Jim Hall (1930 – 2013): A Tribute by Mike Walker

Mike Walker Writes:

I loved Jim Hall.
He didn’t play music, it played him.
It was so unflinchingly honest without
Any self-reflecting eye.

His music cut new paths for me.
I was too ‘notey’. Still am, on occasion.
At that time, at 17, space happened at the end of a solo.
Then I heard ‘Jazz Guitar‘, (Pacific 1957/8) and
it flicked me into the dance of music. I got it.
Supple and strong, avoiding the usual 8th/16th note
Breathless chains of Be-Bop, it seemed to get to the point
Of that style without clichéd line, digging into quirky rhythms
And swingy phrasing.

So I played along with Jim.
I was surprised, educated and in a way, humbled.
I don’t say that lightly.
Tangerine‘, ‘Stella‘, ‘Stompin’ At The Savoy‘, were not difficult to play.
I’d been looking at ‘Catch me Sessions‘ by Joe Pass and listening to
A lot of John McLaughlin so my chops were getting oiled.

The revelations were that I could play these solos, but not with the swing, effortless time and propulsion, and, moreover,  a big one for me, I could play them only after the fact.
In other words, I couldn’t come up with that kind of melodic and rhythmic invention. It’s a point that has lasted well. In improvisation, the execution stands in awe of the creativity.

So, I listened to ‘The Bridge‘ with Rollins, and ‘Interplay‘ ‘Undercurrent‘ and ‘Intermodulation‘ with Bill Evans.  And I found myself camped at the heart of his comping. Plump and agile, nimble and sturdy, always supporting, always teasing, suggesting.

His comping on ‘My Funny Valentine‘ from the album ‘Undercurrent’ (Blue Note 1963) with Bill Evans, is a four-year University course in itself.

The needle on my record player was so sick of me by the time I’d got that one down. Every morning, it dreaded my ham-fisted, desperate ‘rewind lunges’ and that horrendous noise of needled screaming vinyl as I tried to mine the corners of Jim’s mind.  “It’s a diminished…. no….no.. it’s just a Major Triad in 2nd inversion…. no… it’s a… “…  and on and on… into the night.

I listened on through the years, to his eloquent danger,
His deep-seated, yet easy, profundity,
The compositional improvisation, the beautiful narrative.
I could say so much more. But I’m still learning to let the leaves fall.

Jim would have said it in a sentence. Maybe I can try that.
I love Jim Hall.

Categories: miscellaneous

5 replies »

  1. Mike! Really, really nice post about Jim Hall. The Youtube vid you include with him and Bill Evans is as amazing and astounding now as it must have been then when it was recorded. Wow!

  2. Tangerine! That is some incredibly brave playing, I realise I don't know his playing apart from a handful of records that are so good I almost can't take any more…I always think Swallow sounds a bit like him with an octave divider…

  3. An excellent tribute to Jim Hall. One of my first Jazz LP's was 'First Place Again' with Paul Desmond. I didn't know anything about Jazz harmony then, but would sing the melodies and attempt the improvisations cycling 5 miles to school. I did meet Jim and Bob Brookmeyer at the 1987 Bath Festival with their friends Jeff Clyne, Eddie Harvey, Allan Ganley and Mary Greig, We all went off to an Italian restaurant after the gig. Another anecdote – before the gig at the Wigmore Hall with Scott Colley, Jim questioned an eminent Jazz musician as to why he was asking so many questions about the past? Jim said 'the past is a good place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there'.

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