James Stanley Hall was born in New York in 1930 and first picked up the guitar aged 10. He began performing professionally in his teens and studied music theory and piano at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Initially influenced by Benny Goodman’s guitarist, Charlie Christian, young Hall was also interested in assimilating the legato sound of saxophonists such as Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, along with studying classical guitar with Vincente Gomez. His unique approach, with exquisite taste, touch and sophistication soon brought him to the attention of the jazz community and his career began to gather momentum.
Hall’s first break was landing the gig with drummer Chico Hamilton. This led to the release of his debut solo album in 1957, entitled simply Jazz Guitar. Touring and recording dates followed with Ella Fitzgerald, Ben Webster, Bill Evans, Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Desmond, Sonny Rollins and a host of others. Jim balanced this with his solo work, band leading and a stint in the house band on the television program, The Merv Griffin Show.
Hall’s career went from strength to strength but he achieved even greater status later in his life due to his collaborations with a younger generation of players, all of whom expressed their gratitude and admiration for Hall’s ground-breaking guitar style. These included Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie, Mike Stern, Bill Frisell and John Scofield, literally a Who’s Who of contemporary jazz guitar. Hall’s cross-generational influence can be felt to the present with new kids on the block such as Julian Lage, Lage Lund and Kurt Rosenwinkel openly singing his praises.
Jim’s playing had intelligence, beauty and grace. It has been said by some that his playing was a testament to what you could achieve without advanced technique if your ideas were strong enough and your conceptual approaches outweighed this perceived deficit. The truth is, however, that Hall had fantastic technique, with a wonderfully fluid delivery and articulation. Yes, there were spaces in his playing, but these rests were there purely to serve the music, punctuating his ideas and his playing sounded all the better for it.
Developing motifis was a huge part of Jim’s playing and is evident in our examples. Once you’ve learnt them as written, you could take any three- of four-note idea, and then manipulate it to fit against all of the harmonic changes. You can make a huge musical impact just by changing a note or two, so let curiosity raise the questions and allow your practice to provide you with the answers.
Pat metheny, john abercrombie, bill Frisell, mike stern and john scoField have all exPressed admiration For hall
Jim Hall: one of jazz’s most tasteful players
Blessed with intelligence, beauty and grace, Jim Hall’s influence has crossed generations, John
Wheatcroft looks at a truly unique musician.