Remembering Jim Hall
10 December 2013 at 22:14
“Listening is still the key.”
Today I received the very sad news that the great guitarist and composer, Jim Hall passed away.
My experiences with Jim Hall were great ones. He was a thoughtful and kind human being. He had a twinkle in his eye and a great sense of humour. I feel privileged that I got the opportunity to have studied privately with him, on and off, from 1992-1996, and that I kept in touch with him occasionally over the years. I am grateful that I was able to see him play many times, and that I got to see him perform one last time, last year at Birdland in New York, where I was able to introduce him to my daughter, Sofia.
Jim Hall was able to connect musically, to all the musicians he worked with. Whether it was Sonny Rollins, or Bill Evans, or Ron Carter, or Terry Clarke, or any of the other musicians he played with over the years, I was always amazed by his ability to create magic in the music, and create dialogues with his fellow musicians.
He had a wonderful ability to carry the listener along in his improvised solos with ideas that were developed thematically, and balance them with elements of surprise. I enjoyed the sense of adventure in his solos. I had the good fortune of hearing him play a few nights in a row in New York and in Japan, and feel that he was a true improviser. Even if he did repeat a chord sequence or phrase, which didn’t happen often, he had the ability to make it sound like it was the first time he had ever played it.
He treated the guitar as an orchestra and got many different timbres out of the instrument. He could also play very quietly while maintaining a certain amount of intensity in the music.
Jim Hall was a fantastic and under-rated composer. His composing on his recordings Textures, and By Arrangement, are unique marriages between improvisation and chamber music.
The music on those CDs combines tradition with innovation. It has composed ideas, mixed with improvised ideas,and to my ear, it has none of the muzak-type attempts jazz musicians sometimes make with classical strings.
About six years ago Jim Hall sent me the score and recording to an unreleased piece for guitar and orchestra called 'Peace Movement.' I hope it gets released one day because it’s brilliant!
Meeting Jim Hall
I first saw Jim Hall perform live in a duo setting with bassist Don Thompson at the now defunct, Guitar Bar, in Toronto, in 1992. The duo was to perform for two nights at the Guitar Bar. At the end of the first night I wanted to ask Jim for lessons and nervously walked over to him - my heart was racing very rapidly. I remember there were quite a few people wanting to talk to him and I waited for my turn to say a few words. When the opportunity did arise, I introduced myself saying that I had really enjoyed his playing and that I loved his recordings. I told him I was going to go to New York to take lessons that fall and that I was going to apply for a grant to help pay for this endeavour. I asked him if he would teach me some lessons. I was very happy to hear him reply that he would. He wrote down a phone number that I could call when I arrived in New York. I then asked him (in retrospect this seems very bold of me, having just met the man, and of how nervous I was meeting him – blame it on my youth) if he would not mind giving me a short letter saying that he agreed to teach me, so I could send it in with my grant application. He told me to come back the next night and he would have it for me. I assumed I had taken up enough of his time and this was his gentle way of letting me know.
I was wrong.
When I arrived the next night, and bumped into Jim Hall in the stairwell of the club, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he remembered my name, and that during the day, in his hotel room, he had written the letter I had asked for. He said, “Hi David, are you coming in? I’ve got that letter for you.” My first learning experience from Jim Hall was not a musical lesson, but a life lesson,and was demonstrated by his simple act of human kindness.
I remember playing with him during lessons and thinking, ‘that’s what real swing feels like!’
I am grateful that we had a moment of interplay during one of our duets together. It was an eye-opening and ear-opening experience and forever changed how I approached playing music after that.
Acts of Human Kindness
Years later he helped get me a gig in a club in Rome. I was living in Italy and he knew a club owner there. When I did the gig, the club owner told me that he didn’t have very good accommodations while he was visiting New York, and mentioned this fact to Jim Hall. Jim said he was going out of town for a while and apparently gave the Roman club owner the keys to his apartment and said he could stay at his place while he was gone. The club owner told me he was speechless because he had only met Jim a couple of times and hardly knew him.
He was very kind to me over the years and took care to remember details about people in my life whenever I spoke to him. I know he kept a notebook and pencil near him. If I told him my daughter’s name during one conversation, he would always ask how Sofia was doing after that.
I’ve heard of many other acts of human kindness by Jim Hall. I’ve heard from colleagues about them asking him about certain tunes that Jim Hall wrote, and Jim writing the lead sheets for them on his set break. He took great care in being a kind person.
It’s a sad day for music. We’ve lost a great artist and a kind-hearted human being. We can be thankful that Jim Hall left us a wonderful body of work that we can continue to enjoy and listen to for years to come, and that will certainly last for generations.
Rest in Peace…