In the latest of our series in which jazz musicians do a deep (and entirely personal and selective) dive into the music of their idols, Canadian guitarist Mike Rud (*) writes about his one-time teacher and mentor, the great Jim Hall:
When I was in high school, around 1985, I got my first taste of Jim Hall’s music when I took some of his albums out of the Edmonton Public Library. I remember looking at the front cover of his album Circles as I listened to the joyous opening track. He seemed like a positive, thoughtful fellow. Years later, when I got to hear him across many consecutive evenings at New York’s famous Village Vanguard club, the first thing that hit me was that tone of his. It was a rich sound that seemed to describe the wood of the guitar. Throughout those nights at the Vanguard, the character of the man I’d seen on those record covers shone through. Jim’s performances were a masterful balance of, on the one hand, carefully considered musical decisions, and on the other, an unrelenting presence to the ongoing dialogue with his bandmates (on those shows, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Andy Watson). More than any musician I’ve ever seen, he was attuned to the musical moment around him, ready to take off in whatever direction he needed to
1 Jim Hall and Red Mitchell: Beautiful from the album Jim Hall and Red Mitchell Live
I can’t think of another guitarist who shines in the duo format quite like Hall does. His duo albums with Bill Evans, Ron Carter, and this one with bassist Red Mitchell, feature him at his clearest and most poignant. Getting to hear him comp with his volume turned low is a study in textural variety. This tune in particular will put a catch in your throat.
From a technical standpoint, what jumps out to my ear are Jim’s delicately rendered legato passages (that is, where less of the notes are activated by hitting with the pick from the right hand, but rather get their initial momentum from the left hand hammering on or pulling off the notes). Because they lack the percussion of the pick, these legato passages have a warm and silky ‘vocal’ quality to them that takes full advantage of the duo format. Extra high-mid sounds like a cymbal or large piano chords would possibly cover up such a subtle effect, which can shine here in guitar/bass duo.
I had the honour of meeting Jim in 1994, and confessed to him that I’d worn out my cassette copy of this album. Some months later, in the mail, I received a rare Japanese pressing of it from him. A true gentleman.
2 Jimmy Guiffre Trio Live at Newport, Four Brothers with bassist Ralph Pena.
This track is a perfect example of Jim’s composer-ly approach. Even when the tempo got lickety-split, he never took his eyes off the goal of making sense, and he never forgot about the tools at his disposal: texture, motifs, dynamics and time feel. Everything he plays on this blistering track is a choice.
3 October Song from Jim Hall by Arrangement
For the sheer gorgeousness of his string writing, which in this piece is by turns angular and heartbreakingly lyrical. I recall reading that Jim had wanted to put a dark lens over the piece, and so he made a bold textural choice to use only violas and cellos… no violins! His opting away from ‘shimmer’, a quality which so many who write for strings would be loath to sacrifice, is a good example of how Jim was willing to take a chance and think differently. In this case it paid off spectacularly.
4 I’m Getting Sentimental Over You from the video Art Farmer Live 1964
Steve Swallow, bass
Pete LaRoca, drums
The multiple key changes, solo guitar sections, and tempo changes are all so shrewdly selected for maximum story-telling effect. And each of these choices highlights the original song. Unlike some arrangers who kind of ‘do their thing’ no matter what the tune is, Jim honestly listens to the piece, and his arranging choices serve the composition, while still leaving a good bit of room for the characteristics of the musicians.
One more point, which I always want to make: Jim’s tone seems to hover deliciously between being an acoustic sound and being an electric one. At times we pick up a certain silky, glowing sustain that has a lot to do with the resonance of the amp, prefiguring what we would hear in later generations of players. At other times, we feel the “wood” from his guitar, and it’s a gut-bucket, string sound, grounding us in the Charlie Christian roots of the art form.
5 Angel Eyes from Jim Hall Live!
Don Thompson, bass
Terry Clarke, drums
If you had to pick a single album that would be most emblematic of Jim’s guitar concept, this one is probably it. “Live!” is widely and rightly regarded as a high-water mark in Hall’s technical abilities. The attentive and formidable band of bassist Don Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke make for flawless partners. Want to hear motivic development in a guitar solo? Jim’s opening idea keeps coming back, and never quite sounds the same – he even closes the solo with that same melodic idea, which Don then parlays into the beginning of his bass solo. Perfection.
6 Desmond Blue from the Paul Desmond album of that name.
Milt Hinton, bass
Bobby Thomas, drums
Here Jim is paired with that other melodic sense-maker, Paul Desmond. Jim takes just one chorus on this minor blues, but it’s so full of soul and fascinating harmonic choices. It’s a perfect pallet cleanser to ready us for Desmond’s re entry. Right at the end of Jim’s solo, we hear him play a little passing tone idea that in retrospect prefigures Pat Metheny.
7 Stompin’ at the Savoy from the album Jim Hall: Portrait of Jazz Guitar
Carl Perkins, piano
Red Mitchell, bass
Here, from Jim’s first solo album, we hear him lay down some of the most swinging guitar! I chose this one for his articulation, sound, and time feel. A version of this with drums overdubbed was released. But for me, this is one of those great examples of how great musicians make you feel the time, no matter what instruments they’re playing.
8 With a Song in My Heart from These Rooms, the Jim Hall Quartet featuring Tom Harrell
Joey Baron, drums
Steve LaSpina, bass
Tom Harrell, trumpet
This arrangement is unforgettable with it’s bass-less interactive melody, followed by relentless modulations at the beginning of each solo, and it really could not have turned out better. Harrell is a beautiful foil for Jim, whose re-entry at 3:45 is one of those gooseflesh moments, followed by flawless idea development.
9 Whistle Stop from the album Dedications and Inspirations
We hear a brilliant dialogue between Jim’s clear sound and the wah effect, underlined by modulations. Jim’s rhythm accompaniment takes no prisoners. That feel just won’t quit, and the way the pick hits the strings makes his comping sound like a lovely cross between piano and drums.
10 My Funny Valentine from the album Bill Evans and Jim Hall Undercurrents
This is a cunning re-imagining of a normally slow piece. Bill Evans breaks up the texture under Jim’s entire solo, resisting playing a simple groove. In fact, we don’t hear a straightforward, 4-to-the-bar walking groove until fully three minutes into the 5:24 performance, and that contrast sets up the groove to feel like a special event. We hear in these two gentlemen such restraint and awareness of how to build the full piece, and such an array of ways to play off of one another.
What a treat to revisit some of my favourite moments in all of recorded music. I hope you enjoy these tracks as much as I do.
- Mike Rud is a Juno award-winning jazz guitarist and songwriter. He is also a music instructor at Selkirk College in Nelson, British Columbia.