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. Supporting himself with a combination of gigs and teaching, he began to enjoy a reputation as one of the bright young pianists on the New York scene. He was also a regular at clubs such as Bradley's, the Angry Squire, the Jazz Cultural Theater and the Star Cafe, where he was inspired by the influences of pianists Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Cedar Walton, Hank Jones, among others.
In the 80's, Hammer began working with the Bill Hardman-Junior Cook Quintet, Lou Donaldson and the Art Farmer-Clifford Jordan Quintet. He also worked with Lionel Hampton, Johnny Griffin and Charlie Rouse and performed in venues throughout the U.S. His recording debut was in 1986 with trumpeter Al Porcino's big band which featured Al Cohn and Mel Lewis.