We NEED to talk about this because it is outrageous that people lie to us like this.
I am sure you have heard how Jim Hall had this text on his business card: “Won’t play loud, can’t play fast”
Which, kind of, fits his style. His playing is relaxed with an incredibly strong time, good phrasing, and he is very melodic, but after taking his word for it all these years, I recently found out that this isn’t true at all!
He actually plays songs at more than 260 bpm, AND he does it very well adding all sorts of stuff at that tempo, how is that “Can’t play fast”?
But it is a GREAT solo with some amazing rhythms, polyrhythms, and phrasing concepts, and there are quite a few things to learn from it, so let’s have a look at that.
Great Rhythms Are Not Only 8th Note lines
Usually, the first thing you think of with an up-tempo solo is fast 8th-note lines, and that is a large part of what is often played. The Hampton Hawes solo that is before Jim Halls solo on this track is also very dense with 8th notes, but Jim Hall goes about it differently, and it is incredible how there are so many nuances to his playing and phrasing even at this tempo.
The song they are playing is Dizzy Gillespie’s Groovin’ High and this is off a Hampton Hawes album from 1958 called All night Session Vol. 1
Jim Hall is so much more about rhythm and melody than just running the changes. As you can hear then he takes his time and leaves quite a lot some space but also chooses to start on a nice chromatic leading note to create some tension.
He is also working a lot more with quarter notes than with 8th notes, which is sort of, a swing thing,
but what you first want to notice is all the detail and variation he adds to the phrasing. He is not just playing the notes, there is a lot more going on.
The first one is the very subtle trill Am7 D7,
but there are also slides on the Ebmaj7 and Gm7 C7 that follow.
Later there are some clever ways of using slides in the melodies, and you can also see that Jim Hall uses some Barry Harris strategies, and a few other tricks to play at this tempo, and I really love how he does this, drawing on both Swing and Bebop.
The Opposite of Bebop
I mentioned earlier how Jim Hall draws from swing as well as Bop, and his main influence was certainly Charlie Christian who is also in between those styles.
This whole section is using lots of repeated notes, which he can only get away with because his time is so good and the rhythmic ideas are strong enough. When he plays lines then it is all except for one spot just using Eb major.
So not digging into the changes that much and relying on other things to make it work, but as you can hear it clearly works. Mainly because the melodies are strong enough.
Is He Faking It?
You might think, well he is just faking it and making it easier for himself, but don’t think that he can’t play the changes, because he certainly nails them later in the solo, and even starts playing polyrhythms on top of the song, something that was not that common at this point in time. This is all a choice that also becomes clear later in the solo.
Swing and That Thing Pat Metheny Stole
Most of the time, I talk about Bebop in the lessons, mainly because that is the large foundation for what we consider mainstream Jazz, but as I talked about in the video on learning solos by ear, then swing phrasing also has a place in there also just to be able to play something that isn’t ONLY 8th notes. They can also be a way to get more out of your syncopation, check this out:
The first part of this is actually just a pentatonic pickup
then playing the 3rd of the chord in half notes
And then he adds an embellishment around that 3rd
But because the first part is so heavy on the beat then once he start adding up beats and then they have much more effect. Filling the whole thing up with 8th notes would not really give you that effect.
Here you can also see that he is just thinking D7 on the Am7 D7, since he comes out on the F# at the very beginning of those two bars and just plays D major pentatonic.
This is really typical both for Jim Hall’s playing in general but certainly also for this solo: Since there are fewer notes then the melodies are clearer
Then you get the Pat Metheny lick, which is then actually a Jim Hall lick that Pat Metheny stole, I am not sure which Jim Hall albums Metheny checked, but I suspect this was one of them. If anybody knows then leave a comment.
I am of course talking about the repeat notes scale run:
The next part is incredibly simple but this way of phrasing such a simple melody and also use a motif across a II V really blew my mind.
A 3-note motif on Gm7:
and how it is developed on the C7:
Let’s check out some polyrhythms and chromaticism
Jim Hall, Does It Thunk?
But first I want to just talk a little bit about Jim Hall’s sound on this which, as far as I can tell, is the same as it is on his debut tribute album just titled “Jazz Guitar” which came out in 1957, so the year before this album, All Night Session Vol 1. Both of these albums are great, this one was new to me and is in fact in a part of a series of 3 albums that all are great, also if you want to hear how Jim Hall comps a piano player, they get that to work extremely well.
As far as I can tell, it is Jim Hall playing his ES175 into a Gibson amp, and the sound is very dry. If you have seen my video on my 175 then you know that I sometimes found myself fighting against the lack of sustain. To me, that is also what you hear on this recording, the sound is compressed, but there is not a lot of sustain.
When I hear the expression Thunk, then this is the sound I think of, it may be that there is not enough bass in the sound, since it is an old recording and also because the amp is very small. If you know a better example then let me know in the comments.
So the star here is of course the descending chromatic run that is then used as a part of a 3/4 bar shifting on top of the meter.
Notice how he is emphasizing the #11 on the F7, so really going for a Lydian dominant sound there and just moving that motif around before resolving it back to Eb with a pretty simple Bb phrase and sliding into the 3rd of Eb.
Most of the stuff that he borrowed from swing until now has been about the rhythm, but I think this next phrase also really uses some swing note choices.
The opening of this 2nd chorus of the solo is really emphasizing the 6th and uses the Eb,maj6 sound, which you could also describe as major pentatonic, since the major pentatonic scale really just a maj6/9 chord.
Eb major Pentatonic:
An Eb major triad:
plus a 6th and a 9th:
But the melody in this case is really going for the 6th in a way that is maybe strong than most places where you hear major pentatonic. You also want to notice that you again have the Barry Harris: Am7 D7 is just D7.
The next phrase falls in the category of making melodies with chord tones and leading notes more than thinking scales. Here it is an Eb major triad with a leading note that also really brings out the #11 on the chord. Very similar to the way I have talked about George Benson, Grant Green, and Charlie Parker sometimes construct their lines.
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