Tonight we celebrate more than five decades of music brought to us by the great Jim Hall, a modest gentleman considering his outstanding accomplishments. Loved by his peers and audiences, acclaimed for his compositions and arrangements, tonight Jim joins us from his home in the Village here in New York City, where he lives and works with his wife and a dog named « Django ». [Tell us Jim, does the dog play guitar too?]
Jim Hall, you were born into a musical family devoted to stringed instruments in Buffalo, New York, and also grew up in Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio. Following in the steps of your grandfather and uncle, you began to play guitar at age 10, and started playing professionally in your teens. You then majored in music theory at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and moved on to Los Angeles to join the Chico Hamilton quartet. In 1960 you arrived in New York where you worked with Art Farmer and others, made famous recordings with Bill Evans, Ron Carter, even turned down Miles Davis because you were booked (!) and played for several years on the Merv Griffin Show. You formed your trio in 1965, and they still play today.
Indeed, Jim, you play regularly with your trio and collaborate with hosts of other artists, in venues ranging from the White House, the Smithsonian, and Carnegie Hall to small clubs around the world. You are known for taking advantage of every learning opportunity. Following a South American tour with Ella Fitzgerald in the 50’s, you famously extended your stay in Rio to soak up the new bossa nova sound, which would influence later recordings with Sonny Rollins and Paul Desmond. You are no stranger to France — you named your dog after Django Reinhardt after all – you have toured with Yves Montand and participated in festivals such as the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice.
With pianist Michel Petrucciani and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, you recorded “The Power of Three” at the Montruex Jazz Festival in 1987. Other collaborators include Pat Metheny who calls you « the father of jazz guitar phrasing » and says that “myself and countless others should probably be sending him regular checks!” concluding, “He made the guitar sing and speak and breathe”. Not to mention collaborations with Slide Hampton, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland Joe Lovano, Kenny Barron and Ornette Coleman. Your classical expertise allows you to work with violinist Itzak Perlman, and pianist and conductor Andre Previn, for example. Your recordings as a leader and solo artist are so numerous we could not pretend to do the list justice tonight. Suffice it to say that we continue to hear you on the airwaves, see you on television, and listen to your recordings, as we have for many years.
What is your secret? You’ve admitted: « I get bored very easily, and I think that’s one thing that helps me avoid clichés ». When you received the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship in 2004, you reflected that « The women and men who have received this award in the past have spread peace and love throughout the world, something that governments might emulate. I am pleased to be one of the peacemakers. » You are a great educator and the Berklee School of Music in Boston named a scholarship after you, honoring your commitment to young artists. You have also been recognized internationally with the Danish Jazz Par Prize. And now the French government joins in honoring the man known in England as « the Quiet American ». As you yourself have said « listening is the key » to any success. Silently, you listen to the world, and then focus on your own creations, most recently favoring orchestral and choral composition
We honor you, Jim Hall, for expanding the musical universe, for your innovations and contributions to musical expression. We salute your ongoing experimentation which has been known countless times to bring people around the world together.
Jim Hall, au nom du Ministère de la Culture, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
— Kareen Rispal, Cultural Counselor of the Embassy of France