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 "Saxophon"  "Schlagzeugler"  "Ed Bickert & Jim Hall"

"Listening is still the key"
- Jim Hall’s improvisation on ‘Body & Soul’

by Werner Fischer


Jim Hall’s musical style has been in a state of continuous development throughout the course of his career – a career that to date has spanned more than five decades. Not only is Jim Hall one of the jazz world’s favorite guitarists, but also in recent years he has earned critical acclaim for his skills as a composer and arranger. The first formal recognition came in 1997 when Jim won the New York Jazz Critics Circle Award for Best Jazz Composer/Arranger. In addition to the recent focus on orchestral and choral composition, Jim remains active as a player, working and recording with a variety of ensembles. In addition to working with his trio, Jim likes to spice up the mix with various guests. From time to time you might hear Joe Lovano, Greg Osby, the New York Voices, Kenny Barron, Pat Metheny, Slide Hampton and others working for a night or two with Jim’s group.

In the liner notes to the album “Take Ten” Paul Desmond half-jokingly depicted himself as having “won several prizes as the world’s slowest alto player, as well as a special award in 1961 for quietness. My compatriot in this venture is Jim Hall...”

Jim has always been known as a rather modest and unassuming man (the English call him the Quiet American), and his musical style is recognizable not by a recurring signature riff or motif, but by his approach, his sound and his feeling. Jim’s approach has been referred to as “compositional”, as he considers the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements of a tune in constructing his arrangements and solos. Clarity is the thing he is after, and to that end he’s a master of avoiding clichés. His approach to the interaction between players is also a much-discussed subject. The musicians who work with him talk of responsiveness, empathy, and communication. “His concept of time is a model to emulate,” says drummer Joey Baron. “Jim plays but a few notes, leaving space for conversations with me.” According to Jim, “listening is still the key.”

Musicians as discriminating in taste and as different from one another in orientation as Hampton Hawes, Gunther Schuller, Ornette Coleman and Itzhak Perlman, have all applauded Jim’s innovative approach and contributions to the world of jazz. Yet Jim is constantly refining and redefining his craft. Perhaps that is why he continues to be a major inspiration to today’s contemporary artists such as Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny, Chris Potter and Greg Osby.


Jim Hall was born on December 4, 1930 in Buffalo and raised in New York and Ohio. Spending his early years first in New York, then in Columbia and ultimately in Cleveland, Jim was first introduced to music at home by his mother who played piano, his violin playing grandfather and his uncle who played the guitar. When Jim was 10 years old, his mother gave him a guitar for Christmas and it was then that he began to seriously study the instrument. By the age of 13 Jim had become a professional musician playing locally in Cleveland with a group consisting of an accordion, clarinet, drums and, of course, guitar. The clarinet player turned Jim on to Benny Goodman’s recording of Solo Flight which featured the guitar playing of Charlie Christian.
It was later that Jim was introduced to the playing of Django Reinhardt. Jim continued to play in small combos throughout high school, and after graduation entered the Cleveland Institute of Music where he majored in music theory. Shortly thereafter, Jim left Ohio for Los Angeles. It was there, in 1955, as a member of the original Chico Hamilton Quintet with Buddy Collette on reeds, Freddie Katz on cello and Carson Smith on bass, that Jim began to attract national, and then international, attention. By 1960 Jim had arrived in New York to work with Sonny Rollins and Art Farmer, among others.
Critics and writers have noted correctly that Jim Hall draws his inspiration from many sources, and indeed a lifetime of experiences. One such experience took place in the late 1950s while Jim was on tour in South America with Ella Fitzgerald. Engrossed with the “local” music, Jim stayed on when the tour ended, spending six weeks in Rio de Janeiro just as the Bossa Nova was coming into being. This exposure was to prove invaluable and become a part of Jim’s musical versatility as evidenced later in his recordings with Sonny Rollins “What’s New” in 1962 and Paul Desmond “Take Ten” and “Bossa Antigua”, both recorded in1963.
Jim has continued to experiment with unusual combinations of both instruments and musicians. In the early 1970s, Jim and Bob Brookmeyer reunited briefly performing in clubs as a duo. In 1984 Jim performed a symphonic piece, composed by Brookmeyer, featuring guitar with the Stockholm Radio Symphony. Also of interest were the two jazz-oriented albums featuring classical violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman and concert pianist/conductor Andre Previn, with Jim on guitar, Red Mitchell on bass, and Shelly Manne on drums. Power of Three (the title referring to a trio of young pianist Michel Petrucciani, saxophonist Wayne Shorter and Jim), was recorded live a the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1987 and provided yet another instrumental mix with a more contemporary flair.


The Transcription: A Brief Musical Analysis
I have been working on Body And Soul from the rather obscure LP "It's Nice To Be With You" (MPS LP BAP 5041) for quite a while. This trio outing was recorded in Berlin in 1969 with the legendary expatriate Jimmy Woode on bass and Swiss drummer Daniel Humair, who later achieved wider recognition as a member of Phil Wood’s European Rhythm Machine. This performance has been intriguing me for two semesters now and although it can hardly be considered a ‘perfect’ take i regard it as a most interesting and noteworthy performance. In my opinion Jim’s playing shows some sides which he normally does not depict to this extent. His playing reaches a level of intensity and abandon which is unforgettable, especially in bars 39 - 63 of the second chorus (i hear where Pat Metheny is coming from!). One reason for this might be the rather lose (European?) concept of time that drummer Humair is keeping throughout the piece.
Jim has been playing this old standard (which was made famous to the jazz world by the great tenor player Coleman Hawkins in 1939) throughout his life and also has recorded it at least a couple more times: in 1961 with Paul Desmond and in 1979 with Bob Brookmeyer.
The 1969 version consists of three choruses. Jim does not explicitely state the melody until the first A section of the last chorus (bars 97) but even then there is much embellishment & motivic development & even counterpoint (bars 113 - 120) which ultimately leads him away again from a plain statement of the melody in the Bridge.
But let’s start at the beginning: Jim became aware of the possible variations in instrumental combinations early on. In 1957 saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre invited Jim to become a member of his trio. Trombonist Bob Brookmeyer soon replaced the bassist in the trio. “Giuffre’s idea – at least after Brookmeyer joined us – was to have three linear instruments improvise collectively” recalls Jim. “He believed it didn’t make any difference whether or not the group had bass or drums. He said the instruments should be able to keep time themselves. It was damn hard, yet it was one of the most enlarging experiences I’ve had.”  Just to what extent Jim is capable in taking this concept can be appreciated by his solo introduction to Body And Soul (bars 1 - 16, oddly though, the bass player enters the B section of the tune with a time of his own to which Jim immediately responds) and also in the last A section (from bar 145).
Producer Herb Wong has drawn attention to Jim’s “horn inspired solos”. it is interesting to note that Jim looks upon his experience with Sonny Rollins back in 1961 as a turning point in his career. Of that year Jim recalls “He (Sonny Rollins) had a way of taking a tune apart and putting it back together again right in front of your eyes… his loose adventuresome way of playing influenced my playing.”  Check out the bars after 129, which almost bring the tune to an entire stop before picking it up again with a fluent line in bar 144.


Jim’s approach has been earlier referred to as “compositional”, considering the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements of a tune in constructing a solo. Jim is a very melodic player and makes extensive use of motivic development in this performance. i would go as far and argue that it is the single most important device in structuring this improvisation.
Unlike to many of his improvisations Jim does not start out with recapturing parts of the actual melody of the tune. Since he only states the melody at the end of the improvisation this normally favored option does not stand open to him! Yet he often uses motives of his own invention, may they be intervallic or rhythmical. Have a look at the triplets in bars 9 -12, in bars 129 -132, or in bars 146 - 150; or the dotted eights followed by a sixteenth and their rhythmical inversion in the first 8 bars.


When referring to Jim’s sound, reviewers consistently use words such as “warm”, “mellow”, “gentle”, “subtle”, “rich tone”, and “lightly amplified”. Then there is the marriage between feeling and sound. Few instrumentalists of any kind in any genre – jazz, rock or classical – play with such warmth and expressiveness as Jim Hall does. What I particularly like about Jim’s sound on this recording is the very subtle & round reverb. It sonically works as a very helpful binding agent to the sparse treatment that this trio gives to Body and Soul.