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Interviews

Jim Hall

By Published: November 29, 2003
AAJ: Let's talk a little about your sound on guitar. Some have called it "warm", "mellow", "rich", "pure toned". How would you describe it?

JH: My concept has changed a bit over the years. It's probably closer to the kind of tenor saxophone that Ben Webster played, or Paul Gonsalves. That's what I really hear, a tenor sax sound. You can really get expression out of it. Ben Webster's playing was so incredibly expressive. So I try to keep the strings low enough, soft enough, so that I can not so much bend notes, but get some inflection on the notes. I also leave out a lot of the right hand work. Jimmy Giuffre got me equipped for, I think, more musical phrasing. So there's not all those attacks - which I couldn't do anyway. It's probably more of a melodic sound. But I think especially since becoming a leader, I get bored with just the same sound all night. I try not to overuse them, but I have a bunch of foot pedals now and that sort of throws my brain into a different orbit.

AAJ: Do you think the sound comes from the instrument or the technique, or both?

JH: I think the sound comes from the person. I heard Oscar Moore once when he was with the Nat Cole Trio, in Cleveland. He had a great guitar, I think it was an Epiphone, and this terrific amplifier. He sounded incredible. Then, when I moved to Los Angeles, I heard him in a club with really schlocky stuff, and he sounded exactly the same! So I think the sound also has to do with the musician's personality.

AAJ: On a few of your recent albums, Dialogues for one, you've recorded duets with a second guitar. Do you approach these differently?

JH: I got Bill Frisell and Mike Stern specifically because they played so differently from me. They're completely different from one another too. When I go hear Bill play, I literally laugh because I never know what the hell's going to come out of him. Same thing with Mike. And that's another reason why I called Greg Osby. I figured they were going to prod my brain a little bit, make me think differently.

AAJ: Lewis Nash will be your drummer at the Vanguard this month - what about his playing appeals to you?

JH: Everything. I first heard him when he was with Tommy Flanagan. He does all those things we've been talking about. He's able to accompany guitar beautifully; he listens incredibly well, and can adjust to the volume; he plays differently behind each soloist; his solos are incredibly clear, distinct. His playing is just clear as anything. Plus, he's also easy to get along with in a van on the road!

AAJ: Scott Colley will be your bassist for the gig.

JH: I had worked with Steve LaSpina for years, and Steve was going to take some time off and go back to school, get a degree. And he recommended Scott. I had never heard him or met him, or anything. Jane [Hall's wife] and I had just been to hear the Philharmonic, and they had played Shostakovich's 4th Symphony. It was really wild - I think it was the first time I had heard it. And there's a section in it where everything stops, and the string section - starting with the bassist and the cellos - go completely wild. So Scott was going to come over and rehearse, and I cued that up on the machine. I'd never even met him. And he came in, I offered him some coffee and said, "I'll play you some of the stuff I've been thinking about doing." So he sat down and he heard that, and he was great, he said, "well, that will be fine. Don't even bother to write it out." (laughs) So right then I thought, "I want to work with this guy." He can read like mad, he has a terrific memory. If he showed up without his music, he would get through it somehow. And he can go in any direction - he just listens to you and goes there. And he plays in tune, gets a good sound.

AAJ: Have the three of you played before?

JH: You know, I've never played with Scott and Lewis together. So I'm just going to watch it develop. I'm going to try to keep it loose. It'll have to be loose with the three of us. Scott and Lewis and I are supposed to go to Japan next year, so it seemed like a good idea to get us together for this. The last time I worked in a trio was with Scott and Terry Clarke, and that worked out great - but this time, I think I'd like to mix these two guys and see what happens.



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