from the 1500s, a piano from the 1800s and harps from the 1700s.
Hammerman ,who is currently also contemplating writing a stage musical, sums up his passion with the following; To me, the most exciting aspect of being a songwriter is truly that moment when I finish a song and realized I`ve created something special. At that point no one has heard it and whether it is ultimately successful or not, there`s a great feeling of originality and accomplishment.