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All About Jazz Reader Q&A: Jim Hall


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This article first appeared in November 1998. Questions were gathered from All About Jazz Bulletin Board members.

From: Ken Brown
Did you or do you now have a daily structure to your guitar practice? If so, how do you structure the different possible topics?

JH: My practice —since time is limited—is usually very specific (e.g. the pieces I'm currently performing), and includes "speed improvement" and "ear-stretching" stuff—whatever that means to you.

From: Ken Brown
Do you have any tips for accompanying another instrument, like you did for Paul Desmond? Any common faults that you hear with beginning players? Several times I've heard instrumentalists prefer a piano backing them up to guitar. Is there something we can learn from how a good pianist comps? You worked with the best, Bill Evans. Did you learn anything from him about this?

JH: From Bill Evans I learned to use simple easily moveable chord voicings, often without the root (especially with a bassist!) and sometimes ambiguous (4ths, etc.) so as to not box in the soloist. Most important is listening to and enhancing what the soloist is doing.

From: Ken Brown
I was very gratified to read in your biography that you actually name one of your former guitar teachers. I've seen all too many times when a student finally makes it, no mention is made of his teacher unless the teacher is very famous. Is Fred Sharp still around teaching?

JH: Fred Sharp and I are still in touch. He lives in Sarasota, Florida and is playing quite a bit.

From: Ken Brown
I love the warm and rich core to your sound. What did you do by way of equipment, strings, etc. to get this sound?

(I'm trying to use the thickest strings I can find, but with the first and second strings I'm still not satisfied. Still sounds to metallic. Treble is rolled back as much as I can without losing definition. Any suggestions would be appreciated.)

JH: I guess thick strings can get a big sound, but they also tend to sound "bangy". I use very thin strings - almost like a "rocker"—and try to draw the sound out by playing easily with as few pick-strokes as possible except for accents, etc.

From: Willie K. Yee, M.D.
You are now immortalized in cyberspace. Are you aware that some nut (that would be me) has put up a Web page dedicated to you?

JH: No, I'm not, but thanks for warning me.

From: Jim Kroger
You have made many contributions to the evolution of jazz. What do you feel your most important contribution has been?

JH: I had no idea that I'd had made a contribution (yet). I do, however, feel very privileged being a musician and my plan is to keep getting better at it.

From: Jim Kroger
The sound of your guitar on Concierto has always been the quintessential jazz guitar tone. What were you playing, and how do you get such a fat tone?

JH: Rudy Van Gelder (the engineer) is really responsible for capturing our sounds on Concierto.

I was using a Gibson GA-50 Tube Amplifier. My guitar was either a D'Agusto (with pick-up) or a Gibson "ES-175". I also used very light, flat-wound strings.

From: Rod Furlott
Jim Hall Live is one of my very favorite jazz guitar recordings. Are there any plans to release it on CD? Is there anything that your fans can do to expedite the process?

JH: You could write to the provider, John Snyder at:
34 Homer Street
Norwalk, CT 06851

John also has more unreleased stuff from those recordings.

From: Phil Saunders
You are famous for your accompaniment style, especially in your duet albums with Bill Evans and your quartet work with Sonny Rollins. Rather than traditional guitar comping, you used a mix of muted chords, single-line counterpoint, and unusual chords voiced with open strings. Can you talk a little about the development of your style, and the differences in playing with Bill Evans in a duet setting and with the piano-less Rollins Quartets?

JH: In any musical situation the way for me is listening and reacting; staying alert to the overall texture and mood and enhancing it. Rather than a "style," I feel I have an accompanying approach - one of making things better by keeping the texture clean and the motion alive. No matter whom I'm playing with.

From: Greg Goad
What would be your advice to a talented high school senior jazz guitarist who is also a very good student—to pursue a music degree at a very good university and then grad work in, say, jazz studies—or, go straight to a strong jazz guitar program which likely won't have the academic strength to offer? This choice is staring me in the face and I don't know which way will be best in the long run.

JH: This is a most important question and I would also ask others about it. What really helped me immensely was my 5 years at the Cleveland Institute of Music where there was no guitar or jazz curriculum. Studying theory, counterpoint, composition, music history, etc. really turned me into a "musician". I played the guitar anyway. That was my way; maybe it would work for you too. Good luck!

From: Lou Fiorillo
What educational resources (books, videos) would you recommend for advanced jazz guitar studies?

JH: George Van Eps has some great books filled with incredible detailed information. Mick Goodrich has one that I particularly love. Also, I have a book Exploring Jazz Guitar (with a great Gary Larson cover) and a video both of which you can get through Hal Leonard Publications.

From: Lin Sprague
a) I really enjoy your accompaniment behind your wife Jane on the Commitment album. Do you have any advice for playing behind a vocalist in a duo setting like that?

I haven't had much experience in guitar vocalist situations and Jane (my wife) and I are both pleased that you mentioned "When I Fall in Love" from Commitment. However, as in any situation involving two people (musical or otherwise) it probably should involve listening and reacting appropriately - sometimes waiting, sometimes leading the way - and a lot of patient empathy.

b) Are there any plans to re-release the long out-of-print Jim Hall Live album (formerly on the Horizon label)? I consider it one of the best jazz albums ever, and my vinyl copy is wearing out!

JH: I'm glad you like the record (I do too!) and I refer you to question #8.

From: Tom Storer
I saw your quartet with Joe Lovano in concert and loved it. Any plans for a CD with that particular group?

JH: The group with Joe Lovano is called Grand Slam and we're planning more work plus a CD for next year.

From: Boerge Soleng
Some of today's most important players like Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Bill Frisell site you as one of their most important influences. Do you hear something of yourself when listening to these players, and do their playing influence you in any way?

JH: I see music in general as a sort of circular family; a situation where we all continue to grow by listening to one another. It's difficult for me to hear myself in other's playing (maybe because what I've done seems too obvious to me), but I am influenced and inspired by Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Pete Bernstein, saxophonist Greg Osby, and all the other "youngsters."

From: Willie K. Yee, M.D
I saw that you played (rather awesomely, I have heard) at Tal Farlow's memorial. Could you say a few words about Tal's musical conception?

JH: Tal Farlow, besides being a spectacular person, had an amazing advanced sense of harmony, which to me, was equal to his technical facility. Envious guitarists often said things like "of course Tal plays great chords, he has huge hands". To me this is nonsense; I know a number of big-handed people who can't play one interesting chord. Tal's music came from his essence, which was unique and marvelous. There's really no other way to describe it.

By Arrangement From: Franck Wilmart (France)
Dear Mr. Hall, you had recently recorded a new album (and played 2 concerts) with Pat Metheny. Could you describe for us this coming record? Thanks for all the great music you give to us.

JH: The duet record with Pat Metheny is still being put together, but I know it'll have quite a bit of variety on it. Some of Pat's tunes, some of mine. A piece by Atilla Zoller, and some "free" pieces, recorded both in studio and in concert. It also has Pat playing beautifully on every kind of guitar imaginable. I think you'll like it.

Glenn Astarita
Would be interested to see your comments on the state of jazz today.

JH: Jazz music seems to be in great shape (even though "jazz" is a term I'm not particularly conformable with). Jazz is an art form which is alive and growing, changing and which will always attract bright musical people—musicians and audiences, young and old. Most of the best of what we hear now (with the exception of classical music) has more to do with sociology than with music - it's incredibly primitive musically—and as intelligent humans, we need more than that.

From: Reese Erlich
Your version of Concierto de Aranguez is one of my favorites. The composer of that wonderful piece reportedly didn't like Miles Davis' version that appeared in Sketches of Spain. Have you ever heard anything from him about your version?

JH: Joaquin Rodrigo is a man I admire immensely. Both for his melodic sense and for his orchestration; guitar and orchestra require careful balancing and pieces. He is brilliant. I've never heard a word from him concerning my rather frivolous flirtations with his music - one initiated by Don Sebesky, the other by Dave Matthews - and can only hope that he is blessed with patience and a sense of humor to match his musicianship!

From: Drew A.G. Engman
Hi Jim, Any tips for us who have limited practice time? I used to be able to practice 2-4 hours a day. For the last 10 years, now that I'm no longer playing for a living, workin' the day job, keeping the family happy, etc, I only get 2 or 3 nights a week to jam for an hour or so. I just turned 40 and my chops are having a mid-life crisis!

JH: Limited-time practice can be very fruitful just because you're forced to concentrate and get to the essence of what you want or need (my time for answering these questions is limited so I'm trying to be concise and accurate and meet my deadline). Maybe this period can become one of tremendous insight and growth for you.

From: Drew A.G. Engman
Hi again Jim, Do you have any guitar books out? Are there any instruction method books or theory books relating to guitar technique that you would recommend?

JH: Please refer to the George Van Eps question (#11) and may I also suggest that any good music theory, harmony or counterpoint book can help one's guitar playing just because it helps one to grow as a musician.

From: Erik Swanson
Jim, I'm a young guitarist and your early playing with Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Paul Desmond, and Jimmy Guiffre changed my thinking that the guitar was inferior to the piano in this music (especially for comping). My question is - what would you say is the one most important quality for any jazz instrumentalist to have or to develop or concentrate on?

JH: In general, I would say that being open and allowing one's self to grow musically are essential. In a playing situation—no matter what it is—listening and reacting appropriately make all the difference (it may also help you keep your job!) I consider these qualities to be more important than technical virtuosity, both for myself and those I choose to perform with.

From: Jim Santella
You, Ron Carter, and Lee Konitz composed the score for the 1971 film Desperate Characters. Was it easy to make all the pieces fit together, or did you find that kind of work a challenge?

JH: As I remember, our "film scoring" was fairly easy to do. We just played some stuff which vaguely matched the various scenes. It wasn't serious underscoring which involves precise timing, split-second sound effects, etc., and can be at times extremely difficult and frustrating, especially since your musical decisions are often overruled by people who produce the film (and who may have questionable musical taste).

From: Jason Bucklin

Many years ago a friend gave me a cassette copy of It's Nice To Be With You. Although I've loved all of your recordings, this one stands out as one of my all time favorite jazz recordings. Every tune seems to transport me to someplace really nice—especially "Body and Soul." Sadly I've lost the cassette and can't find a copy of it anywhere. Is it out of print? Also I've always wondered what was going on in your life during that time that you recorded that album. I can almost tell by what the music is communicating. Throughout my career as a jazz guitarist I've had a few people tell me I remind them of Jim Hall. I consider that the highest compliment.

JH: It's Nice To Be With You is available on CD now, although I don't know where. My daughter, Devra, is on the cover with me. She, my wife Jane, and Devra's friend Daisy were all with me on this performing trips through Europe. In each city I'd meet a new rhythm section, rehearse and do a concert. In Berlin it was my good fortune to team-up with Daniel Humair, whom I knew slightly and Jimmy Woode, whom I'd known since the Duke Ellington days, even though we never toured together. What fun! We're glad you enjoyed the result

From: Michael Ricci

Tell us a little about your latest Telarc release, By Arrangement.

By Arrangement JH: The new CD, By Arrangement, is, in a sense, a continuation of the Textures album with this difference: Textures is all original, new music, while By Arrangement is—as you might expect—a collection of my treatments of jazz tunes.

Waltz for Debby and The Wind include the New York Voices (a fresh direction for me) and I've also included two new pieces of my own (October Song and Art Song).

I wanted to do a tribute to composers I know (or knew) and it was great fun working on Django by John Lewis, Whisper Not by Benny Golson, and The Wind by Russ Freeman. Paul Desmond, Thelonius Monk, Bill Evans and Gordon Jenkins are also represented. These composers are all great melodists and it was a challenge to present their music in an original way.

As with the Textures CD, I also invited some incredible soloists—Pat Metheny, Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell, Greg Osby, Marcus Rojaz, and Jim Pugh—plus a great string section (violas and celli)—a marvelous brass group—The New York Voices, and my steady cohorts, Terry Clark and Scott Colley.

Variety is important to me as I get bored easily and I find different textures interesting—for instance, Joe Lovano plays both clarinet and soprano sax on Goodbye. Adding the shout to Whisper Not was also fun.

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