Born James Stanley Hall on December 4, 1930, in Buffalo, NY; married Jane (a psychotherapist, songwriter, singer), 1965; children: stepdaughter, Debbie. Education: Degree in music theory, Cleveland Institute of Music, 1955. Addresses: Record company--ArtistShare, website: Official website:

A quiet, cool performer known for his inventiveness and lyricism, Jim Hall, who plays both electric and acoustic guitar, is regarded as one of the instrument's greatest stylists. Achieving prominence in the 1950s with the Chico Hamilton Quintet, Hall has endured as a vital force in jazz, not only because he plays with such eloquence, but also because he strives to evolve musically. Through the years, Hall has become increasingly more inquisitive and adventurous, never settling into one particular approach over another. Hall has inspired many of today's contemporary artists, among them guitarists Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny. He continues to collaborate with diverse artists and to explore new terrain in jazz. In the late 1990s, in particular, Hall gained increasing acclaim for his skills as a composer and arranger, in addition to his playing. He received his first formal recognition in 1997 for his own compositions with a New York Jazz Critics Circle Award for Best Jazz Composer/Arranger.

James Stanley Hall was born on December 4, 1930, in Buffalo, New York. About three months after his birth, Hall and his family moved to New York City; then, when Hall was around seven or eight years old, they relocated to Geneva, Ohio, where one of his mother's brothers, Russell, owned a farm. By then, Hall's parents had split up, and Hall and his brother and mother, after living on his uncle's farm for a year in a house with no electricity, moved again--this time to Cleveland, Ohio. Here, the family lived in rooming houses while Hall's mother worked as a secretary at a tool company to support her two sons. Then, around 1940, Hall's mother moved the family into a brand new housing project in Cleveland, where Hall would live until he left home to attend music school.

Hall's earliest musical influences came from another of his mother's brothers, Ed, a self-taught guitarist and singer who played mainly country music. Additionally, Hall's mother played the piano, and his grandfather played the fiddle. When Hall was nine years old, his mother took notice of his interest in music and bought him his first guitar from a music store in downtown Cleveland. While paying the instrument off through weekly installments, Hall took lessons at the store for a year. Luckily, he ended up with a good teacher, Jack DuPerow, who introduced Hall to jazz guitar.

As a 13-year-old junior high school student, Hall began to play professionally with a group led by clarinetist Angelo Vienna, a huge fan of Benny Goodman who introduced Hall to the playing of Charlie Christian. "[Christian] had a combination of musicality and brains that were unreal to me," said Hall to saxophonist and frequent collaborator Greg Osby for a Down Beat interview. Christian's use of space and the element of surprise, as well as the guitarist's ability to play with the meter, greatly inspired Hall's own development.

In the meantime, Hall began studying guitar with Fred Sharp, who introduced the young musician to records by Django Reinhardt. Along with Christian, Reinhardt would also serve as a primary influence. "Django Reinhardt was incredible in different ways, especially when he accompanied, he was just great," Hall further noted to Osby. "He would use tremolos and all kinds of things. Harmonics. He used the whole instrument beautifully."

However, Hall did not limit his listening to guitarists; quite frequently, in fact, he absorbed the music of saxophonists and pianists. "I had Coleman Hawkins' 'The Man I Love' and 'Sweet Lorraine,' with Shelly Manne and Oscar Pettiford, and I had the Art Tatum Trio," he told Whitney Balliett, author of American Musicians II: Seventy-two Portraits in Jazz. "I'd listen to them in the morning after my mother went to work, because she wasn't too much on jazz then, and I'd think about what I'd heard on the mile walk to school."

When Hall reached his high school years, he began to hang out with several older musicians in Cleveland, including tenor saxophonist Tony DiNardo and pianist Billy DiNasco, with whom he formed a group called the Spectacles, named such because all of the members wore glasses. In addition to playing guitar for the band, Hall also started to arrange music for the first time.

Upon graduating from high school, Hall, intending to study classical music to better learn his craft, enrolled at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He earned a degree in music theory in 1955, writing a string quartet for his thesis project. Although he continued to play guitar on weekends, he was not at the time much involved in jazz. Instead, he initiated a master's degree in classical composition. But halfway through his first semester of graduate work, Hall began to worry about his guitar playing, as well as the possibility of spending the rest of his career in an academic environment.

Concurrently, a friend of Hall's, a local alto player named Ray Graziano, decided to drive a Cadillac out to California for someone and invited Hall to join him. Hall had little money, but he knew of a Cleveland trumpet player, Joe Dolny, who lived on the West Coast, and he also had a great aunt living in Hollywood that he could stay with. Thus, with his decision practically made for him to return to guitar playing, Hall quit school to make the trip to Los Angeles. He moved in with his aunt, found a job in a used sheet music store, and for a time took classical guitar lessons from Vicente Gomez.

Not long thereafter, he learned from a friend that Chico Hamilton was looking for a guitarist to form a group. Hall landed the job and became an original member of the Chico Hamilton Quintet--featuring Hamilton on drums, Hall on electric guitar, Buddy Collette on flute, alto and tenor saxophone, and clarinet, Fred Katz on cello, and Carson Smith on bass. Hall, who also wrote a good portion of material for the quintet, played with Hamilton for the remainder of 1955 until 1956, during which time the group landed gigs at the Newport Festival and in New York, working opposite Max Roach's group at the Basin Street club, where Hall first met saxophonist Sonny Rollins.

In 1957, the same year he recorded his first album as a leader--a work entitled Jazz Guitar, recorded for the Pacific Jazz label--Hall left Hamilton's quintet and joined saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre's trio, where he remained through 1959. From Giuffre, who ultimately replaced the trio's bassist with trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, Hall learned much about the possibilities of variation. "Giuffre's idea--at least after Brookmeyer joined us--was to have three linear instruments improvise collectively," recalled Hall, as quoted by both the Europe Jazz Network and Lushlife websites. "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."

Hall's stint with the Jimmy Giuffre Three was interrupted by a tour across South America with singer Ella Fitzgerald, after which he stayed behind in Buenos Aires for six weeks to soak in the emerging bossa nova style. Back in the United States, Hall subsequently worked with the likes of tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, pianist Hampton Hawes, saxophonist Zoot Sims, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, and pianist Bill Evans, with whom he recorded the classic 1962 album Undercurrent. In the early 1960s, Hall moved to New York to work with Sonny Rollins, appearing on the saxophonist's 1962 session The Bridge. Adapting to Rollins's loose, adventurous style, Hall later noted, marked a major turning point in his own technical approach.

After a brief retirement from music in 1965, Hall worked for three-and-a-half years on Merv Griffin's television show, a self-described low point in his career during which time he turned down an offer to record with trumpeter Miles Davis. However, Hall returned to the jazz scene in the 1970s, recording such albums as 1975's Concierto, cut with a stellar group that included bassist Ron Carter, trumpet/flugelhorn player and vocalist Chet Baker, saxophonist Paul Desmond, pianist Roland Hanna, and drummer Steve Gadd.

Hall continued to prosper throughout the following decade. Albums from this period include 1981's Concierto de Aranjuez, recorded alongside the David Matthews orchestra, and 1989's All Across the City, an adventurous quartet date recorded with pianist Gil Goldstein, bassist Steve LaSpina, and drummer Terry Clarke. This same lineup, along with guest guitarists Peter Bernstein, John Scofield, Mick Goodrick, and John Abercrombie, teamed with Hall again for the 1990 Live at Town Hall recordings.

In 1995, Hall displayed his sense of adventure again with Dialogues, featuring such forward-thinking individuals as trumpeter Tom Harrell, Goldstein, tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, and guitarists Bill Frisell and Mike Stern. Textures, a set exploring Hall's fascination with the Third Stream marriage of jazz and classical music, appeared in 1996, while Panorama: Live at the Village Vanguard, released in 1997, found Hall at home in a jazz context. In 1998, Hall returned with By Arrangement, wherein the guitarist reworked standards, and in 1999, he recorded a self-titled duet with guitarist Pat Metheny.

In addition to recording and performing, Hall published several instructional books and videos. The guitarist was also the subject of a 1998 documentary entitled Jim Hall: A Life in Progress. The film--narrated by Hall himself, produced/directed by Bruce Bicker, and written by Devra Hall--features the Jim Hall Trio (Hall, Scott Colley, and Terry Clarke) accompanied by string and brass ensembles; guest artists Harrell, Lovano, Metheny, and Osby; and interviews with Chico Hamilton, Nat Hentoff, and John Lewis.

by Laura Hightower

Jim Hall's Career

Member of the Chico Hamilton Quintet, 1955-56; released Jazz Guitar, 1957; member of the Jimmy Giuffre Three, 1957-59; played with Sonny Rollins, 1961-62; recorded Undercurrent with Bill Evans, 1962; released Concierto, 1975; released All Across the City, 1989; released Dialogues, 1995, and Textures, 1996; featured in documentary entitled Jim Hall: A Life in Progress, 1998; released duet with Pat Metheny, 1999.

Jim Hall's Awards

New York Jazz Critics Circle Award, Best Jazz Composer/Arranger, 1997.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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