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Jim Hall: Live, Now and Then

Jim Hall: Live, Now and Then
Bob Kenselaar By

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I’m hoping to keep writing a bit every day and see what happens. I try to sort of push forward all the time. . . that’s really my basis of performing and being alive.
[ This interview was originally published on July 16, 2013. ]

Widely acknowledged as one of the most influential guitarists in modern jazz, Jim Hall has had an extraordinary musical career that spans more than half a century. His style is marked not by soaring speed or virtuoso technique but by his explorative artistry in improvisation, his solos' beautiful melodic and harmonic construction and his warm and rich tone.

His discography includes more than three dozen recordings as a leader and an equal number as a sideman, including historic collaborations with Sonny Rollins, Ron Carter, Bill Evans, Art Farmer and Jimmy Giuffre. With Hall's extensive body of work, it would seem unlikely that one recording would stand out above all others, but one album in particular has long had a legendary status: a recording simply titled Jim Hall Live! (Verve, 1975), recorded in Toronto in the fall of 1974 in a trio setting with bassist Don Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke. Pat Metheny, one among many contemporary guitarists who consider Hall a major influence, has said of Jim Hall Live!, "If I had to pick one Jim record, it would be that one. I would go as far as saying there's a consensus there. That was the ideal band, the ideal tunes, the ideal setting."

With three hours of additional recordings from that same stint in Toronto, Jim Hall Live, Vol. 2-4 (ArtistShare, 2012), released for the first time nearly four decades later, is clearly an important addition to Hall's discography. Remarkably, in tandem with this historic box set, Hall has released a recording that documents his recent work, Jim Hall Live at Birdland (ArtistShare, 2012), in which he's joined by saxophonist Greg Osby, drummer Joey Baron and bassist Steve LaSpina, and which was recorded in 2010.

Hall remembers events that led up to the 1974 club date in Toronto vividly. He had made other trips to Canada before then and had brought along other New York-based musicians who made up his trio. "I knew a terrific guitarist in Toronto named Ed Bickert. One night, I wandered over to this jam session at Ed's house, and Terry Clarke and Don Thompson were both there. I said to myself, 'Why am I bringing musicians up here? These guys are great!'"

Thompson brought some recording equipment along for the trio's two- week gig in October at a club called Bourbon Street. "The club was noisy sometimes," recalls Hall. "I think it became strictly a jazz club little by little, but it was also a restaurant, and a couple times the waiters would come out with a cake right close to the bandstand, singing 'Happy Birthday' to someone. But we just had a lot of fun. It's some of my favorite stuff to listen to now, because it's just so loose. We're all exploring together and not particularly taking it seriously. Don had his tape machine on stage the whole time but didn't fully realize that he was recording or just sort of forgot about it. Things worked out pretty well."

Hall credits Brian Camelio of ArtistShare with taking the initiative to release the recordings. "He put the whole thing together. He's also a terrific guitarist, and he's now traveling with me. I had some back surgery not too long ago, and I'm still kind of wobbling around. Brian is a pretty amazing guy." Hall also credits his daughter, Devra Hall Levy, who's also his manager, with compiling clippings and other materials contained in the detailed booklet that accompanies the CD set.

Jim Hall Quartet—Live at Birdland Hall is also quite satisfied with the Live at Birdland recording. "That was fun, too. And, again, Brian Camelio recorded that—sort of set up some equipment in the band room or something. It was great fun. Joey Baron is amazing. He's the most fun to play with and be around. He's also an amazing card shark."

Hall's initial association with ArtistShare was another live recording, Magic Meeting (2005), featuring him in a trio setting with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Lewis Nash. "I really wanted to record that trio at the Village Vanguard, but I couldn't find a record company that was interested in doing it until I got together with Brian Camelio and ArtistShare. Brian recorded it; he put it out beautifully and made a great record, had the engineer set up in the kitchen at the Village Vanguard, and it turned out really well. I liked that record a lot, except I think I might have used my foot pedals a little too much. Obviously, it's a famous club, and there's something about the acoustics in there that are great. And there have been so many fantastic musicians that I've heard and some that I've played with in there."

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