Friday, December 13, 2013

Jim Hall: 1930 - 2013

Jim Hall at Herbst Theatre on October 23, 2011
We at SFJAZZ celebrate the life and legacy of jazz guitar great Jim Hall, who passed away on Tuesday, December 10.
Easily one of the most influential musicians and composers in jazz history, Hall was a leading figure in hard bop and was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2004. He has been cited as a mentor by legions of guitarists, including each of jazz guitar's “big three," John Scofield, Pat Metheny, and SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Director Bill Frisell. A musician heralded for his incisive abilities as an improvisor, Hall developed an elegantly minimalist style which packed a maximum amount of passion and expression into each note. He was a stylistic chameleon, embracing a wide array of musical settings and fitting seamlessly with artists ranging from violinist Itzhak Perlman to iconoclastic saxophonist Ornette Coleman. Metheny described Hall this way:

“Jim is father of modern jazz guitar to me, he’s the guy who invented a conception that has allowed guitar to function in a lot of musical situations that just weren't thought of as a possibility prior to his emergence as a player. He reinvented what the guitar could be as a jazz instrument... Jim transcends the instrument... the meaning behind the notes is what speaks to people.”

Born in Buffalo, New York, he began his professional career in Los Angeles and became a part of the West Coast “Cool Jazz” scene as an original member of Chico Hamilton’s lauded quintet and the Jimmy Giuffre Three.

By the time Hall relocated to New York in the early 1960s, he had established himself as a notable sideman, recording and performing with an impressive list of icons including Art Farmer, Ben Webster, Bill Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Paul Desmond, and Sonny Rollins. The highlight of Hall's partnership with Rollins is the landmark album documenting the tenor giant’s return from self-imposed retirement, 1962’s The Bridge. Hall made a pair of sublime duet LPs with piano genius Bill Evans, 1963's Undercurrent and 1966's Intermodulation, that became standard bearers for the jazz duo tradition and led to a number of intimate duo encounters over the years with artists including bassist Ron Carter, guitarist Pat Metheny, and pianist Geoffrey Keezer, among others.
As the 1970s progressed, Hall was increasingly active as a bandleader and reached a creative zenith in the 80s and 90s, recording the lion's share of his sessions after the age of 55. One of his last was a superb 2008 release under the Artist Share imprint with disciple and friend Bill Frisell, entitled Hemispheres. The 2-disc CD presents the pair in both duet and quartet settings with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Joey Baron, and is as fitting a final statement as could be made by Hall, sharing the limelight with an accomplished artist who, more than any other living guitarist, carries on in his spirit.
Jim Hall & Bill Frisell
Jim Hall performed for SFJAZZ on a number of occasions. His last was as part of the 29th Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival at Herbst Theatre on October 23, 2011. He was joined by a quartet including alto saxophonist Greg Osby, bassist Steve LaSpina and drummer Terry Clarke.

-Rusty Aceves

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