What's Hot with Jazz Guitar: Jim Hall

by Doc Dosco

This week we feature one of my all time favorite jazz guitarists, the
legendary Jim Hall.

Online Bio (Devra Hall)

Jim Hall's musical style has been in a state of continuous development
throughout the course of his career - career that to date has spanned
more than five decades. But just as with advances in technology,
medicine, and other fields, Jim's evolutionary twists and turns in this
last decade have been swift. With each new concert tour and recording
(more than a dozen new CDs since 1991) Jim reveals yet another facet of

Jim's latest project, an as-yet-untitled CD featuring the Jim Hall Trio
with Scott Colley and Lewis Nash, will be recorded live at the Village
Vanguard in New York City at the end of April 2004. Jim's new website
(www.jimhallmusic.com) enables him to share with his audience a personal
view of his creative process, in addition to the finished product. Via
the web, audiences can participate, not just by purchasing the new CD,
but by 'being there,' behind the scenes, so to speak, witnessing Jim
prepare for a project, meeting the players, hearing the outtakes, and

Not only is Jim Hall one of the jazz world's favorite guitarists, but
also in recent years he has earned critical acclaim for his skills as a
composer and arranger. The first formal recognition came in 1997 when
Jim won the New York Jazz Critics Circle Award for Best Jazz
Composer/Arranger. His pieces for string, brass, and vocal ensembles can
be heard on his "Textures" and "By Arrangement" recordings. His original
composition, "Quartet Plus Four," a piece for jazz quartet augmented by
the Zapolski string quartet, was debuted in Denmark during the concert
and ceremony where he was awarded the coveted Jazzpar Prize, and later
released on CD. Just a few months prior to that, Jim got standing
ovations at a concert in Pescara, Italy where he performed a complete
program of his original compositions with a 12-piece string section from
the Pescara Conservatory of Music.

Most recently, he has completed a concerto for guitar and orchestra,
commissioned by Towson University in Maryland for The First World Guitar
Congres, which will be debuted in June 2004 with the Baltimore
Symphony. The title of the work, "Peace Movement," is indicative of
Jim's desire to contribute to world peace through his music. He views
music as a way of bonding people together and crossing barriers, be they
barriers of geography, ideology, religion, or other discriminations. In
accepting the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship award in January 2004, he
said, "The women and men who have received this award in the past have
spread peace and love throughout the world, something that governments
might emulate. I am pleased to be one of the peacemakers."

In addition to the recent focus on orchestral and choral composition,
Jim remains active as a player, working and recording with a variety of
ensembles. In addition to working with his trio, Jim likes to spice up
the mix with various guests. From time to time you might hear Joe
Lovano, Greg Osby, the New York Voices, Kenny Barron, Pat Metheny, Slide
Hampton and others working for a night or two with Jim's groups. In
fact, several of these guests can be heard on another live recording
titled "Panorama." On occasion, these alliances lead to more intensive
collaborative projects such as the "Jim Hall & Basses" recording,
featuring Scott Colley, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, George Mraz, and
Christian McBride, and the "duets" project with Pat Metheny.

In a guitar -laden world, it is easy to see that Jim Hall is unique.
Seemingly oblivious to the accolades, Jim is a modest and unassuming man
(the English call him the Quiet American) who continues to hone his
craft while striving to probe the boundaries of the musical universe.
And he is more than happy to share his explorations and discoveries with

Jim has been called upon to conduct seminars all over the world. His
intense desire to truly communicate makes one such experience stand out.
In preparation for a four-day guitar seminar in Ravenna, Italy, Jim had
his lecture outlines translated into Italian. Between the musical
communication and the printed handouts, Jim was able to share his love
with more than 100 guitarists from all over Europe.

Musicians as discriminating in taste and as different from one another
in orientation as Hampton Hawes, Gunther Schuller, Ornette Coleman and
Itzhak Perlman, have all applauded Jim's innovative approach and
contributions to the world of jazz. Yet Jim is constantly refining and
re-defining his craft. Perhaps that is why he continues to be a major
inspiration to today's contemporary artists such as Bill Frisell, Pat
Metheny, Chris Potter and Greg Osby.

Continuously pursuing new avenues of musical expression, Jim's career
has been one of ongoing experimentation, particularly with instrumental
combinations. Jim became keenly aware of the possible variations early
on. In 1957 saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre invited Jim to become a member of
his trio. Trombonist Bob Brookmeyer soon replaced the bassist in the
trio. "Giuffre's idea-t least after Brookmeyer joined us’Äîwas to
have three linear instruments improvise collectively" recalls Jim. "He
believed it didn't make any difference whether or not the group had bass
or drums. He said the instruments should be able to keep time
themselves. It was damn hard, yet it was one of the most enlarging
experiences I've had."

Jim has continued to experiment with unusual combinations of both
instruments and musicians. In the early 1970s, Jim and Bob Brookmeyer
reunited briefly performing in clubs as a duo. In 1984 Jim performed a
symphonic piece, composed by Brookmeyer, featuring guitar with the
Stockholm Radio Symphony. Also of interest were the two jazz-oriented
albums featuring classical violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman and concert
pianist/conductor Andre Previn, with Jim on guitar, Red Mitchell on
bass, and Shelly Manne on drums. "Power of Three" (the title referring
to a trio of young pianist Michel Petrucciani, saxophonist Wayne Shorter
and Jim), was recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1987 and
provided yet another instrumental mix with a more contemporary flair.

Critics and writers have noted correctly that Jim draws his inspiration
from many sources, and indeed a lifetime of experiences. One such
experience took place in the late 1950s while Jim was on tour in South
America with Ella Fitzgerald. Engrossed with the "local" music, Jim
stayed on when the tour ended, spending six weeks in Rio de Janeiro just
as the Bossa Nova was coming into being. This exposure was to prove
invaluable and become a part of Jim's musical versatility as evidenced
later in his recordings with Sonny Rollins (What's New" - 1962) and Paul
Desmond ("Take Ten" - 1963 and "Bossa Antigua" - 1963.)

Producer Herb Wong has drawn attention to Jim's "horn inspired solos."
While this statement was made with reference to "The Jim Hall Quartet
featuring Tom Harrell" (Denon, 1988), it is interesting to note that Jim
looks upon his experience with Sonny Rollins back in 1961 as a turning
point in his career. Of that year Jim recalls "He [Sonny Rollins] had a
way of taking a tune apart and putting it back together again right in
front of your eyes...his loose adventuresome way of playing influenced
my playing."

Jim's musical style is recognizable not by a recurring signature riff or
motif, but by his approach, his sound and his feeling. Jim's approach
has been referred to as "compositional," as he considers the melodic,
harmonic and rhythmic elements of a tune in constructing his
arrangements and solos. "Clarity is the thing I'm after," explains Jim.
"I want a picture in my mind of the way a solo looks as I'm playing it.
That way I can keep it from becoming boring’Äîto me or the listeners. I
get bored very easily, and I think that's one thing that helps me avoid

When referring to Jim's sound, reviewers worldwide consistently use
words such as "warm," "mellow," "gentle," "subtle," "rich tone," and
"lightly amplified." Then there is the marriage between feeling and
sound. "Few instrumentalists of any kind in any genre’Äîjazz, rock or
classical’Äîplay with such warmth and expressiveness...with the kind of
genuine feeling that separates great music from the technically
proficient yet cold-hearted brand" wrote one jazz critic. Jim's approach
to the interaction between players is also a much-discussed subject. The
musician's who work with him talk of responsiveness, empathy, and
communication. "I can feel what he's going to play," says bassist
Steve LaSpina. When Jim speaks about the musicians he plays with, he
talks about "enjoying each other's musical company." "His concept of
time is a model to emulate," says drummer Joey Barron. "Jim plays but
a few notes, leaving space for conversations with me." According to Jim,
"listening is still the key."

Jim Hall was born in Buffalo and raised in New York and Ohio. Spending
his early years first in New York, then in Columbus and ultimately in
Cleveland, Jim was first introduced to music at home by his mother who
played piano, his violin playing grandfather and his uncle who played
the guitar. When Jim was 10 years old his mother gave him a guitar for
Christmas and it was then that he began to seriously study the
instrument. By the age of 13 Jim had become a professional musician
playing locally in Cleveland with a group consisting of an accordion,
clarinet, drums and, of course, guitar. The clarinet player turned Jim
on to Benny Goodman's recording of "Solo Flight" which featured the
guitar playing of Charlie Christian. "It was instant addiction,"
recalls Jim.

It was later that Jim was introduced to the playing of Django Reinhardt.
Jim continued to play in small combos throughout high school, and after
graduation entered the Cleveland Institute of Music where he majored in
music theory. Of that time Jim recalls "I played guitar on weekends but
wasn't all that involved in jazz. I thought I was going into classical
composing and teach on the side. Then halfway through my first semester
towards my master's degree, I knew I had to try being a guitarist or
else it would trouble me for the rest of my life."

Shortly thereafter, Jim left Ohio for Los Angeles. It was there, in
1955, as a member of the original Chico Hamilton Quintet with Buddy
Collette on reeds, Freddie Katz on cello and Carson Smith on bass, that
Jim began to attract national, and then international, attention.

By 1960 Jim had arrived in New York to work with Sonny Rollins and Art
Farmer, among others. His live and recorded collaborations with Bill
Evans, Paul Desmond, and Ron Carter, are legendary.

Some years ago, Guitar Player magazine quoted Jim as saying "I do feel
good about my playing. The instrument keeps me humble. Sometimes I pick
it up and it seems to say `No, you can't play today.' I keep at it
anyway though." Jim and his wife, Jane, who is both a psychoanalyst and
a songwriter, live in New York City's Greenwich Village with their dog,

Jim Hall's website

Doc Dosco is a jazz guitarist, composer and audio consultant living in
Los Angeles, CA. His website is located at http://www.docdosco.com ,
where you can find more information on the 'What's Hot with Jazz Guitar'
columns, audio clips of Doc's playing, and many additional features. Doc
endorses Heritage Guitars and is a featured artist on their website.
He also endorses the new Pignose Valve Tube Amps -- great for jazz (and anything else!

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