Guitar Hero

Guitarist Jim Hall died well over a year ago, but I'm still in a state of mourning and semi-denial about it. For ages now, Hall has been an essential part of my jazz listening on reams of classic records with other great musicians. In countless settings, he delivered so many indelible, perfect little musical moments that I can scarcely believe he's gone. Thankfully his prolific recorded legacy lives on, meaning I can bring him into my living room whenever I want, which is often. Some musicians play instruments, while others transcend them to create real beauty; Jim was one of the latter. He wasn't so much a guitarist as he was a music maker, a special designation of Jake Hanna's which he reserved only for the musicians he admired most. The words "empathetic" and "subtle" always came up in descriptions of Hall's work and fittingly so, he was often those. But the words that come to mind when I consider his musicality mostly start with the letter "i". His playing had marvelous insight and integrity, a unique dimension of intuitive interplay, quiet intensity and above all, intelligence. He was surely one of the most musically intelligent figures in the history of jazz, which allowed him to do things on the guitar that seemed improbable, sometimes even impossible. Not because they were technically difficult necessarily, but because they seemed to come from out of nowhere, sprung from his highly-attuned musical imagination. Like the pianist Tommy Flanagan, Hall was more [...]

A Goose by Any Other Name

So, I'm still making like Herman Punster, playing around with baseball names and song titles. Fortunately for all though, it's winding down. One of the challenges of doing this is negotiating the difference between how a name looks and the way it sounds. For example, a reader left one I really enjoyed - "Tiant Steps" - after John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" and the ageless Cuban pitcher, Luis Tiant. It works beautifully on paper, a good visual pun, but Tiant's name is pronounced like "tea-aunt", making "Tiant for Two" a better ear-pun. The best song puns work both ways, but they're hard to come up with. I tripped up on pronunciations a few times in my first long pun-post and had to change a couple. My friend Bill Kirchner has huge ears and eagle eyes. He pointed out to me that even as a self-confessed "non-baseball fanatic", he was pretty sure Bobby Knoop's last name was pronounced like "Knopp", meaning it didn't really work for "What's Knoop?" ("What's New?"). So, "But Knoop For Me" would be better. It was the same with Clem Labine - I somehow got it into my head that his name was pronounced "Labeen" and used that for "It's Labine A Long, Long Time". But his last name rhymes with "fine", so I changed the song to "Labine & Dandy". Given that the general populace of North America numbers in the hundreds of millions and there have only been ten or twelve thousand major-league ballplayers, it's amazing that there have been such a disproportionately high number of funny, tongue-twisting more [...]