A sit down with composer Brad Hatfield

7 mins read

Emmy Award-winning composer Brad Hatfield got an early start in music when his parents decided he and his siblings would learn to play instruments.

“Music was a big part of the household, so we all were told we were going to play piano,” Hatfield said. “Then in 7th grade we would be assigned another instrument. My instrument that was assigned in 7th grade was a [string] bass. Around that time I started studying piano with somebody who taught jazz and not just classical. It was kind of a path in front of me. It was pretty organic and once I began going to Berklee [College of Music], it was like this is happening.”

Daytime TV watchers are likely familiar with Brad’s music. With songs placed in TV series such as “The Young & The Restless,” “One Life To Live,” “General Hospital,” and “Passions.” 

He’s also had song placements in feature films like “Iron Man 2,” “Borat,” “Cop Land” and “The Break-Up.” 

“At Berklee I had already developed pretty decent arranging skills and I had been writing music, mostly jazz stuff, because that’s what I was interested in, and it was challenging,” he said. “I became one of those people who would get called for a recording session, mainly as a player at this point for keyboards. After being at Berklee a while, I ended up working for a studio, mostly doing music advertising for corporate clients.”

Brad Hatfield Playing with the Boston Pops. Photo courtesy by Susan Wilson

Soundtrack studios in Boston, where Brad worked, had a catalog of music for prospective clients to go through. 

“They had a music library of production music,” Hatfield said. “They have a lot of clients that didn’t want to have something custom written, or they had local TV shows that needed music. I got tapped to start writing for this music library. I cut my teeth on that and over time I became known as somebody that could handle that stuff. A publisher approached a friend of mine, Crit Harmon, to finish up a tune for a TV show, and they needed my abilities as a producer for that type of music. I helped write and produce that tune, and it was placed on the show ‘Beverly Hills 90210.’””

Following his first placement on a TV series, the opportunity opened up for a major feature film in the 1997 Sylvester Stallone crime/drama, “Cop Land.”

“The next big thing I got was this movie ‘Cop Land,’ Hatfield said. “They needed some music like muzak, for a convenience store, with violins dripping in reverb. Growing up in the sixties, I had heard this muzak firsthand. That paid really well so at that point I started being asked to do different things like cocktail jazz and tangos, which I’ve had a lot of success with. One was placed on the show ‘ER.’ Now I’m getting the understanding that I can afford to play jazz. I’m still getting paid from songs in ‘Friends,’ ‘Cop Land and ‘ER.’ It was really energizing.”

songwriters generally write or compose from the inspiration they take from life experiences and things they like. For Brad, this has been something that has evolved over time.

“Early on with the jazz stuff, it would be like you’d hear a really cool chord or progression,” Hatfield stated. “You might hear a solo that just sticks in your head, and you think I want to create something like this. It’s very different for me now. I’m still very much a melody person, however, I will sometimes start with the outlining harmony and I have no trouble navigating a melody that will drop in and work with it. These days, my wife and I are writing a lot for ‘The Young & The Restless.’”

When writing music for specific scenes in a series, the inspiration comes from different areas.

“Inspiration comes from a few different areas, one is the storyline and the character, which sort of puts us in the position of what we will utilize, not only melodically and harmonically, but also the instrument choices that we might make,” Hatfield said. “The supervisors we work with give us a lot of direction that is more about the character and the history of music that might have been used for supporting that character in the past. We typically do the emotional scenes, the romantic scenes and the heartfelt scenes that are more orchestrated.”

At times, due to the expenses associated with using music, a show may contact us with the request of a song in the style of the song that is simply too expensive for the show to use.

“In that case you’re given a temporary song that they can’t use but need one that will work in a similar fashion,” Hatfield said. “That’s one way. Then there’s working with picture where a scene is sent, and you base the music and how it ends on the scene. I orchestrate along with the character. Marking spots where emotions may change, when to start and when to end. We work in basically three ways: we replace something they can’t afford, we write something in a certain style they need, and we work based on the scene.”

After the untimely passing of “Young & The Restless” star Kristoff St. John in 2019, Brad was given scenes to view to create the music for the memorial episode honoring St. John and his character on the show, “Neil Winters.’”

“That was completely played to picture,” Hatfield stated. “One piece, ‘Moses Memories’, was about a character having a heart-to-heart [talk] and there’s a little bit of glimmers of hope in there, but there’s also melancholy.”

Despite having written and composed so many pieces of music over the years, there are still some that hold a special place.

“One of my older jazz tunes I did with Mike Metheny, who is [jazz guitarist] Pat Metheny’s brother, is called ‘Incognito,’” Hatfield said. “It’s like 10 minutes long but that tune for me as a jazz composer, I liked. I always liked the way it moved. Mike played really well. I got some grief from the drummer on that record asking why I had used a drum machine. There’s a tune I wrote with my brother-in-law called ‘There’s Vegas’. That was written for a film he had written and directed called ‘Finding Amanda’. That was a fun collaboration. Finally, there was a song called ‘Bring Them Home’, that was done with Jeff Meegan.”

“Bring Them Home” is a patriotic Christmas tune about bringing our soldiers home. Brad has found that one has been well received.

In 2006, Brad was nominated for an Emmy for “Outstanding Original Song”. 

Photo courtesy of Brad Hatfield

“I walked all the way up to the podium thinking I can’t believe this is happening! I had been encouraged to do some writing with Michael Kisur,” Hatfield stated. “He’s a great singer, songwriter, and producer of music. He lives up in Canada and I still haven’t met him even though we work together all the time. [‘The Young & The Restless’] They needed a song for a scene, and we wrote one that they didn’t like. So remembering I’m a jazz musician, I wrote a simple one. The simplest thing I’ve ever written.” 

After forwarding the song to Michael Kisur, lyrics were added.

“I remember thinking do I really want to do this? But the song just worked for that scene,” Hatfield said. “We felt good about it. It got the nomination, but I didn’t think it was really possible to win. I went out and [artist] Jeff Meegan went with me. Michael [Kisur] stayed in Canada because it’s so expensive to go out to California. Michael was the first phone call I made, and then I called my Mother. It was super exciting!”

Brad has enjoyed having the opportunity to be able to work with his wife, Gaye Tolan Hatfield, who is also a musician and composer.

Gaye Tolan Hatfield and Brad Hatfield

“Back in my Boston days, I was leading that double life doing jazz stuff but also doing weddings and corporate events to pay the bills,” Hatfield said. “She was in another band that was traveling kind of in the same circles, so I knew of her that way. Eventually she ended up leaving that band and joining ours. We were just colleagues at first and then sort of grew on each other. We started hanging out with each other and 33 years later, I’m still married.”

Brad has learned of something very important in the type of relationship he has with his spouse.

“If there’s ever a lack of respect for the other person’s musician abilities, it always makes things a little tough,” Hatfield stated. “We’ve both brought something different to the table and compliment what the other one can do. It has worked out well for us. Now she’s just killing it on the show [‘The Young & The Restless’] and I’m just super proud of her because she whips these things out so quickly and I’m like that’s really good! She’s got an innate talent, but she also can maneuver around. There’s a lot of craft in there which I respect.”

In addition to his writing and composing music, Brad plays regularly with the Boston Pops Orchestra on piano and keyboards and finds time to be an instructor for the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.

“Most folks that work for film or TV are so used to building and supporting actors emotional storylines while weaving your way around dialog and not being able to play a note you want to play because of an important line, that I’d probably like to back up and do more concert work and material. Where you just write the piece and not be necessarily supporting a vocalist, but allowing the music to do its thing,” Hatfield said.

Music has afforded Brad the opportunity to play and collaborate with a lot of artists spanning various genres. 

“One that was really fun was James Taylor,” Hatfield said. “I did an orchestra/pianist thing with him. I got to fill in on a gig with him with no rehearsal. The regular pianist had sent me a couple of things through email, but I had to do all my own homework to learn what was originally played. The couple of gigs I did with Aretha Franklin were like out-of-body experiences! She was great. Then there was a gig with Susan Tedeschi, who is a singer and guitarist. She was so nice. The highlight for me was when she asked me to take a picture with her. 

It’s been a musical journey filled with a lot of success so far for Brad, and he’s getting to do what he loves with whom he loves in his collaborations with his wife.

“There’s been a lot of fun times for sure and also all kinds of near disasters that were narrowly avoided, but we’ll leave those names out,” Hatfield said. 

Jimmy Reno

Jimmy Reno has always had a passion for the creative arts. Singing and writing have been at the forefront of his career. A professional Christian country singer and songwriter, he discovered his love for writing and journalism later on. Working as a freelance journalist in addition to his music, he contributes to the Daily Planet. An avid, life-long Superman fan, discovering the Daily Planet and contributing to it, was a dream come true.

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