SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE GREAT JIM HALL

 

A light snow falls today on the wonder that is New York City. As I walk the streets and ride the subway, I glance at the faces around me. Young jazz student firebrands blow be-bop in the West 4th St. station. A young woman wearing earbuds mouths the words to a song and does some dance steps down Sixth Avenue. It is another day, a new day. But as I ponder the news received this morning that Jim Hall, one of the greatest musicians of all time and a monumental influence on me and many of my elders and colleagues, has passed away, it not just the blessed arrival of a new day and all its possibilities that assails me. It is the sad fact that one of the great ones has moved on, and that feeling always affects everything as I/we move forward….

A lot is going to be said about Jim Hall now, and if you think all the purple prose and accolades might be exaggeration, you would be quite wrong. Jim was more than one of the true masters of jazz guitar. In his subtle way, he was one of the greatest improvisers in the history of the art of jazz and beyond - on any instrument. What may not be mentioned in the wake of this sad news is that Jim was also a marvelous composer/arranger. And he was a warm and humble gentleman of the highest order.

I must admit that I am still kind of in shock having heard the news of Jim's passing. It was only maybe two years ago that I met Jim's good friend and sometime manager Brian Camelio, a guitarist and force behind Artists Share Records, when I was blabbing on camera for a documentary about the great Bill Frisell. Brian had seen an article I wrote for Jazz Times for a feature in which various musicians were asked to pick ten tracks by a favorite musician (read it here), and I had chosen to write about Jim. I eventually got some hard copies of the magazine to Brian and he gave one to Jim. Also around this time, my old guitarist friend Joel Harrison put together a tribute concert to Jim, at which I played (with bassist Trevor Dunn), along with many amazing guitarists as well as some of Jim's best musician friends such as Scott Colley, Chris Potter, and Adam Rogers. Jim got wind of this and, later that year, I received two 'thank you' cards from him: one for writing the article on him in Jazz Times (in which he wrote, "I learned something about myself!"), and another for playing at the tribute concert; it turned out that he had acquired the names and addresses of everyone who played at the concert and had written 'thank you' cards to everyone! It was shortly after this that I met the gentleman himself. Brian Camelio learned that I live a block from where Jim lived for years in the West Village, and because of my article (and the fact that I play guitar, I suppose) deigned to invite me to attend the so-called "crony lunches" held just down my street at a corner restaurant! Thus, I finally met and briefly hung out with Jim and some of his musician friends, and thus I became aware of Jim's graciousness, of his humility, of his pervasive (and sometimes very corny) sense of humor.

Last night I finished the last recording on a rather ambitious and long-dreamt-of project called Lovers -- a collection of mostly cover songs and some originals, almost all ballads, arranged and conducted by Michael Leonhart. A week earlier I recorded and mixed another pet project, a duo record with the amazing guitarist Julian Lage. Neither of these projects could exist without the influence of Jim Hall. In the case of Lovers, the jazz pieces reflect a direct influence aesthetically (although I possess barely even a shred of Jim's abilities on guitar, mind you). And it was through Jim, at one of the aforementioned "crony lunches", that I met Julian Lage, whose name was ever so frequently on Jim's lips. The duo with Julian is one of the most rewarding and challenging/inspiring of my already pretty well-rewarded musical life. And it was only six days ago that those of us who were not out of town were lucky enough to lunch with Jim on the occasion of his 83rd birthday. I, as the "newbie" and errant "not-really-jazz" guy, felt so welcomed by Jim and his amazing friends. We had a great afternoon, and some of us walked Jim (ever so slowly, for Jim had really slowed down since his hospitalization a few years ago) back to his building. He was in great spirits, making jokes and delighting in the birthday cards (almost all with some cute canine on them, for Jim loved his doggies). Thus, it was quite a shock when I received the text this morning telling me that Jim had passed.

There is so much more this fanboy and acquaintance of Mr. Jim Hall could say. I am a bit lost… But my heartfelt love and condolences go out to Jim's wife Jane and to the rest of his family. Jim Hall's subtle and probing artistry cannot be over-praised. He lives on in our memories and through his marvelous music. He was an artist non pareil, a humble genius and a true gent.

 

Nels Cline

New York City 12/10/13

     


Jim as a young man

 

Jim played some of the most innovative and visionary jazz throughout his career, From the late-50s, he blazed trails and made history with the Chico Hamilton Quintet (Chico, R.I.P.), the Jimmy Giuffre Three, Paul Desmond, Sonny Rollins, and in duet with Bill Evans, among many others.

     

Nels Cline and producer Brian Camelio discuss the Jim Hall Live! project on ArtistShare (2012)