Hal Willner (1956–2020)

2020 was a notable year for Raymond Scott activity, but with a dark side (as the world experienced during a global pandemic). We remember and celebrate our late friend and colleague HAL WILLNER, an early victim of Covid-19 in April of that year.

Hal was a longtime Raymond Scott enthusiast who served as Executive Producer on the 1992 Columbia CD Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights, which kicked off the Raymond Scott revival. It was Hal who convinced Columbia Records that the recordings of Scott’s late 1930s six-man “Quintette” could find a wide fan base because the melodies were well known through their use in countless classic Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons. It was Hal who brought Scott estate administrator Irwin Chusid into the project to produce RNTT. Previously Hal had co-produced The Carl Stalling Project, featuring vintage soundtrack music from Warner Bros. cartoons, which included numerous musical quotes from the Scott repertoire.

Hal contributed to other Scott-related projects over the years. He was a featured interviewee in Stan Warnow‘s Scott documentary bio Deconstructing Dad, and in September 2018 Hal was a panelist at our debut ScottWorks conference in Los Angeles.

In the wider musical world he was sketch music coordinator at Saturday Night Live for 40 years, and had a legendary career as a music producer, renowned for his quirky, original vision. He worked with such artists as Lou Reed, Lucinda Williams, Leonard Cohen, Sun Ra, Metallica, and countless others, as well as producing genre-defining tribute albums, featuring the music of Nino Rota, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Harold Arlen, Kurt Weill, and Disney films. Hal launched the career of Jeff Buckley when he invited the then-unknown youngster to perform some of his late father’s songs at a New York Tim Buckley tribute concert at Art at St. Ann’s in 1991.

Willner served as music supervisor on Robert Altman‘s Kansas City (1996), on Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (2016), starring Richard Gere, and numerous other films. He was music producer for Tower of Song: A Memorial Tribute to Leonard Cohen (2018) and the documentary Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man (2005).

Although not a household name, Hal Willner was famous among the famous, a beloved and irreplaceable figure in the arts community, and in ours.

[Photo of Hal by Patrick McMullen]

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