"I don't really play fast, speed has never come easily for me. Little by little I pared down my playing to suit my personality." ~ Jim Hall (December 4, 1930 – December 10, 2013)
As was the case for Chico Hamilton and countless other musicians who spent their lives immersed in music; the very act of playing, composing or even just thinking about music becomes paramount in living one's life. Playing music is a lifelong lesson with no end to discovery and the progression of one's ability, it is something to be constantly mined for even the smallest of advancements. Guitarist Jim Hall explains the compulsion for continuing education as a way of life: "I'm hoping to keep writing a bit every day and see what happens. I try to sort of push forward all the time. I have music paper and pencils on my desk here to keep moving, and that's really my basis of performing and being alive." The value of this approach cannot be overstated. A musician is never done honing his or her craft; there is always something more to learn.
Hall's stately, subtle, and brilliantly melodic style has influenced generations of jazz guitarists. Bill Frisell is one of those players and if you've ever spent time listening to him play, you are hearing a direct reflection of Hall's influence and tutelage. Frisell recalls some early lessons with Hall: “He talked a lot about other instruments and music in general... it wasn’t just about the guitar. … [It was about] using the guitar as a means to get at whatever music you’re hearing in your head, which could be a whole orchestra. It’s your imagination. So not just listening to guitar players, but listening to saxophone, piano, banjo and every other thing.” Hall's mantra was "listening is key" or "listen and react" and Frisell concurs, "I think that’s one of the qualities that permeates everything he does. He listens to the whole situation and it’s not just about him; it’s about making the whole music around him as good as it can possibly be.”
A famous quip of Hall's was “Don’t just do something. Sit there.” the meaning of which comes back to "listen and react." It is not always necessary to continually fill musical space with sound. Regardless of one's technical prowess, sometimes less is more. A well-placed note or two or three can often have more emotional impact than a dizzying display of speed and dexterity with a thousand notes crammed together in a musical phrase. Hall used this information in lessons with music students, saying, "Whenever I’m teaching, I have these students with incredible chops. I try things to get them to slow down. Occasionally, I’ll have them just play on one string like a trombone, or play a mode with three or four notes and develop that through a whole solo...it becomes an art form and gets away from all that macho b.s.” It is this sort of knowledge that benefits musicians from all walks of life and as Jim Hall would have wanted; it is important that you listen, listen well, and find your own voice.