An Unofficial Memorial For Jazz Greats Jim Hall And Charlie Haden

Oct 14, 2014
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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Before they performed as a duo in Montreal in 1990, jazz guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Charlie Haden had recorded only once together as sidemen with Ornette Coleman 20 years earlier. The album of their 1990 concert is now out. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says it's an unofficial memorial album. Hall passed away last December and Haden in July.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIM HALL AND CHARLIE HADEN SONG, "TURNAROUND")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Charlie Haden on a tune Haden loved - Ornette Coleman's blues "Turnaround." If you think it's cynical to release a 24-year-old recording by two recently deceased jazz greats, know that it was already in the works when they were alive. Of all the great jazz bass players, Haden was maybe the slowest. He could play fast when he wanted, but he loved to let tuneful long notes ring out. The woody richness of his tone comes through even when he's amplified.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE HADEN SONG, "SKYLARK")

WHITEHEAD: Charlie Haden on a song he hadn't recorded before - Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark," an old favorite of Jim Hall's. Haden and Hall didn't travel in the same circles, though for a while they lived parallel lives. Both came from the Midwest and had early success with forward-looking groups in LA in the '50s before moving to New York. And both were inspired by so-called hillbilly music. The Hadens had a family band, and Hall had a guitar-playing uncle. Later, they both worked folk strings into their improvised music.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIM HALL SONG)

WHITEHEAD: Jim Hall evoking Charlie Haden's old boss, Ornette Coleman. Hall had studied composition, and he thought like a composer while soloing. He always tried to make a unified statement. On Thelonius Monk's "Bemsha Swing," Hall will take a small motif, improvise variations on it until it turns into a new figure and then work variations on that.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIM HALL SONG, "BEMSHA SWING")

WHITEHEAD: The album "Charlie Haden - Jim Hall" also lets Hall show off as a rhythm guitarist. When jazz musicians play basic blues or folk material, they often gussy it up. And these guys do a bit of that, but Hall's old-school folk guitar strumming makes an effective frame for Haden's bass singing a melody. This is Jim Hall's "Down From Antigua."

(SOUNDBITE OF JIM HALL SONG, "DOWN FROM ANTIGUA")

WHITEHEAD: It's good to hear informal conversations between great musicians. These two obviously hadn't worked out much in advance. It's not the best thing either one ever did, but since Jim Hall loved playing duets with bass and Charlie Haden loved duos with guitarists, and Hall thought of bass as an extension of guitar and Haden could sound like he was picking a giant six-string, this 1990 meeting was a good idea waiting to happen - but not so good that the album came out before now.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIM HALL SONG, "DOWN FROM ANTIGUA")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and Wondering Sound and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed the album "Charlie Haden - Jim Hall," a concert recorded 24 years ago and out for the first time now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.