The Prize Winner 1998

(James Stanley) Jim Hall | Photo |

American guitarist, bandleader, composer and arranger. Born Buffalo, New York, USA, December 4, 1930.

   Jim Hall was the seventh American to receive The JAZZPAR Prize (so far the two non-American had been the Englishmen Django Bates in 97 and Tony Coe in 95). On the whole the selection of Hall was in perfect agreement with The Prize Criteria, a major JAZZPAR goal being to pick a well-known fully active jazz musician who deserves further recognition.

   His Music
   Jim Hall has been labeled: the thinking person's guitarist. Hall's hushed dynamics and reserved emotional tone require patience from the listener. His playing gains its definition in part by what it leaves out. Hall stutters and hesitates when he plays. An understated terse style with open space and silence that recalls Miles Davis' ability to do more with less. Hall does not dazzle the listener with science and technique. His rhythmic and harmonic finesse, his choice of textures, and his contrapuntal sense are revealed alongside musicians who share the same qualities.
   Jim Hall draws his inspiration from many sources and a lifetime of experiences. One being his early experience in Rio de Janeiro just as the Bossa Nova emerged. This exposure became a part of Hall's musical versatility as evidenced later in his recordings with Sonny Rollins and Paul Desmond. The experience with Rollins in 61 was a turning point. JH: He 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.
   When performing Jim Hall tends to hear great horn players like Lester Young, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Paul Gonsalves, Don Byas, Rollins and Miles Davis. As a composer Hall is devoted to Brazilian Joao Gilberto. Even though Hall is much more than an impressionistic colorist he is in an abstract way influenced by visual arts ranging from painters Claude Monet, Joan Miro, Henri Matisse to "Far Side" cartoonist Gary Larson, a close friend who has studied guitar under Hall.
   Jim Hall has great respect for other guitarists like Wes Montgomery, Tal Farlow and Jimmy Raney. Listening to them helped Hall find his own path. Today Hall is also aware of the Brazilian pianist, guitarist and composer Egberto Gismonti. Still, jazz horn and piano players as well as classical music have had a greater influence on him than guitarists have and Rollins continues to be a hero of Hall.
  Group playing making composite music is the big thing for Hall. Listening is the key to his creative playing. He avoids off-putting wall-to-wall notes as if someone says: "Don't come in here - men at work!" The use of space and silence allow the listener to come into his music and reflect and think about what the next note is going to be.

   His Career
   When he was 10 his mother gave Jim Hall a guitar, and by the age of 13 he had become professional with a group consisting of accordion, clarinet and drums beside guitar. The clarinet player turned Hall on to Benny Goodman's recording of Solo Flight which featured the guitar playing of Charlie Christian who propelled the electric guitar out of the rhythm section and into a solo instrument. The playing of Django Reinhardt was introduced later by Hall's guitar teacher. Hall majored in music theory at the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1955, studied classical guitar and thought he was going into composing and teach on the side. But in 1955-56, as a member of the Chico Hamilton Quintet, Hall began to attract attention as a performing jazz musician.
   Jim Hall became keenly aware of the possible variations with instrumental combinations in small jazz groups as early as 57 in saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre's trio. Giuffre's idea - at least after Brookmeyer joined us - was to have three linear instruments improvise collectively ... 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, recalls Jim Hall.
   The guitarist worked with Ben Webster, Bill Evans, Paul Desmond, Ella Fitzgerald, Lee Konitz and spent half a year with the Sonny Rollins group, the latter can be heard on two important albums: "The Bridge" and "What's New?" In the 60s Jim Hall co-lead a small group with Art Farmer and recorded with Gerry Mulligan, with Evans and in duo with Ron Carter. In the 70s he was again working with Desmond, in duo with Red Mitchell and in the mid-80s once more with Carter.
   In 1984 Jim Hall performed a symphonic piece composed by Bob Brookmeyer. On two albums classical violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman and concert pianist/conductor Andre Previn were featured with JH (g), Red Mitchell (b) and Shelly Manne (dm). The live-recorded and praised "Power of Three" (referring to pianist Michel Petrucciani, saxophonist Wayne Shorter and JH) provided yet another instrumental mix in 1987.
   Jim Hall's career has been one of ongoing experimentation, particularly with instrumental combinations: Duos with bassists Ron Carter and Red Mitchell, with pianists Bill Evans and George Shearing and with trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. In the 70s and early 80s the trio configuration was prevalent, and by adding a keyboard or a horn player, much of Hall's work in the 90s has been done with his quartet sometimes enlarged with a string or brass ensemble. Perhaps listeners share the most self-revealing experiences in Hall's demanding solo concerts.
   His recordings show great variety in ensemble format as well as in the predominantly original repertoire. Still "Dedications & Inspirations", "Dialogues", "Textures" and "Panorama" (all on Telarc) each have a strong inner logic. Hall manages to put daring projects into a conceptually coherent form. As the titles indicate each CD is formed around a carefully considered idea.
   Jim Hall's discography is long and impressive and he has played numerous clubs, festivals and concert stages throughout the world. Hall's improvisational gifts and his abilities as collaborator and composer make him a widely respected figure within the jazz world. Still he is less well known to the general public than many other jazz guitarists are. A well-known fully active jazz musician who deserves further recognition.
   Jim Hall had turned 67 when he received The JAZZPAR Prize, but he has definitely not been resting on his laurels. Still experimenting, still working on the guitar daily, still adventuresome.

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