Jim Hall: The Elegant Guitarist
Around 1960, Hall made the move to New York City, helped by the estimable pianist/composer/arranger John Lewis.
, 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 lived right down the hall. It was great. Then I started getting these notes from Sonny Rollins in my mailbox. I hooked up with Sonny and that was marvelous."
"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
, was acknowledged as a new pathfinder on tenor sax and jazz in generalcame back and hired Hall in his new band that produced his popular RCA recording, The Bridge (1962).
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. Rollinswho, along with John Coltrane
"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."
Tony Scott, 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, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones and Bill Evans. So I got to hear Bill a lot. And he heard me," explains Hall.
Hall still reveres Rollinswho's the same agetoday. "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."
"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."
'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.
Hall also did outstanding work as part of trumpeter Art Farmer
"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 musicyou 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.