Jim Hall is the latter-day patron saint of jazz guitar. He plays with a jeweller’s touch, a purity of tone, and says more with fewer notes than anyone else in jazz. He has influenced several generations of guitar players, including Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny.
Hall was born in Buffalo, New York, and as a child heard electric-guitar pioneer Charlie Christian play on a Benny Goodman recording. He was hooked, and from that point forward he sought out the music. With the exception of a period in California in the 1950s, he has been a mainstay of the New York City jazz scene. He and his wife, Jane, and their dog, Django, live near the Village.
Hall is a versatile player who has recorded almost forty CDs under his own name. As a studio musician in the 1960s, Hall held down the much sought-after guitar chair in the house band on The Merv Griffin Show. He has recorded with Stan Getz, Pat Metheny, Jimmy Giuffre, Chico Hamilton, and Bob Brookmeyer. It is Jim Hall’s guitar you hear playing along with Ella Fitzgerald on her charming live rendition of “Mack the Knife.” Hall played on the pivotal Sonny Rollins album The Bridge and played with Paul Desmond on several of his albums. He made two award-winning duet albums with pianist Bill Evans.
One of Hall’s most acclaimed albums is the classic Concierto [Columbia/Legacy #65132] from 1975. It features an all-star band with Chet Baker on trumpet, Paul Desmond on alto sax, Roland Hanna on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Steve Gadd on drums. The arrangement is by Don Sebesky. Concierto was first released on producer Creed Taylor’s imprint label, CTI. Since its initial release, it has come out in various forms, with several alternate takes included as a bonus. CTI declared bankruptcy in the early 1980s, and today the master tapes are owned by Sony BMG Music Entertainment.
Ellington and Strayhorn’s “Rock Skippin’,” Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” and wife Jane Hall’s “The Answer Is Yes” are strong, firm contributions to the album. Hall’s dry, less-is-more approach to playing the guitar understates the imagination and intelligence found in his playing.
Concierto’s focal point though is Spanish composer Juan Rodrigo’s 1939 Concierto de Arjanuez. Hall initially didn’t want to record it, as Miles Davis’s 1960 orchestral version was considered the definitive version. He was won over by Don Sebesky’s imaginative, nineteen-minute arrangement that recasts the song for a small group.
It helps that Hall had two important, brilliant stylists playing on the album, Desmond and Baker, two players sonically sympathetic to Hall’s sound. Their solos are melodically mature and precise. No one disappoints, especially not Hall. He knows how to turn ideas, ability, and know-how into compelling music.