Jim Hall (1930-2013)
December 11, 2013 8:14 PM   Subscribe

The jazz guitarist Jim Hall died yesterday. The New York Times reports:
Jim Hall, a jazz guitarist who for more than 50 years was admired by critics, aficionados and especially his fellow musicians for his impeccable technique and the warmth and subtlety of his playing, died on Tuesday at his home in Greenwich Village. He was 83.
The cause was heart failure, his wife, Jane, said.

The list of important musicians with whom Mr. Hall worked was enough to earn him a place in jazz history. It includes the pianist Bill Evans, with whom he recorded two acclaimed duet albums, and the singer Ella Fitzgerald, as well as the saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Paul Desmond, the drummer Chico Hamilton and the bassist Ron Carter, his frequent partner in a duo.

But with his distinctive touch, his inviting sound and his finely developed sense of melody, Mr. Hall made it clear early in his career that he was an important musician in his own right.

He was an influential one as well. Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell and John Scofield are among the numerous younger guitarists who acknowledge him as an inspiration. Mr. Hall, who never stopped being open to new ideas and new challenges, worked at various times with all three.

In his later years Mr. Hall composed many pieces for large ensembles, drawing on both his jazz roots and his classical training. Works like “Quartet Plus Four” for jazz quartet and string quartet, and “Peace Movement,” a concerto for guitar and orchestra, were performed internationally and widely praised.

If the critics tended to use the same words over and over to describe Mr. Hall’s playing — graceful, understated, fluent — that was as much a tribute to his consistency as to his talent. As Nate Chinen wrote recently in The New York Times, Mr. Hall’s style, “with the austere grace of a Shaker chair,” has sounded “effortlessly modern at almost every juncture” of his long career.
Pat Metheny has said:
Within a day or two of expressing any interest in the two words "jazz guitar," you will come across Jim Hall. He is in many ways the father of modern jazz guitar. To me, he’s the guy who invented a conception that has allowed the guitar to function in a lot of musical situations that just weren’t thought of as a possibility prior to his emergence as a player. He reinvented what the guitar could be as a jazz instrument.

It’s not about the guitar, it’s about music which is the thing you would say about any great musician. Jim transcends the instrument. The notes that he plays, if they were played by any other player on any other instrument, would have the same kind of value and the same kind of impact and effect. And that is, to me, the quality that separates someone who’s an important musician from somebody who’s just a really good player on their instrument. The meaning behind the notes is what speaks to people. It’s not necessarily the sound or the technique of it, it’s more the spirit of it and that’s the thing that Jim is about for me.
That quote is from the liner notes to the album called Jim Hall & Pat Metheny (downloadable at the bottom of this webpage).

Here's Hall and Metheny playing "All the Things You Are."

Jim Hall and Sonny Rollins play "The Bridge" (incredibly manic).

An early (1959) clip of Jim Hall, in the Jimmy Giuffre Trio, playing "A Little Melody" (remarkably understated).

Here he is accompanying Ella Fitzgerald on "Summertime" (Hall's guitar playing gets interesting after 1:20).

Jim Hall and Michel Petrucciani play "My Funny Valentine." (Petrucciani was a pianist as great as his stature was small — the result of a congenital condition.)

Here's a whole live set by Art Farmer with Jim Hall in the band, from 1964.

Hall has previously been linked on Metafilter here ("Jim Hall and Bill Frisell") and here ("Here's a trio clip...").

But to me, the recording that best sums up Jim Hall's enigmatic expressiveness and daringly original approach to the guitar is "Angel Eyes," from his 1975 album Jim Hall Live (just Jim Hall, Don Thompson on bass, and Terry Clarke on drums).

Here's an hour-long documentary about him from 1999, called "Jim Hall: A Life in Progress."

Guitarists might want to watch this hour-long "master class."

NPR has collected some quotes from other musicians talking about Hall. Sonny Rollins: "He was able to be a dominant player, a very forceful player but he was also sensitive. You know, that was remarkable. So he was ideal as far as I was concerned for the band that we had together."

John Scofield: "It was just [a] very elegant, elegant thing that he did that affected all of, just about all of the guitar players after him I think."

Julian Lage, a young, excellent guitarist who played with Jim Hall in concert earlier this year, said: "For someone who has had such an impact on just the aesthetic of improvised music and guitar, as a total guitar hero, there was such a degree of humility that — it wasn't that he downplayed what he did — he had this sense that it was part of something way bigger."

A guitarist named Victor Magnani has written a whole essay called "Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Jim Hall." Read the whole thing for the many lessons (including "trust," "respect," "take risks," "don't waste words/notes/time," "keep growing," and "keep good company"). Magnani sums up how he's been affected by Hall:
Of all the great jazz artists, no one has had a more profound impact on me than guitarist Jim Hall. As a guitarist myself there are times when I look to his music to teach me purely technical things - how does he play through certain chord changes, how does he voice his chords, how does he produce that miraculous sound of his? But if this were all his art had to offer, it would be fairly shallow. His work speaks as much to the human condition as any artist past or present, and if one looks and listens attentively, there are great rewards to be found there.
posted by John Cohen (28 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Cash4Lead at 8:51 PM on December 11, 2013

posted by Teakettle at 9:01 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Going To Maine at 9:09 PM on December 11, 2013

And another master slips away...
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:15 PM on December 11, 2013

posted by nightwood at 9:15 PM on December 11, 2013


I saw Jim Hall play with John Scofield at the Montreal Jazz Fest maybe 10 years ago, post A Go Go. It got to be a bit of a duel. For every epiphany Scofield had, Jim would have a well constructed melody to wrap around it. You could see Scofield getting visibly frustrated on stage, and all along Jim was calm and collected, like a father waiting out his son's petulance. A class act to see and hear.
posted by furtive at 9:23 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

posted by trip and a half at 9:25 PM on December 11, 2013

Ah shit.

posted by mykescipark at 9:58 PM on December 11, 2013

posted by DonnyMac at 10:44 PM on December 11, 2013

I saw Jim Hall, Leo Kottke, and John Fahey together in a concert once. All different masters of their kind of guitar.

He was a wonderful gentleman according to everyone I've spoken to about him. He'll be missed.

posted by blob at 10:48 PM on December 11, 2013

posted by proneSMK at 11:13 PM on December 11, 2013


I was lucky enough to participate in a 3 day master class that Jim taught - me and about 10 other guitarists. He was among the nicest, humblest, gentlest men I have ever had the pleasure to interact with. A few highlights:

*"Somedays, I wake up and look at the guitar, and the guitar looks back at me and says - 'not today.'"

*He said he would occasionally retune the strings of the guitar randomly, not even necessarily to exact pitches, just to force himself to be creative in a different way, without depending on his usual crutches.

*There were times when we would sit in a circle, Jim would stand in the middle, and we would play a tune - say, "All the Things You Are". Jim would comp while we each took a solo, and then someone would comp while Jim played a solo. And he was one of those one-note guys - you knew, you just KNEW, from the very first note that he played, that you were in the presence of JIM HALL - that tone, that touch, that feel that you had listened to over and over again and loved and obsessed about, it was there, emanating from that human package standing just 4 feet away.

What a cool guy. Cleveland Institute of Music. Buddies with Gary Larson. Total bad-ass.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 11:18 PM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

posted by Tacodog at 11:28 PM on December 11, 2013

Very nice guy. I was reading his book "exploring jazz guitar" yesterday to bask a little more into his gentle humour. Btw, that's a very interesting - and original - guitar book.
posted by nicolin at 12:44 AM on December 12, 2013

posted by On the Corner at 12:50 AM on December 12, 2013


Thank you, Jim Hall for the music, the joy, and the massive expansion of mind.

">Here's genius Jim Hall with genius Bill Frissel, playing Frissel's wonderful tune, "Throughout"
posted by Vibrissae at 1:02 AM on December 12, 2013

"If a solo is going well, developing, I let it go on its own. Then I’ve reached that place where I’ve gotten out of my own way, and it’s as if I’m standing back and watching the solo play itself." Jim Hall quoted in Paul Berliner's Thinking in Jazz
posted by leibniz at 1:30 AM on December 12, 2013


Sad to lose one of the true greats, here's hoping that fine six-string spirit gets passed on by all who've heard him.
posted by El Brendano at 3:44 AM on December 12, 2013

posted by Thorzdad at 4:39 AM on December 12, 2013

Here is Hall conducting an extended lesson
posted by thelonius at 5:06 AM on December 12, 2013

I already linked to that video in the post.
posted by John Cohen at 5:18 AM on December 12, 2013

I am loving that 1964 Art Farmer quartet set. It's not just Jim Hall and Art Farmer; it's also Pete La Roca on drums and Steve Swallow on bass. That's a helluva band right there. The tune that starts at 18:30 is incredible; I love the way Hall settles in to just listen to what Farmer does with his first solo, then starts adding accompaniment. Farmer hands it off around 22:30 and Hall's solo is a gem.

Thanks for the wonderful obit post, John Cohen. This is how they should be done.
posted by mediareport at 5:58 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh shit, the solo at 32:30 is even better.
posted by mediareport at 6:08 AM on December 12, 2013

Having heard Jim before I ever heard Frisell, I immediately recognized his influence on Bill. Theirs is the kind of jazz guitar I wish I could play.
posted by tommasz at 6:53 AM on December 12, 2013

One of the first jazz albums that I imprinted on was "Interplay" by Bill Evans, and Jim Hall was a huge part of that. So, by the transitive property, Jim Hall had a huge influence on my early acclimation to the best music on earth.
Thanks, Jim. Damn fine work on Interplay, among lots of others.
posted by Hadroed at 8:21 AM on December 12, 2013

I already linked to that video in the post.

Ah, I missed that, sorry. I've had that in my bookmarks for a few weeks and I rushed to share it.
posted by thelonius at 10:23 AM on December 12, 2013

Jim Hall's "audition" on the Merv Griffin show.
posted by surplus at 5:26 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jim Hall and Sonny Rollins play "The Bridge" (incredibly manic).

To my mind, Hall shines brightest on that album – the third or fourth record I ever bought – with the cut "Without a Song," first in the background and then his beautiful solo.

If he had done nothing more than The Bridge he would be remembered, and he did so much more, for so many years. RIP Mr. Hall.
posted by LeLiLo at 9:21 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

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