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Interviews

Jim Hall: The Elegant Guitarist

By Published: March 16, 2009
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New York, Sonny and More

Around 1960, Hall made the move to New York City, helped by the estimable pianist/composer/arranger John Lewis

John Lewis
John Lewis
b.1920
piano
.



"I had gotten to know John. We did the record, Grand Encounter: Two Degrees East - Three Degrees West (Pacific Jazz, 1956) with Chico, Percy Heath

Percy Heath
Percy Heath
1923 - 2005
bass, acoustic
, Bill Perkins on tenor. It was John's record date. John was just great. I went back to Los Angeles and John called me several times and said, 'You've got to get to New York. I have a lot of things for you,'" recalls Hall. "I stayed in John's apartment for a while, until I got my own place. Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
lived right down the hall. It was great. Then I started getting these notes from Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
in my mailbox. I hooked up with Sonny and that was marvelous."



Rollins was returning from his fabled hiatus that found him into heavy woodshedding on the Williamsburg Bridge that crossed the East River in New York City near his home. Rollins—who, along with John Coltrane

John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
, was acknowledged as a new pathfinder on tenor sax and jazz in general—came back and hired Hall in his new band that produced his popular RCA recording, The Bridge (1962).



"It was great," says Hall of that association. "He was a marvelous bandleader. We wore uniforms. I was the pale face in the group. Sonny would make sure the clothes looked appropriate on each of us. He was great. He was, and is, a terrific role model."



"It got me practicing, I'll tell you that," says the guitarist, laughing. "It was daunting. I learned so much from Sonny. Sometimes, we'd be playing something with a nice groove. He wouldn't even have to tell us, but by the force of his playing, he would stop everything and kind of take the tune apart and examine it, then put it back together. It was a great experience, personally and musically."



Hall still reveres Rollins—who's the same age—today. "It's ridiculous. He's growing all the time. I had some long conversations with Sonny Rollins when I was in the hospital, which was fascinating because he was probably the most taciturn person I ever worked with. But we talked for 40 minutes when I was in the hospital. It was really great. Of course, everybody's thrilled with the way this last [U.S. presidential] election went. So I've been back in touch with a lot of those guys."

Jim Hall

Another special association in the 1960s was with pianist Bill Evans

Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
piano
, also known for introspection and beauty, not bombast, in his playing. "I met Bill years ago when he was working with Tony Scott
Tony Scott
Tony Scott
1921 - 2007
clarinet
, the clarinetist. That was when I was with Chico. I got to know him a bit. When I was with Jim Guiffre, we worked for several weeks opposite Miles Davis' group here in the village [Greenwich Village] at Café Bohemia. It was Jimmy, [trombonist] Bob Brookmeyer and me. We worked opposite Miles Davis. It was Miles and John Coltrane and Julian "Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
Julian
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
1928 - 1975
saxophone
, Paul Chambers
Paul Chambers
Paul Chambers
1935 - 1969
bass, acoustic
, Philly Joe Jones
Philly Joe Jones
Philly Joe Jones
1923 - 1985
drums
and Bill Evans. So I got to hear Bill a lot. And he heard me," explains Hall.



"Then I was working with Sonny Rollins at the Jazz Showcase. It was a new club that didn't last too long. Bill came in one night and asked if I wanted to do a duet record and I said, 'Sure.' John Lewis had this music camp called the Music Inn in Lenox, Massachusetts. We were both teachers up there. So I had known Bill for quite a while, but we had never recorded together. We played together a bit. He came up with the idea of a duet and it worked out great [Undercurrent, Blue Note, 1962].



Evans' approach to the piano was different than many of the post-bop pianists of the day. "Bill had such a marvelous sense of texture. He liked me to play rhythm guitar. As soon as I started to play rhythm, he would automatically stop using his left hand. I guess he sensed that that part of the texture was covered. It was a great experience."



Hall also did outstanding work as part of trumpeter Art Farmer

Art Farmer
Art Farmer
1928 - 1999
flugelhorn
's band. But soon, he felt the pull to get off the road for a while. He married his wife, Jane, and became a member of the studio band for The Merv Griffin Show, which was then based in New York.



"I was there for three-and-a-half years, I guess. I was desperate to get out of that situation," he recalls, able to laugh at it now. "Merv had some fascinating guests, I remember. But the music—you can imagine what that was like." So it was back to jazz for Hall. "I started doing my own things, a lot with Ron Carter. Then the Griffin show, fortunately for me, moved out to Los Angeles. I didn't go with them. I started doing other stuff. First with Ron, then other settings. Ron and I still hook up occasionally."



His career has taken him to places around the world and into associations with some of the greatest musicians. All the while, he remains a huge influence on other guitar players and has worked on composing and arranging, as well. He's garnered accolades along the way from jazz magazines and the like. In 1997, he won the New York Jazz Critics Circle Award for Best Jazz Composer/Arranger, highlighted on his Telarc recordings Textures (1997) and By Arrangement (1998). He is the recipient of Denmark's Jazzpar prize and the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship award, and was appointed Chevalier, the highest rank in France's prestigious Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters), among others.



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