Blesok no. 23, October-November, 2001
Interview with Jim Hall
I’m Overjoyed When Young Musicians “Dump” Me to the Future!
Jim Hall is one of the most significant and most beloved guitarists in the modern jazz. He was born on 4 December 1930 in Buffalo, the USA. He has built his style of guitar playing under the influence of the legendary Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. During his whole career, which is longer than five decades, with every new album and concert tour he has discovered new aspects of his musical genius. He has won several times in the categories for best jazz musician as selected by the audience and the critics of the distinguished music magazines Downbeat and Jazz Times. In 1996 he won the New York Jazz Critic Award for a Best Composer and Arranger, and next year he won the most prestigious European award, the Danish Jazzpar Prize. Besides the recent preoccupation with orchestra and choir compositions, Jim Hall still remains active as a performer, collaborating and recording with various bands. Besides working with his own trio, he also enjoys the challenge of playing with the old masters such as Kenny Barron, Slide Hampton or Ron Carter, but also with the modern jazz stars such as Pat Matheny, Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell or Greg Osby. His music style is recognizable not so much because of some typical rive or motif, but because of its approach, sound and feeling. The real lovers of jazz in the country could indeed see it for themselves in the most beautiful way.
* Mr. Holl, at the moment when you decided to perform at the Skopje Jazz Festival, did you know you were coming to a crisis area? Did you have any knowledge about our country, our culture?
– I only knew that Macedonia was in the Balkans, that there have been things going on here in the last decade that have been shaking the world and that was all. With Greg Osby, the saxophone player with whom I have been performing lately, we asked about the circumstances in your country and when the manager who organized our concert tours in Europe, an Austrian, told us that the degree of risk should not be the reason for postponing the tour, we had no doubt at all. In the end, we have been performing in Belfast for years, we have been to Israel, and you saw what happened to the World Trade Center. I live near it, only a few blocks away from the place where the main impact was. Basically I am a man who loves meeting various people, and not reading about them in the papers and therefore I did not think a lot. And as far as the Skopje Jazz Festival is concerned, many of my colleagues spoke about its reputation and the audience here, Joe Lovano being one of them. I am really impressed with the program and the meetings I have had so far, although I have arrived only few hours ago. And this conversation we have now also means a lot to me, not because of appearing in the media, but because of the common human communication.
* At the sound test you joked with your band playing country. In many of your interviews you are saying that the first encounter you had with the music was exactly listening to the American folk music, and only later you turned to jazz.
– That is how it was. My mother noticed very early that I was interested in music, and I got the first guitar at the age of nine. I also got a teacher who instructed me and several years later I became a member of a jazz band in which we had a clarinet, an accordion, a guitar and drums. In one occasion in some of the local record stores in Cleveland, Ohio I heard the legendary Charlie Christian for the first time and his two accord solo Grand Slam amazed me. I was not very sure what it was about, I knew it was something special and that I would be able to play it myself. I have the same feeling even today.
* Then the period when you studied music at the Institute of Music in Cleveland followed, you studied composition and theory of music and then you simply left everything aside and went to Los Angeles where you started the real professional career. Who did you have your first big performance with?
– I think it was with Chico Hamilton. His quintet also had Buddy Collette who played the flute, saxophone and clarinet then, Fred Katz – cello, Carson Smith – base, Chico himself at the drums and myself as a guitar player. I performed and played with them, but what was important was that I also started writing music for the band.
* You biography has both albums you recorded with Bill Evans at a prominent place. The critics noted that they were unusually beautiful records and a cooperation that really depicts the work of a duo, especially when it comes to a piano and a guitar. Now you work with a trio, on top of it the saxophone player Greg Osby has been performing with you, but what is the formation with which you like to appear before the audience?
– Playing with Bill Evans was an inspiration for me even before we made the records. We were friends when we taught at the Jazz Academy of John Luis in Massachusetts. Despite the belief that the piano and the guitar are almost impossible to join, it went really easy with Bill Evans. He has a wonderful feeling of texture so he would never allow things to get mixed up. I’d play a rhythm on some of his solos and he would soon realize that he did not have to use the left hand… and he would not use it. I really enjoyed the cooperation with him. And as far as the formations are concerned, I prefer playing in a duo or trio, with drams and a base. Besides, it often happened that I played in a combination with a piano as well. There are no rules. Everything depends on the mood.
* You have played almost with all great jazz masters. What are the ones that made a special impression on you, whose performance could uplift you?
– Without much digging in my memory, I will immediately mention the names of Ben Webster, Sonny Rollins, Art Farmer, Kenny Barron, Ron Carter,… and Bill Evans, of course. Oh, there are lots of them. The performances with Greg Osby are also quite special for me. We do not know each other for a long time, but with his skill and energy he makes me stay young in my thoughts. He’s amazing.
* And is there any of the great jazz musicians, stage legends, with whom you wished to play or record, and because of some reason you did not do it?
– I haven’t thought much of it. Maybe there are many of them, but now I remember that one such a name in the jazz is Miles Davis, with whom I never got on the stage, and he had invited me several times.
* And when you mentioned Mr. Osbey who belongs to the new jazz generation, your cooperation with the instrumental players such as Matheny, Frisell, Lovano is also significant… You do not hide that their energy helps you go further.
– Precisely. I don’t care to feel “younger” but to be able to make a creative step forward, not to stay in one place and to continue having a healthy idea. I don’t want to freeze my creation as some writers or painters, the music that I create. And the people like Greg or the others help me that it does not happen. I am overjoyed when some of these young musicians “dump” me to the future. This has happened with Frisell, Russell Malone, Pete Bernstein…
* Does it mean that in you free time you often listen to the music of the new generation of jazz musicians or maybe something completely different?
– I will be honest: now I prefer to listen to the silence. It becomes a man my age, but there are moments when I reach for jazz and especially for the modern classical music. I also know to forget and get to Rachmaninoff, Bartok, with an unseen hunger and “discover” Mozart for who knows which time.
* Do you still enjoy the concert performance and how often do you get on stage?
– I really enjoy the concerts and they mean much more to me than closing down in a studio and recording music. The direct contact with the people is very important to me. I want to see their faces, see whether the music reveals certain feelings with them, whether there is a feed-back of what I deliver to them on stage. Therefore, I am especially fond of the performances in the nightclubs where the contact is more direct. I can not say how often we are on stage because of s simple reason that I have stopped paying attention to it long ago. I feel that I still have the strength to travel and perform in various parts of the world. We came here from Italy, then, as far as I know we are going to Israel and so on.
* In the breaks between travels you write music. What is the thing that provokes you now, what do you especially pay attention to?
– To some extent, I mainly deal with the melody and form. Composing is like architecture for me. I care about the melody, but also about the form. I want to send the composition some place and then return it and have it all shaped in a beautiful whole. Definitely, I am in a stage when the form is the most important to me in jazz.
* Is this belief of yours present in the latest studio project, the album that has recently appeared?
– Absolutely. I have recently entered the studio and I recorded a material where there are various bass players as guests – George Mraz, Christian McBride, Charlie Haden, Scott Colley and Dave Holland. The album appeared in sale as an edition of Telarc two weeks ago and everybody that heard it noticed that I have done what I was talking about for a longer time. I really enjoyed the cooperation with these musicians because each one of them plays differently, in his own way.
* Besides your age I don’t think that you think of withdrawing from the sate. According to this, can you tell us something about your future plans?
– I want to go forwards and build myself on not only as a person but also as a musician. I wish that I had time to leave several more special projects behind that are in my head, projects with which I fall asleep and I wake up. But a man sometimes does not know what each new moment brings, and therefore everything is basically down to common things that make the life real.
Translated by: Donna Charming