Jim Hall Jazz Guitarist

Jim Hall

The jazz world today mourns the passing of one of its greatest artists; the guitarist Jim Hallwho died in his sleep, 10th December, he was 83. For nearly 60 years Jim Hall was one of the most distinctive voices in jazz guitar. A graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music, he joined the Chico Hamilton Quintet in 1958 and attracted attention for his work with this innovative group. The following year saxophonistJimmy Giuffre invited him to join his drum-less trio. This group, renowned for its ‘Train and the River’ theme, featured in the movieJazz on a Summer’s Day, filmed at the Newport Jazz Festival.

In his early years Hall had listened extensively to Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins and, like so many of his contemporaries, pioneering electric guitarist Charlie Christian was an early influence. However, Hall’s interest in composition and his piano studies led him in a different direction from players such as Tal Farlow, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery. Hall was less concerned with spinning long, complex bebop lines and more interested in motivic development, counterpoint, arranging and accompaniment.

A masterful improviser with an unerring sense of melodic development, Jim Hall possessed a lyricism combined with an instinct for understatement that distinguished him from the majority of guitar players. With Hall’s music every note counts. Space and colour play an important role, as does his clear and mellow sound. These qualities, together with his sympathetic and harmonically informed accompaniments, led him into fruitful musical partnerships with vocalistElla Fitzgerald, in quartets with saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Paul Desmond and with trumpeters Chet Baker and Art Farmer and in duos with bassists Red Mitchell and Ron Carter. His early 1960s duo recordings with pianist Bill Evans are widely regarded as high points in both these musicians’ careers, while Hall himself cited the 1975 albumJim Hall Live!, recorded at a club in Toronto with two Canadian musicians, Don Thompson (double bass) and Terry Clarke (drums).

Hall’s career was characterised by many such productive partnerships. The one with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer dated back to his early career, only to re-ignite with their duo album Live at the North Sea Jazz Festival, recorded in 1979 but finally released 20 years later in 1999. Often barely stating the theme, these two master improvisers explored several standards including ‘My Funny Valentine’ and ‘I Hear a Rhapsody’, taking them far outside their normal harmonic and rhythmic boundaries in stunningly imaginative and powerful explorations.

The last two decades of Hall’s career proved as productive and creative as the first. The mutual admiration existed between Hall and that triumvirate of younger guitarists, Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Bill Frisell, led to recordings with each of them. He enjoyed musical relationships with many other younger players, including pianistGeoffrey Keezer, bassist Scott Colley, pianist Larry Goldings and drummer Joey Baron. One of the truly great jazz guitarists but also a charming, modest and generous man with a great sense of humour, Jim Hall leaves a marvellous legacy that will endure for years to come.

Charles Alexander

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