BY SAM SPOKONY | Legendary jazz guitarist and longtime Greenwich Village resident Jim Hall died on Dec. 10, at age 83.
Hall was widely regarded by both players and critics as a true master of the instrument, and his influence as a keenly melodic and modern guitarist continues to be felt throughout the jazz world. Along with leading his own bands, some of his most famous recorded collaborations include those with the saxophonist Sonny Rollins and the pianist Bill Evans in the 1950s and ’60s.
In his later years, Hall taught for some time at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, and he continued to perform up until his death. His final gig took place less than a month ago, on Nov. 23 at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room.
Hall died in his sleep at his W. 12th St. home — where he lived for four decades — after a short illness, according to his wife, Jane, to whom he was married for 48 years.
“He was such a sweet, wonderful man,” she said, “and he had a million friends.”
Elizabeth Butson, a former publisher of The Villager and a resident of the same W. 12th St. building, echoed that sentiment, explaining that Hall was revered within the community.
“He was beloved everywhere he went, whether it was as a musician, a teacher or a neighbor,” said Butson.
Among Hall’s friends toward the end of his life were a group of fellow New York City-based guitarists — many of them younger musicians who had grow up listening to him — whom he sometimes met for lunch at French Roast, at the corner of W. 11th St. and Sixth Ave.
The group always sat either in the restaurant’s back room or at a large table near the back. They talked shop and shared stories, but most of all, they laughed, according to one of those guitarists, Julian Lage, who added that the meetings were each jokingly referred to as “The Jim Hall Invitational Luncheon.”
“Nothing made Jim happier than hearing a funny story, and we spent the whole time laughing our heads off,” said Lage, 25, who performed alongside Hall numerous times, most recently at this year’s Newport Jazz Festival.
The last of the lunch meetings took place less than a week before Hall’s death, but it was particularly special because it was a celebration of his 83rd birthday.
“No one’s had a greater influence on my musical trajectory. And at every stage of my development, I’ve thought, ‘Thank God for Jim Hall,’ ” said Lage. “But it was those lunches that’ll remain some of the most enjoyable moments of my life.”
James Stanley Hall was born Dec. 4, 1930, in Buffalo, N.Y. Coming from a musical family, he first picked up the guitar at age 10, and was playing professionally by the time he was a teenager. He studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and then lived in Los Angeles before moving to New York in the early 1960s.
Hall’s vast musical contributions earned him America’s highest jazz honor in 2004, when he was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master.
In addition to his wife, Hall is survived by a daughter, Devra Hall Levy, who also served as his manager.