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Hal Willner, former Roulette board member and SNL music staffer, was a product of the irreverence and iconoclasm that characterized New York’s downtown music scene in the 1970s and 80s—a music producer who knew something about embracing the joy of experimentation, pushing boundaries, and expanding singular ideas into large-scale productions.
Released in 1981, Armarcord Nino Rota was Willner’s first “concept album.” The producer invited an eclectic assortment of musicians—including Carla Bley, Jaki Byard, Bill Frisell, Chris Stein and Debbie Harry, Steve Lacy, and Wynton Marsalis—to take a variety of approaches to the composer Nino Rota’s music for the films of Federico Fellini. In doing so, Willner had established the template for his entire aesthetic in one fell Felliniesque swoop: the record as sonic cinema.
To celebrate Hal and pay tribute to the creative community that he fostered throughout his life and career, an ensemble of 19 musicians, including Bill Frisell, Laurie Anderson, Steven Bernstein, Teddy Thompson, and Curtis Stewart, will bring these arrangements to life. Revisiting the material one can hear echoes of it in all of Hal’s work, especially in the opening of Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films (1988), in which Ken Nordine invokes what could be a mission statement for both Fellini and Willner: “Damn it all… but the circus.”