We lost the great Hal Willner yesterday. He was a gifted producer whose greatest skill may have been his ability to bring together disparate talents that you might not think would fit together but turned out to be truly inspired. One of the places where you can really see that in action was Night Music, a musical offshoot of Saturday Night Live that lasted two weird wonderful seasons: 1988-1989 as NBC's Sunday Night on late night on Sundays and hosted by Jools Holland; and then became a syndicated series in 1989-1990 with bandleader David Sanborn taking over hosting duties as well." Both seasons were presented by Michelob beer who may have been hoping for a different kind of show.

In both seasons the idea was the same: bring together a bunch of great artists -- some very famous, some obscure -- from all over the musical spectrum and see what happens. Musicians would get their own moment in the spotlight, but every episode ended with a collective jam, which resulted in some things you'd never believe actually happened if there wasn't video of it, like country icon Conway Twitty doing a song with The Residents. “Beyond putting on music that we love,” Willner told SPIN at the time, “I feel an obligation to expose people to other things. I mean, watching MTV, they don’t tell you about Ornette Coleman...I'm getting back to a musical education with this show. In a weird way, I'm searching for that by having all worlds meet. Having John Zorn, Marianne Faithfull and Aaron Neville in the same hour. Just to have all those emotions make sense together."

John Zorn, Marianne Faithfull and Aaron Neville was an actual episode, by the way. Sonic Youth made their national television debut on Night Music -- on an episode that also featured Diamanda Galas, the Indigo Girls, Daniel Lanois and Evan Lurie and Marc Ribot (covering The Stooges) -- and so did Pixies who were on a S2 episode that also featured Sun Ra, singer-songwriter Syd Straw and dance music producer Arthur Baker.

More: Eric Clapton jammed alongside fellow bluesman Robert Cray and Twin Peaks chanteuse Julee Cruise. Lou Reed & John Cale played with Harry Connick Jr and Paul Shaffer. Leonard Cohen joined jazz legend Sonny Rollins, Was (Not Was) and voice-over actor/jazz artist Ken Nordine. Nick Cave and fellow Bad Seed Mick Harvey shared the stage with The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Belgian jazz musician Toots Thielemans. The Grateful Dead's Bob Weir joined Warren Zevon, John Lurie, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and avant garde duo Bongwater (Ann Magnuson & Kramer). It goes on. This was Willner's magic.

Not too long ago, Hal talked with Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley about Night Music for inclusion on the as-of-yet unfinished DVD edition of Sonic Youth’s Screaming Fields Of Sonic Love:

Later I came to learn that some people couldn't deal with the eclecticism. I didn't realize at the time how dark they considered it. I had a show with Conway Twitty, the Kronos Quartet, the Residents and the Sun Ra Arkestra. Years later I was out with some people at this place on Houston street and they introduced me to a friend of theirs; the guy looked at me, stood up, came at me and put me against a wall shouting: “Conway Twitty and the Residents?!” I think some people had a nervous breakdown because of what they were watching. They were freaked out.

Eventually, some of the Night Music staff had had it with the stuff I was putting on. A box came from Mute Records because I had booked Nick Cave. In the box was everything by Diamanda Galas. The talent coordinator gave me the tapes as a joke, thinking “this will freak him out!” But of course I just went over the moon demanding that we have to have her! The talent coordinator quit after I did that.

You can read all of what Hal said about Night Music from that conversation below.

Hal apparently had been talking about trying to Night Music back, likely as a streaming series. We can only imagine what that might have been. Thankfully, a lot of the original Night Music is on YouTube, including a lot of full episodes. Check them out below, and thanks for keeping it weird, Hal.

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I wasn't at Night Music full time when it started; but I did a couple shows the first season. The second show is the one that got me the gig. We put Leonard Cohen with Sonny Rollins together on “Who By Fire”. That was one of the great collaborations ever. They asked me to come full time the year after.

I look at music like a meal: here is your appetizer, your main thing, the vegetable that you won't like that's good for you, and an easy dessert. So when I came on at Night Music some people thought it was the greatest stuff they'd ever seen and some people thought it was a freak show.

Later I came to learn that some people couldn't deal with the eclecticism. I didn't realize at the time how dark they considered it. I had a show with Conway Twitty, the Kronos Quartet, the Residents and the Sun Ra Arkestra. Years later I was out with some people at this place on Houston street and they introduced me to a friend of theirs; the guy looked at me, stood up, came at me and put me against a wall shouting: “Conway Twitty and the Residents?!” I think some people had a nervous breakdown because of what they were watching. They were freaked out.

Eventually, some of the Night Music staff had had it with the stuff I was putting on. A box came from Mute Records because I had booked Nick Cave. In the box was everything by Diamanda Galas. The talent coordinator gave me the tapes as a joke, thinking “this will freak him out!” But of course I just went over the moon demanding that we have to have her! The talent coordinator quit after I did that.

Putting together this particular show: Sonic Youth was available. Diamanda Galas didn't jump at it but we talked about stuff and she agreed. So we flew her over and actually she just stayed; decided to live in New York. Daniel Lanois was on the show. The talent coordinator was really pushing for the Indigo Girls. They're great but it wasn't my thing. This talent coordinator was like “they're the greatest thing in the world.” I'm not the type of person who says no, if so many people like something. So, we had the Indigo Girls on.

The Indigo Girls were out of place. I was upset. It was going to be the show to really get us cancelled. We asked the musicians what they’d like to collaborate on at the end. Evan Lurie asked for “Red River Valley”. Sonic Youth stuck with “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. Genius here was thinking it was two versions of Americana at its best. The strange thing was the Indigo Girls doing the “I Wanna Be Your Dog” chorus. The camera went to them singing it and people thought it was on purpose. I remember trying to get Diamanda to play piano and there was no fucking way. She hates so good. Amazing person.

In retrospect I can understand the staff's desire to tilt this episode toward something more “normal”. The sponsor was already withdrawing from the show. The trio of Sonic Youth, Diamanda and Evan Lurie was a little out there. The sponsorship question was already complex because the time of the show was always moving around. It was on NBC, Sunday night at 12:30 but they had football on before so everything afterwards could be delayed. Night Music might come on 30 minutes or 2 hours after it was scheduled.

There’s a couple different theories on why the show ended. I think what happened is: The sponsor had already decided after the first season they weren’t going to continue it after the second. One theory about why I got the job was that I could be the fall guy. They always need someone to point at and say “It’s his fault.”

I still get people who come up to me and tell me how they’d stay up all night on Sunday to see the show, and this being the broadcast days where you needed an antenna, they’d have to like stand on the kitchen sink with the antenna out the window, hoping to catch the Pixies but then having their minds blown by Sun Ra.

On the flipside of that, one day Lorne Michaels (Executive Producer Night Music, Saturday Night Live) came to the studio while we were taping Night Music because his buddy Eric Clapton was on the show. When he walked in we were filming Clara Rockmore, the legendary theramin player. So Lorne walks in and looks at the monitor and there’s a 92-year-old woman playing “Kaddish” on the theramin and I can just see stacks of dollars with little wings flying out of his head.

Night Music #102

Night Music #103 1988 Eddie Palmieri, Nick Gonzales, Phoebe Snow, Yomo Toro, Paul Simon

Night Music #104 1988 Dr. John, Mavis Staples, Jeff Healey

Night Music #105 1988 Dizzy Gillespie, Diane Reeves, David Peaston, Onaje Allan Gumbs

Night Music #106 1988 Randy Newman, Take 6, Mark Knopfler, Slim Gaillard

Night Music #107 1988 Marianne Faithfull, John Zorn, Aaron Neville, Rob Wasserman, NRBQ

Night Music #108 1988 Jack Bruce, Joe Walsh, Al Green, Billie Holiday, Highway 101, Nat Hentoff

Night Music #109 Boz Scaggs, Betty Wright, Trio Bulgarka, Anson Funderburgh and more

Night Music #110 1988 Al Jarreau, Darlene Love, Johnny Clegg & Savuka, Bashiri Johnson

Night Music #111 1988 Earl Klugh, Patti Austin, Joe Sample, Donald Fagen, Muddy Waters, Sister Carol

Night Music #112 1988 Joe Cocker, David 'Fathead' Newman, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Judy Mowatt

Night Music #113 1989 Curtis Mayfield, Taylor Dayne, David Lindley, Shinehead, Coleman Hawkins

Night Music #114 1989 Squeeze, Sam Moore, Stanley Turrentine, Ashford and Simpson Joseph Joubert

Night Music #115 Youssou N'Dour, Ambitious Lovers, Marcus Roberts, George Duke

Night Music #116 1989 Carlos Santana, Lyle Lovett, Hank Williams Sr., Fontella Bass, Wayne Shorter

Night Music #117 1989 Betty Carter, Branford Marsalis, Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson

Night Music #118 1989 Take Six, Claude Jeter, Shirley Caesar, Ann Caesar Price, Dixie Hummingbirds

Night Music #119 1989 Leonard Cohen, Sonny Rollins, Ken Nordine, Was (Not Was)

Night Music #120 1989 Lou Reed, John Cale, Harry Connick Jr , Gladys Knight, Paul Shaffer

Night Music #121 1989 Robert Cray, John Hiatt, Nat King Cole, Tracy Nelson, World Saxophone Quartet

Night Music #122 1989 Little Milton Campbell, The Roches, John Lurie & The Lounge Lizards

Night Music #201 1989 Stevie Ray Vaughan, Pharoah Sanders, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, The Platters 1955, Van Dyke Parks, Maria McKee

Nigh Music #202 (Pere Ubu, Debbie Harry)

Night Music #203 1990 Nona Hendrix, Pops Staples, Ivo Papasov, Adrian Belew, Elliott Sharp

Night Music #204 1989 Carla Bley, Bootsy Collins, Steve Swallow, Allen Toussaint, Karen Mantler & Band, Pretty Fat

Night Music #205 Todd Rundgren, Taj Mahal, Pat Metheny, Nanci Griffith, Christian Marclay

Night Music #206 Ray Manzarek, Jean Luc Ponty, Chuck Jackson, LL Cool J

Night Music #207 1989 Pixies, Al Green, Sun Ra, Syd Straw

Night Music #208 1989 Sting & Fareed Haque, Kinks Tape, Carla & Rufus Thomas, Bill Frisell Band, Mary Margaret O'Hara

Night Music #209 1989 Miles Davis, Hank Ballard & The Midnighters, Djavan, Carl Perkins 1955 tape, Marcus Miller, Zahar

Night Music #210 1989 Diamanda Galas, Indigo Girls, Daniel Lanois, Aretha Franklin 1968, Sonic Youth, Evan Lurie & His Tango Band

Night Music #211 1989 Eric Clapton with Robert Cray, Papa Wemba, Julee Cruise, Eric Burdon tape, Dan Hicks & Acoustic Warriors

Night Music #212 1990 Conway Twitty, The Residents, Kronos Quartet, Aster Aweke

Night Music #213 Nick Cave & Mick Harvey, Annabouboula, Charlie Haden, Toots Thielemans

Night Music #214 1990 Graham Parker, NRBQ, Abbey Lincoln, Phil Woods, Son House 1967, Shabazz And His D J C E Just

Night Music #215 1990 Bob Weir, Rob Wasserman, Artis, John Lurie & Nana Vasconcelos, Bongwater, , Screamin' Jay Hawkins, MJQ

Night Music #216: Richard Thompson & BJ Cole, John Cale, Shawn Colvin, Tim Berne, Jo-el Sonnier

Night Music #217 1990 Miles Davis, Hank Crawford, Abbey Lincoln, Kronos Quartet, Red Hot Chili Peppers

Night Music #218 Eric Clapton & Robert Cray, Warren Zevon, Charlie Haden