Guitarist Jim Hall, played with jazz greats, dead at 83

Story highlights

  • Jim Hall legitimized the guitar as an instrument in jazz, guitarist Julian Lage says
  • Hall's guitar had "a really full, nice, round, sweet sound," guitarist Russell Malone says
  • "He was the kindest person in the world," his wife says
  • He was the first jazz guitarist given the NEA's Jazz Masters award

Jazz guitarist Jim Hall, who played with the jazz greats of the 20th century and influenced the younger ones, died Tuesday, his family said. He was 83.

Hall's seven decades in music covered the evolution of modern jazz, and his role included showing that the guitar could replace the piano, said guitarist Julian Lage. Hall legitimized the guitar as an instrument in jazz and many other styles of music, he said.

"I wouldn't be doing what I am doing if not for him," said Lage, 25, who played for several years in Hall's trio.

Hall became the first jazz guitarist to be given the National Endowment for the Arts' Jazz Masters award in 2004.

"One of the things that made Jim so special as a player, he had a beautiful sound on the instrument," guitarist Russell Malone told CNN on Wednesday. "He had a really full, nice, round, sweet sound."

Hall died in his sleep of heart failure at his home in New York's Greenwich Village early Tuesday, his wife Jane Hall told CNN. He is also survived by a daughter, Devra Hall, who acted as his manager in recent years.

"There's not a person in the world who doesn't love Jim," his wife said. "He was the kindest person in the world."

Jim Hall performs during the Newport Jazz Festival 2013 at Fort Adams State Park on August 4, 2013.

"He was such a lovely human being," Malone said. "I might get a call anytime of the night and it would be Jim Hall at the other end of the phone laughing and telling me how much he loved me."

"Jim was one of the most generous, kind and funny people I have ever known and those attributes were so woven into his character," Lage said.

Born in Buffalo, New York, but raised mostly in Cleveland, Ohio, Hall began playing guitar at age 10. After graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Music, he joined the Chico Hamilton Quintet in 1955.

Hall toured South America with Ella Fitzgerald in 1960. He joined the Sonny Rollins Quartet in 1961, playing on Rollins' "The Bridge."

"The interplay between Rollins' fiery solos and Hall's classic guitar runs made this one of jazz's most essential recordings," the National Endowments for the Arts biography of Hall said.

"It was an electric guitar, but the natural acoustic qualities of the guitar were never lost," Malone said. "It's the first thing that people hear. His sound was so appealing it made you want to listen to what he was saying musically."

"He didn't play a whole lot of notes, but he always figured a way to play the notes that counted and they always meant something," Malone said. "Nothing was ever wasted."

The trio Hall formed in 1965 continued performing and recording through the end of his life.

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