The Jim Hall Interview (circa 1999)
This was an unfinished interview I did with Jim, basically right after he did the Pat Metheny record I think. At the time I wanted to try to meet with as many of my father’s friends and colleagues to get all the inside information I could given that Attila had just died a year earlier and Tal just before that. The same thing happened with Sal Salvador right after Tal’s memorial. I had called him only a few months before his passing. I eventually interviewed Bob Brookmeyer about a year and a half ago and will put that up soon.
Jim Hall: Gene Bertoncini and I had gone down to—what’s the College? (Belarmine) And your Dad was teaching and I did a clinic. The next day, we played a concert with musicians from Louisville. Your Dad had told me how bad his hearing got. His hearing was so dicey at that time that he would have to kind of count his way through tunes and not be able to hear, except maybe the drums. So I was sitting backstage with Gene Bertoncini and your Dad was playing and he sounded fantastic! He just sounded perfect (more laughs). I said it to Gene and repeated it to your Dad, “If I ever found out that he’s faking us I’m going to kill him!” (laughter between us). I just couldn’t believe it, just sounded like Jim Raney, just great.
Jon Raney: Can I go back in time with you?
JH: Yeah, sure.
JR: When did you first hear about him? (Jim Raney) A record or..?
JH: Yeah, I’m not sure possibly the Stan Getz stuff? I saw him with Stan once I think… The first time I saw him he was with Artie Shaw’s band. Big band…it was in some kind of ballroom in Cleveland.
JR: How was that band?
JH: It was great. I think Zoot Sims was in it and Al Cohn.
JR: I think Artie said it was his best band ever, but they couldn’t make any money.
JH: Is that right?
JR: That kind of started his decline
JH: Is that right? (laughs)
JR…where he just started becoming a curmudgeon.
JH: Yeah..I don’t think I ever met him (Artie). Your dad was with Woody Herman too for a while.
JR: He was with Woody Herman and then Artie Shaw and he was part of the Gramercy 5.
JH: Oh yeah? That makes sense. I didn’t hear it though. Somehow I think I may have said hello to your dad then because I would naturally chase after the guitar players. But I met him when he was playing at the Blue Angel. I think I was kind of skulking around there and your dad was in his car getting ready to go home..I don’t know if he recognized me or if had my guitar or what but we started talking and..
JR: Was that when he was with Jimmy Lyons?
JH: So I saw a lot of your dad. We hung out a lot together. I was drinking pretty good too in those days!
JR: Uh huh.. He (Jim Raney) was not quite into it at that time. I think it started when he was working at that club
JH: That’s right. It was under control—kind of for both of us. I was finally able to give it up about 1964.
JR: Did you guys jam together?
JR: Hung out in the apartment and played together?
JR: How was that?
JH: Well again. It was…it’s funny you asked that. I just talked to Tal’s wife just a few hours ago. I happened to run across their number in my book. It was kind of like a family and it’s nice to feel that way. I don’t remember anything specific but your dad and I played together a lot. At these kind of sessions or I’d run out to your place in Queens. He had an incredible wit of course (phone rings)
JH: It’s funny when it’s happening… you never think you’re going to be talking about it in the past tense a few years later. But he obviously was a huge influence on me. In fact I wrote a tune called Dream Steps I think… not too long after your dad died. It was based on the chords to You Stepped Out of A Dream ’cause I loved that line he wrote for the Stan Getz Motion. So I wrote a line on it called the Dream Steps.
JH: We played together a lot. I sure admired his playing. We played quite differently. But he seemed to like what I was doing
JR: I have a radio interview from Louisville. There’s a local guy named Phil Bailey who has a radio show and he was doing a five hour retrospective and they came up to the part where you had done some recording together. And he said (Jim Raney) “Well you’ll be able to tell…Jim Hall is the one that plays the concise to the point kind of lines and I’m the one that goes on and on and on…”
JR: I guess it was kind of a mutual admiration
JH: Oh absolutely. I think it really was.
JH: We had this quartet and…
JR: You had a group together?
JH: Yeah, in fact that picture (on JH’s bookshelf of dad and Jim) was used outside the Vanguard. We played in the Vanguard.
JR: Who was in that band?
JH: I think Nabi Toda played bass and I’m not sure if it was Alan Levitt. Or there’s another drummer but I’m drawing a blank on him. I think Al was in it and I know Nabi was in it. And we did the John Chancellor show. He had a morning television show. Your Dad and I stayed up all night at McGowan’s there and then we did the show. I’d love to see that tape(laughs)
JH: I think we did ok. I think it was a 8 or 9 o’clock show. I used to have an apartment right down the street here before Jane and I. It was Dick Katz’s apartment. There was a couch and I had a small bed. If we were playing late, your Dad would crash out there.
JR: That was when he was living down on Sheridan Square?
JH: I don’t know Jon, My feeling is that he and your mom were already married. I remember Dougie (Doug Raney) coming down to Bill Crow’s apartment one time. Bill would be a good person to talk to about your Dad.
JR: That’s true. You know there’s something I really wanted to ask you. There’s an album I really like a lot called Two Jims and Zoot
JR: Do you have any background ditties on that…anything that comes to mind on that date? charts, events, the way it went down?
JH: Well it was always easy…between Zoot and I think Osie Johnson and Steve Swallow. I think Steve had been playing when I was with Art Farmer. And I wrote a tune called Raney Day (R-A-N-E-Y) I think it was that date. I said, “Jim would you mind if I use your name on a tune?” And so he said, “How were you thinking of using it? (Laughter) One of his dry remarks.
JH: I just remember it as being a lot of fun.
JR: Well he had very in-(volved) parts. Since there was no piano—there were a lot of thick chords in between both instruments. I guess he had written a lot of that out?
JH: I hadn’t heard it in a while (the record). I think we were on another one with Brookmeyer too.
JR: Street Swingers–
JH: Street Swingers! That’s right
JR: I don’t have that album
JH: I have it here. Thing I remember about Street Swingers is that the (cover) photograph was taken on the roof, either on the adjoining building or the roof of the building we recorded at and it was frEEzing cold! I think Lee Friedlander took that picture. I’ll have to dig it up. I just remember kind of standing and shivering just with our jackets and suits on.
JR: The thing I remember most about that recording (The Two Jims and Zoot recording) are some of those exchanges—like where you’re (plural) playing some of it is unaccompanied where you both are playing together on top of each other. There are some incredible—I don’t know the last time you’ve heard it, but there’s some uncanny stuff. There’s another of your records that’s similar—artistically speaking. There’s a similar thing going which is Undercurrents
JH: Oh Yeah
JR: Which is one of my favorites of all time. Especially My Funny Valentine, the second take (on the CD).
JH: Yeah, that went nice.
JR: How did you do that?
JH: It’s funny—
JR: (interjecting) That’s probably one of the—maybe, for me-one of the finest moments captured on disk. The way that whole tune… (evolved) there’s no bass, and the rhythm is going and you’re doing stuff and he’s doing stuff that’s just…
JH: I’ve got to…I’m not being modest but I’ve gotta pretty much lay it on Bill (Evans), because it was as if he was inside my brain. For instance in my solo a few times I’m kind of scuffling and he’s laying out and then he’ll lead me right to the next phrase—you know? Sort of finish up and say okay—boom (gestures with a chord) and I’d go there. He did tell me that he liked me to play rhythm and as soon as I started playing rhythm, he would automatically not use his left hand. He had that kind of sense—
JR: He had that orchestrational thing–
JH: I think, yeah.
JR: Well you both did because I mean—what’s similar about that and the stuff with dad is the fact that Dad and Bill are a certain kind of structured kind of playing. And I think that you’re playing—you kind of weave in and out.
JR: (continuing) bounce off that. In my view it wouldn’t have happened without the way you play. Of course it wouldn’t happen without either of you..
JH: (Laughs) thanks.
JR: But uh—I was just thinking of that when I came over. Especially that counterpoint thing, that interaction—it’s so difficult to do.
JH: I know that today if I’m going to choose people to play with and keep using them and playing with them according to how well they listen and react; whether or not they’re virtuosos isn’t as important. It might have been because I went to a music school somehow—I did a lot of counterpoint and composition. That was a complete shot in the dark. It was a school in Cleveland and I managed—I was able to pay it off with just a little at a time.
JR: Right…So you guys didn’t work out any of the details—you just kind of let it fly?
JH: Probably not. I’d have to hear it. I think we just listened to each other. And your dad was real easy to listen to. I’ll have to…I meant to do a little more background. Maybe we can get together again. I’m going to be gone. Next week I’m going to Europe just for a week.
JR: uh huh
JH: That’s another reason I’m sort of mixed about this project because I agree that you’re dad should be better known, obviously. This might help…
>We continue to discuss this project >
JR: Is there any other stories over the years that you recall, happenings?
JH: Yeah. We played at a wedding reception for a (thinks…) a writer, Chinese-American guy named Len Shi and he married Daphne Helmond…I think your Dad and I played. I know we were at the reception anyway. I think Daphne Helmond was from kind of high society and the waiter came around with caviar—black caviar—and your Dad did a real Kentucky down-home and he says, “Oh boy, raspberries!” and he grabbed a bunch. He had an incredible wit I thought.
JH: And Nabi Toda. Nabi could be silly too but occasionally he’d get serious about the bass. He talked about different ways of bowing and he had this one thing called “jumping bow” and different kinds of bowings. So your Dad made a bunch of drawings, sort of like crickets or katydids. “This is a jumping bow” etc. (we both laugh)
JH: I think your dad took cello lessons with the cellist with the Julliard quartet, I think. But he was really serious about the cello.
JR: Did that come about after he did that Suite for String Quintet
JH: Not Sure–
JR: –Was it with Walter Trampler?
JH: Yeah that’s right.
JR: I don’t remember much about the cello playing. I do remember hearing a little bit of jazz on the cello, but I was about 2 years old. I don’t think he owned a cello after a while.
JH: I just thought he was a incredible musician and a very close friend.
JR: Doug seems to think the way his hand position on the guitar—(was related to his cello playing) this way (I make a cello type hand gesture)
JH: Yeah, funny.
JR: I never thought of that until he (Doug) mentioned that.
JH: Yeah, I hadn’t either. I really think he had a unique way of picking. He’d play triplets “di-de-la-di-de-la” playing across two strings, whereas I would play them on one—like I would do it all with the left hand.
JR: Like a false fingering kind of thing?
JH: And he played those incredible long lines. Yeah…that line that he wrote on You Stepped Out of a Dream in the key of D. We used to play that together. It always reminded me of Bartok. The way it starts on the raised fourth–
JH: -it has a series of fourths in it. (hums the melody). And then just the way it evolves—the sequences.
JR: Do you think he was listening to Bartok back then?
JR: That was a long time ago. I think around 1951
JH: Yeah, maybe he wasn’t then.
JR: Maybe it was in the air or something?
JH: Well, maybe it was in his air.
JH: Bill Crow worked with your dad in one of Stan Getz’s groups. I think Bill was the one who was telling about how gentlemanly your dad was. He was really bugged at how Stan did some nasty things to him. I think when you’re dad quit, Bill said, your dad just sort of went into the bathroom and stayed there and finally Stan came looking for him. Instead of blowing up or anything he just waited ‘til Stan showed up and said, “Okay I quit.” (laughs)
JH: One time Stan had left your dad stranded someplace. I think maybe your dad got drunk. Way out west someplace. Your dad had to borrow money to get back. (right after) I had a record date with Stan—probably a bossa nova thing or something. Stan knew that your dad and I were close friends and Stan picked up such a bad vibe from me that he sent everybody home (laughs). I think he knew I was really freezing him out. I didn’t say anything about it but I think he just knew. I barely spoke to him.
JR: Did you have a similar relationship to Stan or was Stan maybe a bit closer to dad?
JH: Oh yeah, He was closer to your dad. I didn’t know Stan that well. But…
JR: As well as anyone could know Stan.
JH: Exactly. I don’t think he knew himself.
JR: I do remember my father telling me, uh, a lot of guitar players think your forte, in addition of course to your great playing, in particular is your comping.
JH: Really. That’s good for me! This thing (his guitar) has been sitting here frowning at me! (laughs)
JR: Well, I mean that you just take more of a pianist’s type of approach to comping. Doug often—I hear some of the nuances (in him) that you’ve developed.
JH: Are you left handed?
JR: No, I’m right handed. Wish I were left handed! (laughs)
JH: Yeah, that’s funny.
JR: But—What was I getting at? Oh yeah. The story he (dad) was saying was that when they started playing together in ’62, Stan was starting up again with him, needling him, “Why can’t you comp more like Jim Hall?
JH: Oh no!
JR: Or something like that.
JH: (somewhat ironically) Thanks a lot!
JR: Well… Dad had a certain style—maybe it was developed in a different era or under a different circumstance. Most of the time, when he was playing with Stan, earlier it was Al Haig comping and he was playing counter lines. So I think by the time he and Stan starting playing again, it was almost like his soloing and all that became so much of his forte, that his chord playing seemed almost perfunctory. Stan would—
JH: I’m sorry to hear that! (laughs)
JR: –would fire everybody, especially bass players.
JH: I actually called him not too long before he died. On the radio I had heard a duet he did with Kenny Barron. I tracked him down. I told him that I had seen him in a Benny Goodman movie and he said in effect “I am Benny Goodman. We’re both the same—two hated Jews!” (laughs). That’s the kind of stuff that would come out of him.
JH: Anyway. I was with a whole bunch of groups on the road that didn’t have any piano. We’d work some place opposite another group—I’d pay particular attention to the piano, to see what the guy would do. And then with Giuffre and Brookmeyer and me and no bass, I’d play a lot of rhythm. Bobby liked me to play kind of Kansas City rhythm (laughs)’though he hates it now. So that’s my excuse.
The remainder of the interview gets away somewhat from the Jimmy Raney topic. Jim did mention how that dad and he used to share a Gibson tube amp that they stored it at the jazz hangout, Jim & Andy’s, and that one time he had taken dad (and Zoot on a separate occasion) to an AA meeting.
Other things discussed briefly were: his first record Jazz Guitar: Jim Hall with Carl Perkins and Red Mitchell, an early guitarist who played with Ruby Braff that both of us drew a blank on and his relationship with the cartoonist Gary Larson. I mentioned how I had seen Larson and Paul Desmond’s friend, the tennis player Don Budge in the audience at one of Jim’s gigs at the Vanguard about ten years ago. Jim recounted the first humorous lesson with Gary Larson where Gary asked Jim if he could help him to get away from holding his picking hand in this “stupid position”—which was exactly the way that Jim holds his hand.
At the very end, I lamented that there were many gaps in my knowledge of dad due to family circumstances and my age. Jim mentioned if someone could hypnotize him, he probably would have tons of stories. We have discussed continuing the interview further with a little more time and preparation.