While other jazz guitarists sought to impress with high-speed and dazzling flurries of notes, Jim Hall took a more subtle approach and, in this article, we’ve rounded up some of his very best recordings.
While jazz guitarist Jim Hall has the chops to play intricate solos at rapid speed, his best moments are filled with space, gentleness and a lightness of approach that makes his music endlessly beautiful.
His mastery of the guitar started early, picking up his first instrument at age 10. He mostly stuck to classical guitar compositions, until at 13, he heard fellow guitarist Charlie Christian. It was his “spiritual awakening,” in his words. From then on he dedicated himself to mastering a uniquely subtle, complex, and fascinating jazz guitar style.
Here are five of his most iconic and charming albums of all time.
Jazz Guitar (1957)
An avid student of no just guitar, but music in general, Jim Hall joined the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1955, majoring in composition.
His deep and dedicated study of music theory (and interest in piano and bass) set him apart form many of the finest musicians of his generation who operated on intuition to produce their masterpieces.
This knowledge can be heard on his 1957 debut album Jazz Guitar which was released on the Los Angeles based label Pacific Jazz.
Whilst it focuses heavily on jazz standards, Jim Hall, bass player Red Mitchell, and pianist Carl Perkins explore each song with subtle beauty and complete command over the material. It also sets the tone for Hall’s future releases.
A few standout tracks include ‘Thanks for the Memory’, ‘9:20 Special’ and ‘Seven Come Eleven’.
A piece of advice for record buyers though: if you find a copy of this album with drums (by Larry Bunker), you’ve picked up the edited version, which overdubbed drums and edited out most of the solos!
This tampering was done by producer Richard Bock, who thought the subtle style was too cerebral. Thankfully, most pressings after the first feature the original recording without drums and with all solos restored.
Between his debut and 1972, Jim Hall released several excellent albums as a leader and worked with many of the finest jazz musicians of his day including saxophonist Sonny Rollins, trumpet player Chet Baker and alto player Paul Desmond.
Although fellow musicians praised his work, it wasn’t until 1972 that he received wider attention from the general public, for the album ‘Concierto’.
Hall is supported by an all-star cast of musicians, with Paul Desmond, Chet Baker, Roland Hanna, Ron Carter, and Steve Gadd all on the same album. Arranger and conductor Don Sebesky was also involved with the composition of the album.
Like with the best of Hall’s work, the word “subtle” seems to be the primary driving force of the music. Every musician on this album plays beautifully and yet never showboats.
Instead, they support and push each player to higher levels.
It creates a rather unique atmosphere, with Hall even showcasing his love of – and talent on – classical guitar, with his take on ‘Concierto de Aranjuez‘.
Alone Together (1973)
After ‘Concierto’ brought Hall’s name to the forefront across the US and abroad, he recorded this beautiful collection with bassist Ron Carter in 1972.
Usually considered one of his best albums, it showcases the unique interplay and almost psychic understanding he and Carter possessed on stage.
Recorded in New York at the Playboy Club, listeners get to experience Hall’s probing of several popular standards.
He leads the way through the music, adding harmonic colour and melodic depth to each track. Carter pushes Hall forward, keeping the music raw and earthy. The innate tension of each track is a fascinating listening experience.
This, like the majority of the Jim Hall discography, is best listened to with headphones and full attention; background listening doesn’t do it justice!
By the time 1984 came around, Hall had cemented his place as one of the best jazz guitar players of all time.
Wisely, he mostly stuck to his guns in the gaudy 80s and aggressive 90s, releasing this beautiful live recording with Ron Carter.
Like ‘Alone Together’, the two play with space in a gorgeous way. Perhaps even slower and measured than its predecessor, this album holds a special place in both musicians’ catalogues and is well worth repeated listens.
Something Special (1993)
Jim Hall’s music in the 90s was honest and consistent, steering clear of the trends of the day that some jazz musicians leaned towards.
There are no hip-hop textures, distorted guitar or synthesizers on this beautiful album: just Jim Hall being Jim Hall.
Hall still explores standards with his subtle and intellectual approach while integrating a few new tricks, such as bringing a touch of Pat Metheny’s style into his playing.
Jim Hall remains one of the greatest guitarists of all time. These five albums are just a snapshot of his long and prolific career.
If you’re looking for more from the great guitarist, check out his collaborative 1962 album with Bill Evans, ‘Undercurrent’.
He also features on a fantastic live album from Ben Webster – ‘Ben Webster at the Rennaisance’.
You can also hear him play alongside Lee Konitz and valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and Bill Evans again on Lee Konitz’s 1959 album ‘You and Lee’. It features some fantastic arrangements from Hall’s frequent collaborator Jimmy Giuffre.
Discover more great music in our guitar section.