Jim Hall

Jim Hall, jazz guitarist, died at the age of 83. His elegant, restrained style was rich in nuance and subtlety. He also used the amplifier to create a tone that is both soft and well-modulated. His bald head, horn-rimmed glasses and stoic manner made him seem somewhat professorial on stage. Hall was a long-standing member of many of the most prominent jazz musicians of his day, including Bill Evans and Sonny Rollins. Evans’s recorded duets are a treasure trove of finesse and mutually-inspiring invention. Rollins’ boldness is underpinned by constantly changing rhythms and textures. He maintained an unwaveringly high level of excellence over more than 50 years of recording in every line-up. James Stanley Hall was born December 4, 1930 in Buffalo, New York. His family was described as “hillbilly WASPs” from Ohio and the Great Lakes. One publicist claimed that Hall came from a musical family with his mother being a pianist and his uncle being a guitarist. Hall’s grandfather was a conductor on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. Hall was seven when his father left. At the age 13 he heard Charlie Christian on the radio, who was the pioneer of jazz electric guitars. I realized that this was what I wanted to do. He didn’t know what he was doing but it sounded amazing to me. After learning privately how to play guitar, he went to the Cleveland Institute of Music and received his Bachelor’s degree. There was no guitar tuition or jazz, so he played double bass with the college orchestra. “I thought that I was going to classical composition and teaching on the side. “Then halfway through my first semester towards my Master’s degree, I realized that I must try to be a guitarist or it will trouble me for my whole life.” He then left college and moved to Los Angeles where he heard about the growing jazz scene. He recorded his first album with the Chico Hamilton Quintet later that year. The next year, he joined the Jimmy Guiffre Three. This was a very advanced band at the time and scored an unexpected hit with an unusually hypnotic song called The Train and the River in Jazz On A Summer’s Day (1960). He also taught jazz at Lennox’s summer school from 1957 to 1959. He toured Europe and South America in 1960 with Ella Fitzgerald’s band. He was so impressed by South American music, especially the Argentine tango, and the emerging bossanova in Brazil that he stayed for several more weeks after the last concert. Hall was a prominent jazz musician in the 1960s. Many of the albums he appeared on during that time are long considered classics. Undercurrent (1962), his first collection of duets with Bill Evans, Interplay (1962), Evans’s first set with a quintet featuring Freddie Hubbard as trumpeter; Interaction (1962), with Evans; Live at the Half Note (1963), with the Art Farmer Quartet; and two with Sonny Rollins and The Bridge. (1962); and many with Paul Desmond including Bossa Antigua (1996). He later said that being chosen to play alongside Rollins meant that he was “fully accepted by jazz community”. He was the reason that every jazz musician from New York was able to listen to him. Hall married Jane, a psychoanalyst in 1965. He was looking for a more stable life and applied for a teaching position at Berklee School of Music in Boston, which is the most prestigious jazz school in America. “I thought that having worked with Sonny Rollins, Ella Fitzgerald, I would be offered the job but I wasn’t hired.” He instead took a job with Merv Griffin’s house band on NBC television. (“Good guests, but some really awful music.” He stayed with the band for three and a quarter years, playing jazz with Art Davis, Bob Brookmeyer and Jake Hanna. He played jazz in New York City clubs throughout the time and recorded Intermodulation with Bill Evans in 1966. Hall had many close musical relationships with bass players. The most intense was that with Ron Carter. The partnership was built on mutual respect and equality. Ron said that you could not specify anything without feeling like you had to go through his secretary or manager first. Alone Together (1972), their first duet recording together, is an extraordinary example of the rare musical telepathy that sometimes happens between two equally talented improvisers. He tried to foster a similar relationship in his trios. Members such as Don Thompson and Steve LaSpina remained with him for long periods. He said that this was true with It’s A Breeze. The album he recorded in 1981 with ItzhakPerlman and Andre Previn. It wasn’t great music but it was great entertainment,” because Perlman and Shelly Manne kept a constant stream of Jewish jokes going. Hall, unlike many guitarists with an extensive collection of equipment and instruments, was not a guitar expert. He said, “I know it is a guitar when it appears to me.” He wasn’t impressed by his dexterity and said that he would rather listen to BB King play three notes than an hour of guitar-skilled wizards. “There’s something about BB’s intelligence.” He admired Pat Metheny (“I can’t guess what he will do next”), Bill Frissell (“I cannot imagine what he’ll be doing next”), and Fred Frith (really nuts). Hall was awarded the Jazzpar Prize in 1998 by an international committee. This prize is known as the Oscar of jazz. The Jazzpar award, which was worth approximately PS20,000 at the time, is currently in abeyance due to lack of sponsors. It was the only jazz award that involved a significant sum of money. The Zaploski Quartet performed Thesis as part of his concert after the ceremony. This is a classic composition that he composed early in his career and a set for string quartets and jazz. He recorded a larger piece, By Arrangement, later that year with Metheny, on guitars, the New York Voices, and strings. In 2005, Berklee conferred him an honorary degree (“I thought about saying, Where were you ?'”),? and in 2007, he was made Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. He was incredibly grateful for these and other honors but his attitude remained surprisingly low-key and quizzical. “I’ll be doing a telephone interview about it, and the guitar just sits there in the corner saying, “Yeah! He played at many festivals and clubs, until the end. He last performed three weeks ago at Lincoln Center, New York. Jim Hall is survived his wife and daughter. Jim Hall, born December 4 1930, died December 10 2013 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk

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