A few days ago, the world lost a great hero. I wrote a bio for PG that you can read here.
Once news spread through the social interwebs, it seemed like everyone had a Jim Hall story. Nels Cline wrote about the birthday lunch he had with Jim last week. Doug Wamble shared the story of some tough lessons. Critic Nate Chinen shared a handwritten note that he received from Jim after a “mixed” review.
It seems like everyone who had come in contact with Jim had a memorable experience. His sphere of influence reached far and wide and luckily I was able to share a few moments with Jim and let him know how much his music means to me.
In January 2004, my girlfriend (now wife) and I made our first trip to New York for IAJE, a jazz nerd elbow-rubbing gathering. The big motivating factor for making the trip was that NEA had announced their annual list of Jazz Masters and among them was Jim Hall. (Cindy was excited that Nancy Wilson made the cut as well.) As we were planning what shows to attend each night, a rather last-minute announcement was made that Charlie Haden was hosting a week of duets with guitar players at the Blue Note. Scofield and Frisell were among the guests that week. The final night was to feature Jim Hall. No offense to Sco and Frisell, but Haden and Hall were more contemporaries with some shared history and I thought it would be great to see two absolute masters play together.
The night was going to be a busy one. It was going to start with dinner at the Blue Note along with the first set of Hall/Haden. Then, we were going to hop in a cab and go down to the Iridium to see Pat Martino’s group with Joe Lovano. We packed into the club and we grabbed a seat right in front of Jim’s Polytone amp.
I think they might have talked about what tune they were going to start with, but the duo kept things very loose and casually talked about what to play next during the set. As the set progressed, Jim kept turning his volume down and by about the fourth or fifth tune the sound of his signature Sadowsky filled the room—without any amplification. Combined with Haden’s huge, round tone the intimacy of music completely shined through.
One tune started with a brief intro from Jim, “This is my wife’s favorite song.” Knowing that Jim and Jane (his wife) had been married for a long time, I tried to guess what song it was going to be. The first tune that popped into my head was “My Funny Valentine.” It was a standard, a love song. Once I heard the first two notes I recognized the tune. “All the Things You Are.” As Jim went through the first A section solo, I looked over and Cindy and thought to myself, “I hope after I’m married to her for 40 years I can play her favorite song.”
After the show, Cindy wanted to use the restroom before we left for the Iridium. We walked upstairs and I waited outside the ladies room door. I looked to my left and saw another room and the door was slightly open. Inside I saw Jim talking to another person. As they finished, Jim opened the door and saw me standing there.
“Hey, how you doing?”
“Good. Great set tonight.”
“Thanks, I’m Jim.”
“I’m Jason. Could you sign this for me?” I had just purchased the newly reissued Live! album that afternoon at Tower Records.
“Sure, come on in.”
Jim Hall just invited me into his dressing room. I sat down and we talked for a while. After a few minutes Charlie Haden walked in and closed the door behind him.
“Hey man,” said Charlie.
“Charlie, this is Jason. He’s from Iowa.”
“Where from? I’m from Shenendoah.”
Charlie mentioned he just played a gig in Iowa City recently and we made small talk. They discussed how they felt the first set went and what songs they might want to play in the second set. At this point (admittedly) I totally forgot that Cindy was still in the hallway.
So she just walked right in.
Cell phone cameras weren’t that great at the time, but the look on Charlie and Jim’s faces when she barged right was a moment that I will forever wish I had a picture of.
“Hey, guys. This is my girlfriend Cindy.”
We continued talking for a few more minutes then I shook their hands told them how much I loved their music and left. A few days later I ran into Jim again in the hallway of the hotel.
The fact that Jim Hall remembered my name–even for a mere 36 hours–made such an impression on me that I don’t really remember what I said back.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see or meet Jim again after that. When I was at NGW we tried to bring him in for a duo clinic with Ron Carter, but his health had taken a bad turn and he just wasn’t up to it. Even in the last year I had been in touch with Devra, his daughter and manager, to possibly do some lesson writing for PG. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.
His music touched many people and I will make sure to play it for my kids and students as much as possible. His lyrical phrase that opens “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” from Intermodulation and his solo on “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” on Concierto are both required for any jazz guitarist. As his latest disciple Julian Lage put it, “As a person and a musician he radiated light and love for the world and all those around him.”