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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.

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