© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Every Jim Hall solo is a masterpiece of construction, each phrase evolving logically from its predecessor, his rhythmic sense always in perfect balance and his harmonic and melodic concepts always subtle and oblique.”
- Whitney Balliett
“There was a time when it would not have seemed unusual to state of an album by a guitarist that its central quality was unalloyed beauty. In these mid-1970s, however, we find meretricious gimmickry, tonal distortion and high-energy assaults on the eardrums an unavoidable part of our milieu. At such a time, a man of Jim Hall's caliber, representing esthetic values that are all but lost, stands out like a gem surrounded by zircons. Egregious displays of technique or technical bravura are antithetical to Hall's nature.”
- Leonard Feather
“Tal Farlow, Jimmy Raney, Johnny Smith, and Billy Bauer used a softer tone and less pronounced attack to mold the guitar into a cool Jazz voice. This style - with emotionalism present but constrained, and always secondary to more cerebral concerns - enlisted its strongest disciple in Jim Hall ….”
Lately, it seems that the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has been giving a lot of thought to developing postings that center around some of its favorite recordings.
Such was the case during a recent listening to guitarist Jim Hall’s Concierto which was produced by Creed Taylor and released on CBS Records [ZK 40807] in 1975.
While reading through the following insert notes to the CD by Leonard Feather, we suddenly realized that Whitney Balliett’s 1975 profile on Jim from The New Yorker magazine would make an excellent blog feature of Jim.
It doesn’t get much better on the subject of Jazz than Jim Hall, Leonard Feather and Whitney Balliett.
© -Leonard Feather, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“There was a time when it would not have seemed unusual to state of an album by a guitarist that its central quality was unalloyed beauty. In these mid-1970s, however, we find meretricious gimmickry, tonal distortion and high-energy assaults on the eardrums an unavoidable part of our milieu. At such a time, a man of Jim Hall's caliber, representing esthetic values that are all but lost, stands out like a gem surrounded by zircons.
Egregious displays of technique or technical bravura are antithetical to Hall's nature. The men with whom he has worked, with rare exceptions, for the most part reflect the values he himself represents: Chico Hamilton in his original cello quintet days; Jimmy Giuffre, and most notably Art Farmer, for whose gentle fluegelhorn lines Jim's guitar was so perfect a complement.
In March of 1975 Hall was the subject of a Whitney Balliett profile in The New Yorker, an essay as eloquent and as perfectly stated as a Hall solo. Balliett credited Hall with "a grace and inventiveness and lyricism that make him preeminent among contemporary guitarists and put him within touching distance of the two grand masters-Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt."
As Balliett pointed out, every Hall solo is a masterpiece of construction, each phrase evolving logically from its predecessor, his rhythmic sense always in perfect balance and his harmonic and melodic concepts always subtle and oblique.
One aspect of his work that has always impressed me is his ability to reduce the degree to which his instrument sounds like an electric guitar. His amplification cut down to what is barely necessary, he sounds to all intents like an acoustic guitarist, the low frequencies more noticeable than the highs, as can be detected immediately in the opening passages of You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To.
The track serves also as an illustration of the interplay within this splendid group, and the quality of the company Jim kept. Hall himself was surprised at the success of this unprecedented collaboration. He had collaborated before with Paul Desmond (Balliett quoted him: ‘When I play behind Paul, it becomes a question-and-answer thing between us; but all you're trying to do is swing, and swinging is a question of camaraderie’); but working with Chet Baker was a new experience.
‘I had never played with Chet, in fact I had only met him once before. I was a little apprehensive at first, because I didn't even know that Paul and Chet were going to be on some of the tunes together. But we hadn't been in the studio long before I realized that it was all falling into place. Roland Hanna, of course, has a truly eclectic style, and can fit in with any situation. Ron Carter and I were no strangers; we had made a duo album two or three years ago. And Steve Gadd managed to fit right into all the requirements.’
You will find the version of You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To from the Concierto CD as the audio track to the video tribute to Jim right after this masterful essay on him by Whitney.
© -Whitney Balliett/The New Yorker, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
The Answer Is Yes
“Jane Hall, the wife of the guitarist Jim Hall, is a slender, gentle, intelligent woman in her thirties. When she talks about her husband, she reveals a mixture of devotion and objectivity, and when she talks about herself it is as if she were telling a fairy tale. "I was born an only child in New York and grew up in Harrison,” she says. "My father was in textiles, and he was a self-made man, who never graduated from high school. He loved golf and business and piano players like Fats Waller and Erroll Garner, although he came to appreciate the subtler sounds, too. He had a good sense of humor and was sort of a ham, and all my friends always wished he was their father. He was very different from Jim. Dad always wanted him to have more—more records, more fame, more money. But he realized Jim didn't have that kind of push. Just before Dad died, he said he wished Jim would be nicer to himself. It meant a lot to me — his appreciation of Jim's kindness and gentleness. My mother complemented my father. She was from a large family and was more reserved. She designed children's clothes before she married and gave up her career. But my father always relied on her taste. They were a striking couple together, particularly when they were dancing, which they loved.
"I met Jim in 1960. At the time, I was going out with Dick Katz, and one night when we were going to have dinner he brought Jim along. The only Hall I knew of in jazz was Edmond. I didn't see Jim again until the following winter. I was taking a night course at the New School, and I asked Dick if he'd babysit for Debbie, who's my daughter from a previous marriage. He brought Jim along again, and when I got home I discovered that Jim had somehow coaxed Debbie's dog out from under the bed, where she'd barricaded herself all day. We all sat around and talked for hours, and I fell in love. I'd never met anyone who listened like Jim. We started going out, but it was five years before we were married. Jim was very much against marriage. I went back to college in 1967 and graduated, and then I went to social-work school. I'm a psychotherapist at Greenwich House, and I have my own practice, too. Jim has been nothing but supportive and positive through it all. And that extends to my music. I write a couple of songs a year, and I sing. Jim accompanies me, and he's even recorded some of my tunes. He's helped bring out my musicality. He's done the same with Debbie. She plays piano, and Jim works with her. He's been a father to her, which is what she never had.
"One of the things that impress me about jazz musicians is their camaraderie. There's a complete lack of narcissism, of competitive feeling. I don't think the same warmth exists even in sports. Jim has a great kinship for his fellow-musicians. The first time he took me to the old Half Note to hear Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, he said, 'You have to listen. You can't talk while they play.' After the first set, Al told me that not only could he see me listening, he could feel me listening. I've thought a lot about the pressures on jazz musicians, too. Jim was scared to death at his first job after he'd quit drinking. But since then his playing has grown and grown. He surprises me every time I hear him. I used to listen to him with my eyes closed, but now I don't. Just watching him concentrating and so in tune with his instrument and with his listeners is an experience.'
Hall, though, doesn't look capable of creating a stir of any sort. He is slim and of medium height, and a lot of his hair is gone. The features of his long, pale face are chastely proportioned, and are accented by a recently cultivated R.A.F. mustache. He wears old-style gold-rimmed spectacles, and he has three principal expressions: a wide smile, a child's frown, and a calm, pleased playing mask — eyes closed, chin slightly lifted, and mouth ajar. He could easily be the affable son of the stony-faced farmer in "American Gothic." His hands and feet are small, and he doesn't have any hips, so his clothes, which are generally casual, tend to hang on him as if they were still in the closet. When he plays, he sits on a stool, his back an arc, his feet propped on a high rung, and his knees akimbo. He holds his guitar at port arms. For many years, Hall's playing matched his private, nebulous appearance. When he came up, in the mid-fifties, with Chico Hamilton's vaguely avant-garde quintet (it had a cello and no piano), and then appeared on a famous pickup recording, 'Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West’ that was led by John Lewis and involved Bill Perkins, Percy Heath, and Hamilton, he sounded stiff and academic. His solos were pleasantly designed, but they didn't always swing. But as he moved through groups led by Jimmy Giuffre, Ben Webster, Sonny Rollins, and Art Farmer, his deliberateness softened and the right notes began landing in the right places.
Then he married Jane, and his playing developed an inventiveness and lyricism that make him preeminent among contemporary jazz guitarists and put him within touching distance of the two grand masters — Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. Listening to Hall now is like turning onionskin pages: one lapse of your attention and his solo is rent. Each phrase evolves from its predecessor, his rhythms are balanced, and his harmonic and melodic ideas are full of parentheses and asides. His tone is equally demanding. He plays both electric and acoustic guitars. On the former, he sounds like an acoustic guitarist, for he has an angelic touch and he keeps his amplifier down; on the latter, a new instrument specially designed and built for him, he has an even more gossamer sound. Hall is exceptional in another way.
In the thirties and forties, Christian and Reinhardt put forward certain ideals for their instrument — spareness, the use of silence, and the legato approach to swinging — and for a while every jazz guitarist studied them. Then the careering melodic flow of Charlie Parker took hold, and jazz guitarists became arpeggio-ridden. But Hall, sidestepping this aspect of Parker, has gone directly to Christian and Reinhardt, and, plumping out their skills with the harmonic advances that have since been made, has perfected an attack that is fleet but tight, passionate but oblique. And he is singular for still another reason. Guitarists are inclined to be an ingrown society, but Hall listens constantly to other instrumentalists, especially tenor saxophonists (Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Sonny Rollins) and pianists (Count Basie, John Lewis, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett), and he attempts to adapt to the guitar their phrasing and tonal qualities. In his solos he asserts nothing but says a good deal.
He loves Duke Ellington's slow ballads, and he will start one with an ad-lib chorus in which he glides softly over the melody, working just behind the beat, dropping certain notes and adding others, but steadfastly celebrating its melodic beauties. He clicks into tempo at the beginning of the second chorus, and, after pausing for several beats, plays a gentle, ascending six-note figure that ends with a curious, ringing off-note. He pauses again, and, taking the close of the same phrase, he elaborates on it in an ascending-descending double-time run, and then skids into several behind-the-beat chords, which give way to a single-note line that moves up and down and concludes on another off-note. He raises bis volume at the beginning of the bridge and floats through it with softly singing chords; then, slipping into the final eight bars, he fashions a precise, almost declamatory run, pauses a second at its top, and works his way down with two glancing arpeggios. He next sinks to a whisper, and finishes with a bold fragment of melody that dissolves into a flatted chord, upon which the next soloist gratefully builds his opening statement.
When the Halls were married, he moved into her apartment, on West Twelfth Street. It faces south and is at eye level with chimney pots and the tops of ailanthus trees. The off-white walls are hung with a lively assortment of lithographs, oils, and drawings. A tall cabinet, which contains hundreds of L.P.s, is flanked by full bookshelves. A sofa, a hassock, a fat floor pillow, a couple of canvas Japanese chairs, and a coffee table ring the window end of the room. An upright piano sits by the front door, and Hall's electric guitar rests on a stand by the kitchen door. Hall generally gets himself together around noon. He will sit down on the sofa with his back to the window and sip a mug of tea. Like many shy people, he is a born listener and a self-taught talker. He weighs his words as he weighs his notes. He speaks softly and has a mild Midwestern drawl. He had, he said, been pondering improvisation. "Somebody asked me once, 'Why do you improvise, why do you want to take a good song and change it?'— and that stumped me. Maybe jazz musicians are egomaniacs, as Alec Wilder claims. Maybe they feel they're above the songs they play and that they have to improve them. I've always been of the notion — though most of my musician friends disagree with me — that 'Body and Soul' would never have been anything special if Coleman Hawkins hadn't made his record of it. Yet I believe I treat the tunes I play with respect, and I know I always follow the gist of their lyrics. Improvisation is just a form of self-expression, and it's very gratifying to improvise in front of people. I feel I'm including them in what I'm doing, taking them someplace they might like to go and haven't been to before. I like to draw them in, and if you can get an audience on your side, then you can finish a set with something abstract or different and they'll come right along. I like my solos to have a beginning and a middle and an end. I like them to have a quality that Sonny Rollins has — of turning and turning a tune until eventually you show all its possible faces. Sometimes I'll take a motif that I might have stumbled on while I'm practicing, and develop it throughout a solo. It's a compositional approach, and it helps you get control over your playing. But if a solo is going well, is developing, I let it go on its own. Then I've reached that place where I've gotten out of my own way, and it's as if I'm standing back and watching the solo play itself.
"When I do the melody of a tune, I try to make it come out mine. I also try sometimes to get the melody to sound as it would on a wind instrument, as though I've got the airstream of a saxophone or trumpet to hang on to. I think of the way Ben Webster played 'Chelsea Bridge,’ with his fantastic sense of space and the way he'd let a note slide from sound to the breathing just below sound, and I'll go after that effect. I'm like Marian McPartland, I guess, in that I think of the keys in colors. A flat is reddish orange, G major seems green, E flat is yellow. I try never to bring distractions onto the bandstand, but if I do I know I always have a sort of floor to rely on. I know I won't ever really be terrible. Being tired doesn't seem to matter. I've seen guys on the road who were wiped out get up and play sensationally. Being tired seems to cut the fat and allow the musicality to come out.
“I’ve been playing a lot in duos with just bassists, and it involves a terrific amount of listening. I play off of the bass notes and try to make it always sound like a duet and not just guitar solos with accompaniment. All the accompanying I’ve done is a help, because accompanying is hearing the whole texture from top to bottom of the music around you and then fitting yourself in the proper place. When I was with Sonny Rollins, I found out right away he didn't like to be led, so I'd lay back a fraction of a second and let him show me where he was going and hope I could follow. When I was with Art Farmer, it was totally different. He liked the background laid down first, so he could play over it. And the whole timing was different, too. When I play behind Paul Desmond, it becomes a question-and-answer thing between us. But all you're trying to do is swing, and swinging is a question of camaraderie. You could be playing stiffly, but if everybody is playing that way the group will swing. But if one person is out of sync, is dragging, it feels like somebody is hanging on to your coattails."
Hall went into the kitchen to get another mug of tea, and when he came back a big gray-black cat appeared from the bedroom. It gave Hall three thunderous meows, sat down at his feet, and stared intently at him. It meowed three more times. Hall laughed and took a sip of tea. "O.K., Pablo. Cut it out. We didn't get him until he was a year old, and I think he was raised with dogs, because he's more like a dog than a cat. He greets me at the door when I come in and says goodbye when I go out, and he follows me around all day here. I was speaking of Ben Webster. After I finally left the Jimmy Giuffre Trio, in 1959,1 went back to the Coast, and I was in a band Ben had with Jimmy Rowles and Red Mitchell and Frank Butler. We worked for a while in a club on the Strip called the Renaissance, and at first I didn't get paid. Then I think everybody in the band chipped something in. Anyway, Ben and I hung out a lot. He didn't have a car, and he lived with his mother and grandmother way over on the other side of L.A., but he'd never ask me to pick him up. What he'd do is call me whenever we had a gig and say, 'We'll meet at my house first.' I think his mother had been a schoolteacher. One evening when I went to get him, he was stretched out on the sofa snoring—the whole works. He must have been up all night, and we couldn't budge him. He had a reputation of taking a sock at whoever tried to wake him. So his mother and grandmother would lean over him and say, 'Ben, Mr. Hall is here and it's time to goto work,' and then jump back about two feet. I finally suggested that I get a wet towel or something, and they looked at me with their mouths open, and said, 'Oh no, he don't like any surprises.' Ben was very melodramatic, and he talked in that big voice just the way he played. Another time I went to get him he had a washcloth on top of his head and he was shaving. Some Art Tatum records were on and he kept running out of the bathroom and mimicking fantastic Tatum figures. Then he started telling me what Tatum was like—he loved to talk about the great ones he knew who were gone—and the next thing I knew he was crying. I never saw any of the meanness he was famous for, except once he fell asleep in the front seat of my car and when I woke him he cursed me. But the next minute he apologized.
"I had gotten to know John Lewis, and he called me about this time—it was the early sixties—and told me I had to come back to New York, that that's where it was at, and that I could stay in his apartment because he was away on the road so much. Well, I did for two or three months, and John loaned me money and everything. Then I sublet Dick Katz's apartment, and not much was happening. I felt I had a reputation by then, and I was too proud to call people about jobs. I did work in a duo with Lee Konitz opposite Miles Davis at the Village Vanguard when he had Cannonball and Philly Joe Jones and Bill Evans, and the audience would listen to Miles as if they were in church, and then talk all the way through our set, which was about the way everything seemed to be going for me then. Suddenly, I began getting notes from Sonny Rollins. He didn't have a phone and I never answered mine, so he'd stuff them in the mailbox, and I think the first one said, 'Let's talk about music.' He was coming out of a two-year retirement and was putting a group together, and he wanted me, in addition to Walter Perkins and Bob Cranshaw. We rehearsed afternoons at the old Five Spot, and at first it was a little mysterious. Sonny would let me in the front door with one hand and continue playing with the other, and then disappear, still playing, into a back room and stay there maybe a half hour. We opened at the Jazz Gallery, and it was a great success. But I had to put everything into it. I was with him off and on for over a year, and wherever we went he brought the house down. There was something about the way he got himself across to an audience, as if he were right out there playing into its collective ear. It was a great experience, a turning point for me.
Then, in effect, he fired me. There were two reasons. One was musical. He wanted to experiment with Ornette Coleman's trumpet player, Don Cherry, and that was beyond me. The other had to do with a cover of down beat. It was a guitar issue, and they had me in the front of the picture with Rollins set behind, and the talk began. 'Why does he need a white boy in the group?' and the like, and Sonny would tell me in various ways that people were putting pressure on him to get rid of me, and that was it. Then I ran into him one night a while ago at a club, and when he was leaving he leaned over and said, 'Sometimes I lose touch with myself,' and that made amends. I've always felt that the music started out as black but that it's as much mine now as anyone else's. I haven't stolen the music from anybody—I just bring something different to it.
After that, I joined a nice little group Art Farmer had, with Steve Swallow on bass and Pete La Roca on drums. But I was having trouble keeping things together. I had to concentrate on my work and I had to keep my drinking under control, which wasn't working too well. So finally, in 1965, I decided I had to get off the road after ten years and get things squared around. I came back to New York, started going to A.A., and Jane and I got married. I didn't want to go into night clubs again right away because of the atmosphere and the drinking, but I had to work, so I got a job in the band on the Merv Griffin Show. That was a shock. I'd felt, in my way, that I'd been doing something important all those years on the road, but suddenly I was like a stagehand. You're there in the studio but you're not there. It was very rare for any of Griffin's guests to acknowledge anyone in the band, and you'd think some of them would have known Bob Brookmeyer or Jake Hanna. I began to lose my identity. If I don't play what I want to play, improvise and all, I sink down. I forget I've ever done anything good musically at all. All the while, I was thinking about finally being a leader, and when I'd been with Griffin about three and a half years I got my courage up to go into clubs again, and I organized my own group.
Clubs don't bother me too much now, but I only like to work two-week gigs and then regroup myself. I don't know why, but when I work it takes a lot out of me. I play every day here, I write some, and I have some students. With Jane working, we get along fine. Even so, I occasionally get in a panic. I wake up at night and think, What am I doing, what kind of a life is this? I've thought of giving it up and going into something else, but I know that would be crazy the minute I pick my guitar up again. So when I ask myself, Am I going to want to go into saloons and play guitar when I'm fifty or sixty or seventy, the answer is yes."
The telephone buzzed. 'That was Jimmy D'Aquisto, out in Huntington," Hall said when he hung up. "He's a great guitar-maker, and he's made me my acoustic guitar, which is the first new guitar I've had since I was a kid. I got my old Gibson, over by the kitchen door, second-hand from Howard Roberts, on the Coast, in 1955. Jimmy has done some experimenting. The body, or box, of the guitar is a little thinner than usual, and, to compensate, the front and back of the box are arched a little more than usual and the f holes on either side of the tailpiece are bigger. He's strung it with lightweight steel strings, but I'm still experimenting with different weights. And he has kept the bridge low, which makes the strings more responsive. Most important, he hasn't put any electrical stuff on it. I've used it twice in public — at concerts at Yale and the New School. The Yale thing was a kind of shakedown cruise because the acoustics where I played — it was a church — were so strange. But I felt good about it at the New School. In that auditorium the sound creeps along the walls and gets everywhere, and even though I didn't use a mike, I think they heard me in the back. It's such a beautiful instrument. Unlike most guitars, it just doesn't have any bad spots. It's still strange to me. The dimensions are different enough so that it takes me a while to warm into it."
The telephone buzzed again, and Hall went into the kitchen, after he finished talking, to make a drink of one part grape juice and two parts 7-Up. The sun was pell-melling in the window, and he lowered the Venetian blind. "Jack Six just called. He played bass with Dave Brubeck three or four years, but we've been doing duets recently. We've got a gig coming up at Sweet Basil, so I thought it would be a good idea to practice some. He's on his way from Jersey right now.
"My mother gave me my first guitar for Christmas when I was ten. I was living with her and my brother in Cleveland. I was born in 1930, in Buffalo, but we only stayed there a few months and then came to New York for a while and moved out to Geneva, Ohio, where my Uncle Russell had a farm. He was one of my mother's brothers, and he had taught himself electronics. Her other brother, Ed, taught himself guitar and how to make blueprints. He'd play things like 'Wabash Cannon Ball.' I spent a year on Uncle Russ's farm. I was about seven or eight, and I remember the whole time as being dark. There was no electricity in the house, and one of my chores was to take the cinders out. I got some in my eyes once and for two weeks I couldn't see. Then I knocked over a kerosene lamp, which scared the hell out of me, but luckily it snuffed out when it hit the floor. Uncle Russ was married to a strange woman then, and it was the old story of the wife upsetting the husband, who then takes it out on the kids. By this time, my mother and father had split up, and she and I and my brother moved to Cleveland. We lived in rooming houses and my mother supported us. She worked as a secretary at a tool company. It's funny how your perspective changes when you get older. It seems amazing to me now to be in your twenties — which she was then — and to be raising two boys by yourself. I don't remember much about my father, except that he played tennis and managed a grocery store for a time and was a travelling salesman in stainless steel. I never see him, but I think he's alive. My mother lives in Los Angeles. She's active and vivacious, a short, blond lady, kind of sparkly and with a lot of guts. Around 1940, we moved into a brand-new W.P. A. housing project in Cleveland, and we stayed there until I went to music school. It was the first place we'd lived in that no one had lived in before. It had an upstairs and a downstairs, and I think the rent was twenty-four dollars a month.
"It took a year to pay for my guitar, but I lucked up with a good teacher, Jack DuPerow, right away. He had me do scales and guitar arrangements of pop tunes. My favorite was 'Music, Maestro, Please!' The accordion was big in Cleveland. In fact, the first group I worked in had accordion, clarinet, and drums, and we played dances on weekends. The clarinet player was into Benny Goodman, and he played Goodman's recording of 'Solo Flight' for me, with Charlie Christian featured, and I thought, What is that? It was instant addiction. I bought a 78-r.p.m. album of Goodman Sextet numbers even before I had anything to play them on. By this time, I was studying with Fred Sharp. He had played in New York with Adrian Rollini and Red Norvo, and he introduced me to records by Carl Kress and Dick McDonough and Django Reinhardt. Taking Charlie Christian and Django together, I've hardly heard anything better since, if you want to know the truth. But a lot of my listening was not to guitarists but to tenor 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. I'd listen to them in the morning after my mother had gone 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. George Barnes had an octet with a woodwind feeling that broadcast regularly, and all the bands played the Palace Theatre there — Duke Ellington and Artie Shaw, when Shaw had Roy Eldridge and Barney Kessel. I began hanging out with older local musicians when I was fifteen or sixteen — Tony DiNardo, a tenor player who sounded like Lucky Thompson and who got me listening to Lester Young, and Billy DiNasco, a piano player who loved Mel Powell and Teddy Wilson and who worked out a way of his own that was like Lennie Tristano. We had our own group, and we called it the Spectacles, because we all wore glasses. We sang four-part vocals, and they were my first arrangements.
"I did well in high school, and when I graduated I decided to go to the Cleveland Institute of Music. I thought learning more craft would help. I went for four and a half years, and I majored in music theory. I wrote a string quartet for my thesis. I played guitar on weekends, but I wasn't all that involved in jazz. I thought I was going to go into classical composing and teach on the side. Then in the mid-fifties, halfway through my first semester toward my master's, I began thinking two things: I was with people who did nothing but go to school and would probably do nothing else, and I knew I had to try being a guitarist or else it would trouble me the rest of my life. My decision was made for me. Ray Graziano, a good local alto player, was driving a Cadillac — a lavender Cadillac — out to the Coast for somebody, and he asked me if I wanted to go along. I had no money, but I knew Joe Dolny, a Cleveland trumpet player, out on the Coast, and I also knew I could stay with my great-aunt. She was in her nineties, and had lived in Hollywood from the time it was clapboard houses and fields planted with peas. So I quit school, and there we were, driving through all these little towns in that lavender Cadillac, with me in the back seat playing and playing. I moved in with my aunt and got a job in a used-sheet-music store, and I studied classical guitar for a while with Vicente Gomez. Joe Dolny had a rehearsal band at the union hall, and I met a lot of people there like John Graas, the French-horn player. I'd go to his house, out in the Valley, and he recommended me to Chico Hamilton for his first quintet, which had Buddy Collette on reeds, Freddie Katz on cello, Carson Smith on bass, and Chico and me. I got ninety dollars a week, which was a fortune then. I was with Chico for a year and a half, and a lot of good things happened, even though that bass drum of his began getting in my dreams. I met Red Mitchell and Herb Geller and Bill Perkins and John Lewis. When Chico's group went East for gigs at the Newport Festival and in New York, we worked opposite Max Roach's group at Basin Street, where I met Sonny Rollins. That was some experience — being up on the stand and looking out and seeing all your idols staring at you. Then we drove back to the Coast, and it was a weird trip. Chico was the only black man in the car, and he never got out of it. He stayed curled up like an animal in the back seat, and we'd bring him his food. What with one thing and another, but mostly Chico's bass drum, I left and went with Jimmy Giuffre's new trio.
"I was with this group for two different periods, the first starting in 1957. In between came a low point that matched my time with Merv Griffin. I went on the road with Yves Montand. What saved me was that Edmond Hall and Al Hall were both in the tour, too, and I had the chance to listen to them reminisce and to ask Edmond about Charlie Christian, because he had recorded with him. In fact, they were the only records Christian made on acoustic guitar. Before I went back with Giuffre, I toured with Ella Fitzgerald all over South America. I finally jumped ship in Buenos Aires, where I stayed six weeks. The bossa nova was coming up, and one night I went to this big room filled with guitar players. They sat in a circle and passed a guitar around like a peace pipe, and everybody played. I didn't know what to do, so I played a plain old blues. One of the good things about being on the road in other countries is you're not just a tourist, you're something a lot better, something special, and I've made friends all over the world."
The doorbell buzzed, and Jack Six came in, carrying his bass and towing an amplifier on wheels. Six is a big man with a Southern accent, and he and his equipment filled one end of the living room. After Six unpacked, hooked up, and plugged in, Hall whacked one thigh with a tuning fork and rested its handle on the body of his old Gibson. Six tuned up to its silver hum. Hall spread sheet music on the dining-room table, and the two men bent over it in silence. They looked as if they were examining illuminated manuscripts at the Morgan.
"Let's play Janie's tune 'Something Tells Me," Hall suggested. "But we'll do it as she wrote it. She's got a couple of modulations in it which make it difficult to sing, so she sort of leaves them out when she's singing it around the house. Who would you say she sounds like, Jack?" "A cross between Astrud Gilberto and Julie London." Hall laughed, and sat down on a red kitchen stool. He played quiet, open chords as he went into the graceful, succinct melody. Six came in behind with offbeat notes. The music immediately transformed the room, filling it with motion and purpose. Hall improvised a chorus replete with silences, retards, and quick sotto-voce runs. Six soloed, grunting softly, and the two went out with some lilting counterpoint. A "Chelsea Bridge" reverberating with Ben Webster came next, and was followed by a fast, tricky Jim Hall blues, 'Two's Blues." It has a complex, backing-and-filling melodic line, and the first run-through had many bugs.
"Anyway, that's the general idea of it," Hall said, laughing.
"My, those notes certainly go by fast," Six replied. "It's like Jake Hanna said to the new man on the band after he'd messed up at his first rehearsal: 'I didn't know you couldn't read.'"
After three more tries, the blues fell into shape, and they played another Hall blues — a slow one, called "Careful." Hall said he had written it a long time ago as a "Monk thing." It has an ostinato bass, which the two musicians handed easily back and forth. They had just started "Emily" when the front door opened and Jane Hall came in. She was dressed in a blue pants suit, and she was carrying a bag of groceries, which she set down on the music. There was a round of pecks. She asked how everything was going, and Hall said good and that maybe it was time for a breather. He went into the kitchen to make some grape juice-and-7-Ups. He set the drinks on the coffee table, put his arm around Jane's shoulder, and gave it a squeeze. Then he sat down next to Six on the sofa. He smiled up at Jane as she passed the drinks and said, "So, did you save any souls today?"