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A Fireside Chat with Jim Hall

By Published: February 21, 2004

AAJ: Blue Note just reissued Undercurrent. The subtleties of both players are audible and the trust palpable, so it is not a stretch to find you were both friends.

JH: I think you summed it up, Fred. We were friends and I had heard Bill play a lot. I worked opposite Bill Evans when he was with Miles Davis' group, the fantastic group with John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. We worked with Jimmy Giuffre's last trio, the one with Bob Brookmeyer. We worked opposite them for quite a while down in Greenwich Village. I had heard Bill play a lot later on when he started his own trio and I was very influenced by his approach to playing the piano and to accompanying and just the incredible musicality of his playing. I thought it was really kind of groundbreaking at the time because so many piano players especially, were sort of into some kind of macho bebop thumping on the piano and Bill wasn't into that. We were particularly well attuned to one another when we recorded. As you said, it is kind of a relationship where you have to trust the other person and with Bill it was as if he was part of my brain. He would just sort of sense what I was going to do and help me out. For instance, on the beginning of "My Funny Valentine," when I start my solo, there is several places where I could see I was scuffling a little bit, so Bill would just lead me right into the next phrase. And then he liked me to play rhythm behind him and when I did, he would automatically stop using his left hand as if he knew that part of the texture was covered. He was pretty special that way.

AAJ: Columbia/Legacy just reissued Concierto on Creed Taylor's CTI label. It features your interpretation of Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez," which Miles Davis made infamous on Sketches of Spain. But it was originally composed as a guitar piece.

JH: It is. It is a beautiful piece. In fact, Fred, I had qualms about recording it. It was Don Sebesky's arrangement. He brought it into the date. In general, I feel that classical pieces that I respect don't need further tampering with (laughing). So it is a little bit different than playing a popular tune. Well, I had a great lineup of musicians, Paul Desmond and Chet Baker, Roland Hanna, Steve Gadd, and Ron Carter were on that. That worked out really well.

AAJ: You were the recipient of the Danish Jazzpar Prize. Chris Potter was in the band because he is featured on the record, but was Scott Colley still with you?

JH: Actually, Scott wasn't in that one. I worked with Scott a lot. In fact, I have recorded with him a heck of a lot. When we went, the Jazzpar Award is from Denmark and there was kind of, not really pressure, but I was asked if I could use a Danish bassist because there are so many good ones over there and so I did. I can't think of his name right now (Thomas Ovesen). But, yeah, I played with Chris a lot and before that, I worked with Scott. In fact, I still do. We were just at the Village Vanguard a few months ago and Scott's on most of the, I guess all of the Telarc records that uses a bass. The last one before the collection, before the Critic's Choice thing, was a CD with five different bass players and Scott is on that as well.

AAJ: Jim Hall & Basses featuring Scott Colley, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, George Mraz, and Chris McBride, a virtual who's who of bass players.

JH: I know. It is not bad. The only thing I thought was I was scuffling about bit and I was bugged with myself. I think partly because I was playing two or three different guitars and wasn't really used to that. I know how each one of those guys plays so I could write things specifically for them or think about things that they could do. For instance, George Mraz plays arco bass, bass with a bow, just about the greatest that I've ever heard. There's a lot of good ones, but George is amazing. So I wrote some arco things for George and Christian McBride had that great pulse going so I thought about that when I wrote for him and then Charlie Haden has a different approach to playing.

AAJ: I admittedly haven't heard every Jim Hall recording, but I have listened to my share. Have you recorded a solid body electric guitar session?

JH: Oh, years ago, when I was with Chico Hamilton, I had a Les Paul, one of the early Les Paul guitars. It just, yeah, I think I did one record with that and it felt a little bizarre because it didn't vibrate against you or anything and you couldn't play rhythm on it really and so I don't really use that.

AAJ: What is your instrument of choice?

JH: Well, I have a, do you play music yourself?

AAJ: I had a horrible run in with a violin in my youth.

JH: Really, because your questions sound like they are coming from a musician, which is great. I use a guitar, my primary guitar now is made by a man, a young man who died really prematurely, Jimmy D'Aquisto. It's a hollow body, orange top guitar, basically, it is an acoustic guitar with a pickup on it and I use that. I have an acoustic guitar that Jimmy made too. I think it is on some of the things with the basses and I used it on a couple of tracks on different Telarc records with a string section. Just last week or so, there is a man named Roger Sadowsky that made me some guitars to try out to see if I would like to endorse them. They are based on the D'Aquisto. Jimmy had epilepsy, Jimmy D'Aquisto and he died really, I think he was in his fifties when he died suddenly. So that line is gone, but Roger is trying to duplicate that and maybe keep it at a lower price level because collectors get involved in all this stuff. Jimmy D'Aquisto made me an acoustic guitar, the one that I use and he came over to the apartment and he just gave it to me and I said, "You can't give me a guitar. You only make about five a year." So I gave him one back that I had bought for fifteen hundred dollars year ago and he sold it for a lot of money and so I felt better. But when Jimmy died, the price of this acoustic guitar went out of sight and I couldn't even get it insured and so it became a liability as if he had played a joke on me. Anyway, Roger Sadowsky is trying to overcome that and he is following in the D'Aquisto tradition.

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