Jim Hall: The Elegant Guitarist
Hall says he doesn't listen much to other guitarists, "I think, on purpose. I haven't for years." He even kept to his own focus in the latter 1960s when rock music began expanding and several of that genre's guitar gods emerged. Jimi Hendrix's sound and approach stirred many younger jazz guitarists.
"It turned out that he lived right on our block (in New York City)," says Hall. "I didn't really know who Jimi Hendrix was. I'd heard the name and I think he lived maybe in the next building. But when I heard him play [on record] the "Star Spangled Banner" at that festival in upstate New York [Woodstock in 1969], that just knocked me out. I said, 'That guy's OK.' Then there was this recording studio Electric Ladyland, that he had just started. I recorded there a few times. But I never really heard much of him. But he was quite different. That's usually what I base things on. He was sort of unique."
Over the years, Hall cites Christian, Freddie Green, Carl Cress and George Van Eps, as guitarists he listened to, "All for different reasons. Jim RaineyI love Jimmy's playing. That was quite different, I think. Django Reinhardt was pretty amazing. I never got to see him play, or Charlie Christian. I like the people who move things in their own direction."
Peter Bernstein and John Abercrombie are guitarists of today who draw his mention, along with Frisell. "But if I do listen to something, I try to make it something that will push my brain a little bit. I like what Chris Potter is doing with his group. It's really unusual. Adam Rogers [guitarist] is playing with Chris. Recently, on occasion, I've been listening to some of my own stuff just to see how it holds up. But, generally if I listen to music, especially jazz guitar players, it doesn't really help me any. I know most of these guys and I know they're great players," he says. But in his spare time, "I'd rather read a short story or look at some paintings. I'm a big fan of paintings. So I don't really listen."
As for his own playing, Hall is still exploring, still learning. "That's the whole idea." Even his practice regime is set up so that he has something new and unknown to recognize, react and respond to.
"I have a couple of guitars. I don't have a whole collection. At the moment, I just have one in the apartment. Sometimes if I practice for a while, just to keep it interesting, I'll tune the guitar randomly, so I don't know what's going to come out. I'll practice that way, just sort of react to whatever comes out of the instrument. That keeps me guessing, to try to make music out of whatever is there. It's like improvisation, because you don't know exactly what is going to come out until you hit the note. Then you try to react and make something out of it. Sometimes on the bandstand, you screw up, but you try to make it work. Then you feel next time it will work out." He notes, "My other big interest is writing music. I haven't done much compositionally in the last year. That has to do with taking a thought and letting it grow and develop, reacting to it. That's what I try to do when I'm playing the guitar, as well."
Hall says he was concerned years ago about the jazz scene. "The worst was when I was doing the Griffin show. I felt like rock and roll was taking over. Unfortunately, so much is in the hands of marketing people now. It's a little dismal." But on the positive side of the ledger, "there's all these remarkable young players coming up. We got a new president. That ain't bad either. That gives me hope for everything. It got so bad. I stopped reading the newspaper and everything after the 2004 election. I think there are young players coming up and it feels good to me."
Hopefully relieved of back problems, Hall is ready to move on with more touring in 2009. "I'm still kind of gimping around, using a cane," he said in February, but "my guitar chops have come back pretty well." His trip to Japan in May, which includes pianist Keezer, is for a series of concerts that will involve strings. Promoters "wanted a string quartet and a version of 'Concierto de Aranjuez' and some specific soloists. So I wrote that out. I took a lot of liberties with it. I put the solo parts in odd meters and that sort of thing," he says, noting that, in general "I'm hoping to get moving again pretty soon."
His advice to the aspiring guitarists? "Mostly just keep playing and enjoy yourself." Referring back to his teaching experience at John Lewis' school in Massachusetts years ago, Hall recounts, "We had some marvelous students. There were incredible teachers. Max Roach, Bill Evans, George Russell. I remember at the end of the three weeks, John Lewis was talking about great things happening in music and what we'd done in three weeks. One of the students asked, 'Are there any gigs out there? Can I make money?' John said something like, 'You've got it wrong. You've learned something and been involved in something really personal for three weeks. That's your payoff. There may not be any other payoff, but you've gotten something personal for yourself. "That's so importantI still feel that way. Music is something inside, very personal."
Jim Hall/Bill Frisell, Hemispheres (ArtistShare, 2008)
Jim Hall/Geoffrey Keezer, Free Association (ArtistShare, 2006)
Jim Hall/Enrico Pieranunzi, Duologues (CamJazz, 2005)
Jim Hall, Magic Meeting (ArtistShare, 2004)
Jim Hall, Jim Hall and Basses (Telarc, 2001)
Jim Hall/Pat Metheny, Jim Hall & Pat Metheny (Telarc, 1999)
Jim Hall, Textures (Telarc, 1997)
Jim Hall, Subsequently (Music Masters Jazz, 1991)
Michel Petruccciani, Power of Three; Featuring Jim Hall and Wayne Shorter (Blue Note, 1987)
Jim Hall, All Across the City (Concord, 1989)
Jim Hall, These Rooms (Denon, 1988)
Jim Hall, Circles (Concord, 1991)
Jim Hall, Live (Horizon, 1975)
Jim Hall, Concierto (Sony, 1971)
Jim Hall/Ron Carter, Along Together (OJC, 1971)
Bill Evans/Jim Hall, Intermodulation (Polygram, 1966)
Bill Evans, Undercurrent (Blue Note, 1962)
Sonny Rollins, The Bridge (Bluebird/RCA, 1962)