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Jim Hall: Guitar As Miniature Orchestra

Jim Hall performs at the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR
Jim Hall performs at the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival.

The creative jazz guitarist Jim Hall died on Dec. 10, 2013. We remember Hall with a five-song introduction to his music by guitarist Rez Abbasi, originally published Dec. 1, 2009.

The most difficult hurdle a jazz musician encounters is to find a unique sound coupled with a unique vocabulary. For me, sound encompasses many facets, including feel and tone. Since most listeners of jazz tend to focus on sound, the inner structure and complexity of a phrase becomes blurred. Because most jazz musicians often focus on the chemistry of their vocabulary, developing a unique sound can take a back seat.

Guitarist Jim Hall is in a league of players who've turned the tables for jazz and their respective instruments. As far as modernizing the sound and vocabulary of jazz guitar to the degree he did, Hall is unmatched. Many other guitarists of his era were heroically proficient at emulating and expanding the nuances of bebop and post-bop vocabulary, but Hall placed great emphasis on a compositional approach to soloing. His introspection, lyricism, spontaneity and risk-taking further set him apart. His technique on one hand is idiosyncratic to the guitar, utilizing open strings and guitaristic textures, yet he is highly influenced by saxophonists and pianists. Furthermore, his use of the guitar as a miniature orchestra has become iconic.

It's possible to base an entire thesis on Hall's prolific creativity, but for now, here are five examples of his greatness in action. I could have picked virtually anything, but I chose these. When listening back for the first time in a while, I was awestruck all over again.

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Rez Abbasi