Farewell to the great Jim Hall

Richard S. Ginell - From Out of the The WestBy Richard S. Ginell: From Out of the West

Yet another jazz giant is gone;  this time, it’s the guitarist Jim Hall, who passed away in his sleep at 83 Tuesday. I loved to hear Hall play; his sound was soft, luminous, recessed, harmonically inventive, as rounded as a polished pebble, and in his subtle way, he could groove as hard as any guitarist alive or dead. The quartet recordings he made with the great alto saxophonist and wit Paul Desmond and MJQ drummer Connie Kay practically established their own lyrical, intuitive, erudite, yet swinging genre of chamber jazz – and he could interface just as felicitously with the very different saxophonist Sonny  Rollins around the same time (early 1960s).  He never stopped developing or learning from those whom he inspired in the first place, employing effects devices and playing with atonality in his old age.

Jim Hall (Concord Record Group)
Jim Hall (Concord Records)

The most memorable gig I heard of his was at New York City’s Village Vanguard in 1989 in front of the most attentive club audience I’ve ever seen. That audience was quietly focused upon every carefully placed note; so, it seemed, were the ghosts of past players peering out from the pictures on the walls.

And Hall was a composer, too; Bartók was his god when he was in music school, and he adored Mozart and Stravinsky. Listen to his 1996 Telarc album Textures, which was devoted entirely to his Third Stream compositions in all their bewildering, sometimes whimsical variety of means and idioms. There is dissonant writing for strings and a brass septet, there are Middle Eastern-flavored passages, austere lyricism, delicate steel-drum tattoos over a soft-focused Bahamian groove, a droll oom-pah band, each piece exhibiting a different facet. That side of Hall was not often displayed during his lifetime; indeed, even Hall’s most devoted fans were caught by surprise when this CD came out.

So Jim Hall now joins his former employer on the West Coast, the uniquely swinging drummer Chico Hamilton, 92, who passed away a couple of weeks or so ago not that long after putting out four albums at the age of 85. The ranks of the giants are thinning again this fall – and for some of us, jazz is becoming an increasingly lonely place.


Comments are closed.