When I heard that Jim Hall had died I thought, “Shoot, I was hoping he was gonna live till the ripe old age of…” Of course, I then realized that he had lived that long. In my moment of denial, I ruminated on the fact that I’d seem him play at the Regattabar in Cambridge just…twenty years ago. Nuts.
I got something of a jazz guitar player primer back during the few years that I took guitar lessons. This was back in the late 1980s. My guitar teacher introduced me to pile of great artists: Howard Roberts, Gene Bertoncini, Tal Farlow, Lenny Breau, and Jim Hall. He loaned me a lot of records great records — Howard Roberts Is A Dirty Guitar Player, Artistry of Tal Farlow, Lenny Breau’s The Living Room Tapes, and then a couple of Jim Hall albums: Alone Together (with Ron Carter), and Undercurrent, with Bill Evans.
If you’re a fan of Jim Hall, you’ve no doubt already read tons of copy about him. For fans of guitar in general, it’s tough to pinpoint what made Hall so great. His compositions were uncluttered, leaving a lot of space. He wasn’t type of player to spew out a ton of notes. It was more that the notes came from interesting directions. The roster of greats he played with won’t exactly help you to determine style, as the list is fairly wide-ranging: Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins, Chico Hamilton, Jimmy Giuffre, Red Mitchell, Art Farmer, Paul Desmond, Chet Baker, Tom Harrell, Ron Carter, Pat Metheny. That’s not even close to a complete list.
So many of the people he worked with are gone, but there are a lot of modern players who have presented some very heartfelt tributes, including the great Nels Cline. In his moving reflection, he mentions Hall’s warmth and humbleness. This is true. For as big as his legend grew, the man never became full of himself. That time I saw him play in Cambridge, the intermission was one of the longest I’d ever waited through…because Jim was wading through the audience, just standing around and chatting with his fans.
And his fans were just as loyal. In fact, my guitar teacher spoke of the times he’d purchased tickets to the Merv Griffin Show because Hall was in Griffin’s house band. Now that is dedication.
This morning I’m listening to the first Jim Hall record I ever heard. Hall and Carter made it sound easy. Simple ain’t easy. Thanks, Jim.
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