Guitarist Jim Hall died 10 December aged 83 at his Manhattan home after a short illness. Hall was a major influence on the likes of Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell, and was one of the most acclaimed jazz guitarists of all time.
Hall started playing guitar at age 10. In the 1950s, he played around the West Coast with Chico Hamilton and Jimmy Giuffre: on the East Coast, he later worked with Sonny Rollins and Art Farmer. He also played with Bill Evans, Ornette Coleman, Gerry Mulligan, and Ella Fitzgerald. He released his own first album as a bandleader in 1957, simply called Jazz Guitar, and he was active right up until his death. Earlier this year, he released several CDs of live recordings from his combo’s sessions at New York City’s Birdland club. He had been planning a duo tour in Japan in January 2014 with legendary bassist Ron Carter, a longtime musical partner.
“Jim was one of the most important improvising guitarists in jazz history. His musical generosity was an exact reflection of his deep humanity,” said Pat Metheny, who performed and recorded in a duo with Hall. Library of Congress video interview with Jim Hall here.
Hall was renowned for his improvisational skills and his subtle, lyrical melodicism. In a 2003 interview for the National Endowment for the Arts, Hall said: “What seems kind of frivolous and doesn’t really impress me is guys, people, women... who have amazing technique but everything sounds worked out. They go through these chord changes with all these chops.
“Usually I wish I had the kind of technique to do that and then not do it, sort of. I like to make some kind of composition happen while I’m playing. That involves motive development. I also love melodies. So I try to play melodies over tunes — have it go someplace and then come back.”
Hall’s work with saxophonist Sonny Rollins, particularly on 1962 album The Bridge, is regarded as a highpoint of 20th century jazz. “Jim was an essentially beautiful human being,” Rollins said in a statement. “I don’t know anybody who didn’t love him, including myself. He was the consummate musician and it was a privilege to work with him.” His acclaimed albums with pianist Bill Evans included Intermodulation and Undercurrent.
Hall played many makes of guitar over the years, but was noted for his early work on his Gibson ES-175. In Hall’s own words: “I love that guitar, even though sometimes I don’t touch it for months. It’s easy to tune and after having been schlepped around and played for so many years, it’s as if it knows just what to do.”
Hall appeared on over 50 albums in a long and shining career. Farewell, Jim Hall.