Jim Hall (1930-2013)


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Jim Hall, a soft-spoken and sophisticated postmodernist jazz guitarist who recorded as a leader and with many of the most visionary artists on the East and West coasts, offering swinging rhythmic support and piercing melodic solos, died on December 10. He was 83.

Thanks to early friendships with prolific artists and a reputation for being a lyrical musical adventurer, Jim appeared on many of jazz's finest recording sessions. In the mid-1950s, his work with the Chico Hamilton Quintet blazed a new path for the jazz guitar, placing the instrument on an equal footing with the rest of the band as an improviser and musical conversationalist.

As Jim told me in a 2010 interview: “Many guitarists at the time played rhythm or supporting lines for leaders and soloists. I wanted to play so that my counterpoint and alternative melodies stood out clearly."

Among the many high points of Jim's career include recording sessions with Hampton Hawes the Jimmy Giuffre 3, John Lewis, Bob Brookmeyer, Buddy Collette, Sonny Rollins (The Bridge) and landmark duo albums with Paul Desmond, Bill Evans and Ron Carter. Amazingly, these represent just a handful of Jim's storied discography. [Pictured above: Jim Hall and Bill Evans]

During several extensive phone conversations with Jim, I found him to be remarkably understated—aware of his gifts but rather mystified by the fuss over his exceptional playing style and recordings. To Jim, he was just doing what came naturally—expressing himself and taking risks with players who knew a thing or two about being out on a limb and converting the unknown into soaring artistic triumphes.

Jim was a master of taste. He knew how to let a note ring just long enough, how to peck away at a run, how to slide down to another note the way a ring slips onto a finger, and how to captivate listeners and take them along for a delicious ride.

Jim's guitar carries on conversations with parts of your soul you never knew existed. And once Jim gets going on a recording, it's pretty tough to take it off. It was as if Jim knew innately what he was up against—short attention spans and a desire for sonic action and modulation traditioanlly handled by horns or a piano. But Jim knew that if engaged properly, a listener would linger and be soothed—lulled into listening carefully to what he was trying to say on his instrument and be wiser for it. Like Bill Evans, Jim operated like a painter and knew all about seduction, color and space. In jazz, beauty never ages, and Jim left behind in his recordings a landscape of daring grace.

More on Jim: Here's my three-part interview with Jim from 2010: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

JazzWax clips: The Chico Hamilton Quintet's Sleepy Slept Here...

The Jimmy Giuffre 3's Careful...

With Sonny Rollins on The Bridge...

With Paul Desmond on Samba Cantina...

The entire Intermodulation album with Bill Evans...

And with Ron Carter on Alone Together...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.

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