Born December 4, 1930; Died December 10, 2013
Jim Hall, was has died at the age of 83, was one of the greatest guitarists in jazz, a peer and collaborator alongside Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Rollins and Bill Evans and a major influence on the generation of guitarists who came up after him, including Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Bill Frisell and John Abercrombie. To everything he played, he brought an elegant sense of structure that would belie the on-the-spot nature of jazz improvisation whether he was the soloist or the accompanist.
He was born into a musical family in Buffalo, New York. His mother played piano, his grandfather violin, and he had an uncle whose guitar playing fascinated him. At the age of nine he pestered his mother, who was bringing up the family alone in straitened circumstances, for a guitar. She relented on condition that the youngster learned to play and with a payment plan that included lessons, the guitar became his obsession. He practised at every opportunity and by the age of 13, having been lured into playing jazz by Charlie Christian's recordings of Air Mail Special and I've Found a New Baby with Benny Goodman, he was playing gigs locally.
After graduating from Cleveland Institute and adding Django Reinhardt to his list of guitar models, Hall moved to Los Angeles where he studied classical guitar and arranging. He was thus ideally placed to contribute to the cool jazz style that developed on the west coast in the 1950s, first joining drummer Chico Hamilton's popular quintet and then forging a new folk influenced sound with clarinettist-saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre's trio. It was his inspired and inspiring chordal patterns with these two groups - they had appeared prominently in the films The Sweet Smell of Success and Jazz on a Summer's Day - that brought him to the attention of Ella Fitzgerald, who invited Hall to tour with her during 1960-61, and saxophonist Sonny Rollins.
Rollins, who followed the dictum that jazz instrumentalists should know the words of songs even though they weren't singing them, was coming out of a self-imposed retirement and had heard Hall playing with both Fitzgerald and in duets with saxophonist Lee Konitz. So for his comeback album, The Bridge, Hall was his choice of melodic-harmonic foil in a dynamic quartet. Hall also played a similar role in groups with trumpeter Art Farmer and saxophonist Paul Desmond and made some of his career-defining music with pianist Bill Evans before taking on a job in the house band of The Merv Griffin Show on television for several years.
During the 1970s Hall recorded in duets with bassist Ron Carter and Red Mitchell and made a popular recording of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez alongside songs by Duke Ellington and Cole Porter. As a new generation of guitarists arrived on the scene, citing Hall's clear, clean but always emotional picking as an influence, he became increasingly feted and was invited to teach at the New School in New York as well as record with the players who regarded him as their master.
Pat Metheny, Mike Stern, Bill Frisell, John Scofield and John Abercrombie were among those musicians who appeared on albums such as the aptly named Dialogues and as well as featuring his arranging talents for unusual combinations of horns and strings on other albums including By Arrangement, Hall relished being pitched alongside young talents. Among his gigs this year was a New Jazz Festival appearance with guitarist Julian Lage. Hall never let the attention he attracted go to his head - I once had the privilege of interviewing him and he was charmingly modest about his achievements.
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