I really never intended this list to be posted posthumously, but so goes mortality. Jim Hall, my favorite jazz guitarist (there, I said it) made it to a ripe old 83, but we will still feel the loss. When discussing the most influential contemporary guitarists (John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny) the most potent common thread is their unabashed love for Jim Hall. And what’s not to love? I’m only glad that not only I but my daughter got to hear him live on multiple occasions.
My own introduction to his music was very non-linear. I read about him as an up-and-coming player and determined that he must be “introspective” and “sensitive” . . . which by then I’d learned was code for the antithesis of emotionally potent and soulful and grooving. After too long in the dark, I opened up to his music (first through Sonny Rollins’ The Bridge and his work with Bill Evans, another white musician I initially felt obligated to dismiss for similar reasons) and quickly discovered him to be not only a superlative guitarist, but truly one of the most compelling voices in jazz history.
This list neglects classic sides from his own discography as a leader as well as sessions by Chico Hamilton, Bob Brookmeyer, Paul Desmond, Sonny Stitt, Gerry Mulligan, Helen Merrill, John Lewis and many others. These are just some potent highlights from my own relationship with his music.
1 ) “Stompin’ at the Savoy” by Art Farmer (from Live at the Half Note)
I can’t even THINK about this track without grinning. This quartet is one of my favorite small ensembles in jazz, and this track contains one of my favorite guitar solos, period, a clinic in fluency and creative flow.
2 ) “God Bless the Child” by Sonny Rollins (from The Bridge)
Jim Hall’s work with Sonny Rollins was consistently stellar, and his playing on ballads was (argh, I can’t believe I’m using the past tense) lyrical on a level rivaled by few in jazz history. Put it together and we have a classic moment from a classic album.
3 ) “My Funny Valentine” by Bill Evans and Jim Hall (from Undercurrent)
The first of numerous duets on this list, this performance is otherworldly in its potency. It was hard to leave off Jim’s work on Bill’s Interplay record (with Freddie Hubbard, Paul Chambers and “Philly” Joe Jones) but this performance is just too important to me.
4 ) “Concierto de Aranjuez” (from Concierto)
Those whose straight-ahead jazz aesthetics cause them to dismiss the 1970s CTI sound are missing out on this gem. Along with Paul Desmond, Chet Baker, Sir Roland Hanna, Ron Carter and Steve Gadd, Hall offers up my personal favorite (sorry Miles! Sorry Gil! Sorry Chick!) jazz interpretation of the second movement of Rodrigo’s concerto on this 19 minute tour de force.
5 ) “St. Thomas” by Ron Carter and Jim Hall (from Alone Together)
I’m hard pressed to think of any two people more adept at the duo setting in jazz than Jim and Ron, and the two of them together had a truly special synergy. Every track on this album is lovely, so I picked this jaunty version of one of Jim’s signature tunes.
6 ) “Body and Soul” (from Magic Meeting)
From a 2004 live date at the Village Vanguard, this represents both more of Jim’s wonderful ballad work and his warm rapport with the latter-day trio of Lewis Nash and Scott Colley.
7 ) “All the Things You Are” (from Jim Hall’s Three; reissued on Hallmarks)
Featuring drummer Akira Tana and longtime associate Steve LaSpina on bass, this swinging and interactive piece is my favorite from the first Jim Hall album I ever owned (or technically borrowed and never gave back – sorry!).
8 ) “Three Kinds of Blues” by Jimmy Giuffre (from Jimmy Giuffre 3)
One of Jim’s first prominent gigs was in the “chamber” trio of multi-reed player Jimmy Giuffre. Jim manages to be sensitive and soulful, filling out the sound in the drum-less group without ever being overbearing.
9 ) “Masters of War” with Bill Frisell (from Hemispheres)
One more duo here, this with disciple Bill Frisell. This gets extra-points both for its striking modernity and for representing Jim’s unusual frankness (for a jazz musician) about the weighty topic of war and peace.
10 ) “Broadway” by Hampton Hawes (from All Night Session, Vol. 1)
Jim was still in his 20s when called on to join Hampton Hawes (a similarly hard-to-pigeonhole musician) for these classic sessions. This is one of several examples showing that his reputation for lyricism sat aside his capacity to manhandle a brisk tempo.