Born in Queens, New York in 1958, Tardo Hammer began playing piano at age 5, and after dabbling with clarinet and guitar, returned to piano at age 13. By his mid teenage years he was listening heavily to jazz recordings of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and others and teaching himself to play that music on the piano and with other young musicians
Hammer's first professional appearance was on New Year's Eve, 1973, when he and five other fifteen year olds entertained the revelers with renditions of Ornithology, Four, Round Midnight, Scrapple From the Apple, Buzzy and So What. They were fired shortly before midnight.
In 1977 Hammer took up residence in a Chelsea loft, where regular jam sessions took place