Jim Hall

December 11, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

Guitarist Jim Hall died yesterday. 

There’s not a lot of sociology in this post, except perhaps the reminder that art is a collective enterprise and that success and reputation depend on the people you work with.*  That may be especially true of sidemen, the jazz equivalent of supporting actors. And it may be even more true for sidemen with a non-flashy, understated, self-effacing approach to music.  Which pretty much describes Jim Hall.

The better-known musicians who chose Hall to work with them form an impressive list.  When Sonny Rollins came down off the Willimsburg Bridge in 1962,** ending his three-year absence from the music scene, he formed a quartet with Hall on guitar. Bill Evans and Ron Carter recorded duo albums with him.  He did several albums with Paul Desmond, who was famous because of Brubeck and “Take Five” (written by Desmond, not Brubeck), but who also eschewed flashiness. Asked what he had absorbed from Desmond, Hall said
 I had more respect for melody. It worked out perfectly for me because I don’t have the amazing chops that a lot guys have, anyway. I realized that playing nice melodies was okay, so that made it a lot easier for me.

Whenever I’m teaching. I have these students with incredible chops. I try things to get them to slow down. Occasionally, I’ll have them just play on one string like a trombone, or play a mode with three or four notes and develop that through a whole solo, make them more aware of what Paul was aware of, how it becomes an art form and gets away from all that macho b.s. [interview with Doug Ramsey]

Here he is with Art Farmer’s quartet playing “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” (Farmer sits out on this one).  Steve Swallow, bass; Pete LaRoca, drums.


* Gabriel Rossman has a fuller treatment of this idea in his ASR paper (with Esparza and Bonacich (“I’d Like to Thank the Academy” (here).

** Rather than woodshed in his apartment, Rollins spent up to sixteen hours a day practicing where the sound would not bother neighbors. He has more, and a picture, on his website.

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