Just Above Sunset Archives
November 23, 2003 Music Notes
The Greatest Living Jazz Guitarist?
Jim Hall receives a major award.
On Wednesday, November 19th the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) named Jim Hall, whom some call the greatest living jazz guitarist, an NEA Jazz Master. The Baltimore Symphony will premiere his latest composition, an as-yet-untitled piece for jazz guitar and orchestra, in June. And the long-unavailable "Jim Hall Live," one of his most important albums, was finally reissued on CD earlier this year by Verve.
I learned this from an article in the Wall Street Journal by Terry Teachout : Jazz Master in a Low Key (The Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, November 19, 2003).
I have more than a few Jim Hall albums, from years ago. I haven't listened to them in ages. I find Hall pleasant, and tasteful, but really not very interesting. I prefer Joe Pass - but he's dead. Hall is seventy-three. He's not.
Teachout points out Hall's relative obscurity:
I have not looked up Hall's book Exploring Jazz Guitar where Hall suggests that jazz musicians could learn from looking at the seascapes of J.M.W. Turner. I never liked Turner much either. Teachout admires Hall's "floating, fine-grained tone" which he describes as "smooth and edgeless, his wide-spaced harmonies subtly oblique." Yep, like Turner's blurry sunsets over the Parliament buildings on the Thames. Well, to each his own.
As for this particular award, Teachout explains:
I'm glad Hall got this honor, but he's not to my taste. He was once. And I think he was better back in the seventies and eighties. I guess now the bop phrasing I liked is gone. And the recent stuff is a bit short on just plain melody. Hall got all experimental.
I guess he's moving away from Turner toward Kandinsky or something. I rather he stopped thinking of his music in terms of late nineteenth and early twentieth century art. When he recorded albums with Paul Desmond they would just do a tasty slow cook on something like "All the Things You Are" and that was wonderful.
Wait! Now we've move from art to cooking to explain music.
Analogies. Dangerous things. Time to put on a Joe Pass album in the background.