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Fresh Air Remembers Jazz Guitarist Jim Hall

The guitarist, composer and arranger died in his sleep Tuesday at 83. Hall was known for a subtle, lyrical playing style, a gift for innovation and collaborations with a host of talented musicians in a career that stretched for more than seven decades. Hear an interview from 1989.




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Other segments from the episode on December 13, 2013

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 13, 2013: Obituary for Jim Hall; Tribute to Sammy Cahn; Review of the film "American Hustle."


December 13, 2013

Guests: Jim Hall - Sammy Cahn

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Guitarist Jim Hall from his first album called "Jazz Guitar." How old were you when you made that record?

JIM HALL: Let's see, 26, I guess - 25, 26, I think.

GROSS: What were you working on, on your playing at that time?

HALL: I thought you were going to say what was I wearing? What was I wearing?



GROSS: No, you're playing, you know, what were you really concerned with at that time?

HALL: I was just thinking about that as the record was playing. I think I probably loved Zoot Sims and Lester Young about then. And I can kind of hear that in my playing. I sounded like, I was around Zoot Sims a lot for a period of years and I loved his rhythmic sense, his sense of time. And I loved Lester's melodic sense. So it sounds like kind of a combination of the two of them and a little bit of Charlie Christian. And those were a little shorter than the way I play now. Sounded pretty good, actually. I enjoyed hearing that.

GROSS: I think sounds real good.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST: Jim Hall speaking with Terry Gross, recorded in 1989. We'll hear more after break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And we're listening to Terry's interview with jazz guitarist, composer and arranger, Jim Hall, who died Tuesday at the age of 83. They spoke in 1989.

Over the years, you've played with many different musicians, including Jimmy Giuffre - who you mentioned.

HALL: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Ben Webster, Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz, Bill Evans. Some of the musicians you've played with have been black, some of them have been white. You've played in groups of I think all different racial configurations.

HALL: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And there's been times when the group has been predominantly white with a black musician. And there's times where the groups been predominantly black and you've been the white musician.

HALL: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What are some of the absurdities you've run into in various configurations with how, like the black player or the white player was treated?

HALL: Well, often, when I was working with Sonny Rollins, I was - I hate to even get into racial things. But, nevertheless, it's a fact that I was the white guy in the group and often we'd be checking into a hotel and the people at the hotel would assume I was the manager, whereas, in reality, I was the most unmanageable one in the group.


HALL: And then I remember driving cross-country with Chico Hamilton - and this was in the '50s - and Chico wouldn't even get out the car going through the South and the West, and I'd have to go in for, you know, for food and bring it out to him and he was the leader of the group. That was I would say absurd in every sense of the word. Mostly the experiences were terrific. I wouldn't trade any of that. Just, you know, the peripheral business was reflected the what was happening in the country and still is, I think.

GROSS: After playing for years and, you know, after being on the road for years, in the mid-1960s, you decided to come off the road for a while and you got a job in New York working in the band of "The Merv Griffin Show."

HALL: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Why did you want to go off the road?

HALL: I felt I'd enough of it for a while. I was interested in getting married. And I'm not quite sure. I think I was tired. I had been on the road almost constantly for about 10 years and the Griffin show job was available so I took it.

GROSS: What kinds of music recalled on to play?

HALL: Garbage.


HALL: The same people. I felt like I was - what did Yogi Berra say? Deja vu all over again. I had played with these nuts when I was a kid. You know, you'd play a wedding and some, and the bride would have a cousin or something, and you'd come up and sing and it was always bad and they'd get lost. So now these guys are stars and you're, I'd say I did this when I was 14. That's the way it felt to me. And then occasion - well, on the other hand, I got to play with Count Basie on that show. We had a big band for a while when we went to CBS and I had never played with Basie. And I also got to play with Duke Ellington, you know, by default. We were there. We were the band. But generally we just, we would play "While the World Was Watching." TV commercial we'd be playing some of our staff. And it was a good band. Musically, it was terrific. Bob Brookmeyer was in the band, Richie Kamuka, marvelous tenor player. Jake Hanna was the drummer, for a while we had Kai Winding, Benny Powell, was another trombone player. Great musicians. But I don't even particularly want to dwell on it. It was just a bad, not something that I would - that's not what I started out to do and I managed to get out of it.

GROSS: Hmm. Well, I want to play something that you recorded in the mid-1970s. This is from an album called "Concerto." And I want to play the alternate take of your recording of "The Answer Is Yes," which is a song that was written by your wife, Jane Hall.

HALL: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And I'm playing the alternate take here because it features a lot more of you.


HALL: Yeah.

GROSS: And it's issued on the CD version of the album. You want to say anything about this before we hear?

HALL: Yeah. I'm nervous. I never heard this alternate take.

GROSS: You didn't?

HALL: It's a tough tune. My wife did write it and I say that because it has a - the bridge on it is difficult. And I remember that Chet Baker had a tough time getting through the bridge because he didn't, he didn't read chord changes. He played entirely by ear, he's a marvelous player. I'm curious to hear it.

GROSS: Well, let's give it a listen.

HALL: Yeah.


GROSS: An excerpt of "The Answer Is Yes," featuring my guest guitarist, Jim Hall, from his reissued album "Concerto." Well, I liked it. What did you think?

HALL: It was kind of interesting. Roland Hanna wasn't even on that take, it sounds like, and neither was Chet. So maybe that's why we did another one. I guess that was just a trio version. I'll have to, I think I have a CD of that, but I haven't heard it yet. I sort of like the way I was thrashing through the chord changes there. Worked out all right.

GROSS: You've never been one of these like flashy speed guitarist.

HALL: No. I never could. Actually, I wish, often wish that I could do that and just not because I chose not to. But the guitar has been difficult for me to play physically. It gets better occasionally. For instance, I had to play solos in Brazil a couple of years ago and that really frightened me. So I'd practiced, every morning I'd wake up in a sweat about six o'clock in the morning, and I practice until about nine, then go back to sleep. And I actually did get better. My technique got better. I got faster. I also got through the solo concerts. But I've never really had the, that particular kind of speed facility. I think I have other kinds of techniques that I use on the guitar but speed has never been one of them. So that's why I play slower tempos and ballads.

GROSS: Certain people have this almost stereotyped view of the jazz musician as hipster.

HALL: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You know, and it's an image that physically you don't fit into. Do you know what I mean?

HALL: Mm-hmm. Sure.

GROSS: The hipster image. Did people ever say to you, you don't look like a jazz musician?

HALL: Mm-hmm. Yes. Or a number of other things too. Yeah.


HALL: Sure. That's why I said people thought I was a band manager on the road.

GROSS: Right. Right. So how do you react to that?

HALL: I enjoy that. I get a kick out of it. If you can play then it makes it even more fun. You don't look like an athlete, but actually you're Babe Ruth or something. That's pretty good.

DAVIES: Jim Hall, speaking with Terry Gross, recorded in 1989. Hall died Tuesday at his home in Greenwich Village. He was 83. I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: Coming up, we had a late lyricists Sammy Cahn's definition of chutzpah, singing "Be My Love" in front of one of the great singers of the day, Mario Lanza. It was just one of many of the songs he would demonstrate for singers like Lanza and Frank Sinatra. This is the year of the centenary of Sammy Cahn's birth. We'll listen to a 1985 interview with him. And David Edelstein will review the new film "American Hustle."


DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. This year marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of lyricist Sammy Cahn, who was born Samuel Cohen on the Lower East Side of New York City on June 18th, 1913.

We didn't want the year to end without celebrating this centennial. Let's start with just a small sampling of his songs.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Hey there cutes, put on your dancin' boots. Come dance with me. Come dance with me, what an evening for some Terpsichore.


THE ANDREW SISTERS: (Singing) Bei mir bist du schn, please let me explain. Bei mir bist du schn means you're grand.


MARIO LANZA: (Singing) Be my love, for no one else can end this yearning; this need that you and you alone create.


DINAH WASHINGTON: (Singing) Did you say that I've got a lot to learn? Well, don't think I'm trying not to learn. Since this is the perfect spot to learn. Oh, teach me tonight.


FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Saturday night is the loneliest night in the week, 'cause that's the night that my sweetie and I used to dance cheek to cheek. I don't mind...


ABBEY LINCOLN: (Singing) Time after time, I tell myself that I'm so lucky to be loving you.


SINATRA: (Singing) Come fly with me. Let's fly, let's fly away. If you can use some exotic foods, there's a bar in far Bombay. Come fly with me. Let's fly, let's fly away. Come fly...

DAVIES: Sammy Cahn had his most successful and enduring partnerships with composers Saul Chaplin, Jule Styne and Jimmy Van Heusen. Several of his songs were written for Frank Sinatra. Cahn died in 1993, at the age of 79.

Terry spoke with Sammy Cahn in 1985, and - as you'll hear - he'd sing his songs at the slightest provocation. And when he was commissioned to write a song for a particular singer, he would insist on performing it to show what he had in mind. When it was time to demonstrate a song for a great singer, Cahn never lacked confidence, even if the singer was Frank Sinatra.

SAMMY CAHN: I sing this song for the first time. And I stand in front of Sinatra and I am a lethal demonstrator. I'm lethal.


CAHN: I don't know if you understand the true meaning when I stand in front of you and take my posture, I'm ready. One of the most memorable moments of demonstrating a song was when I sang the song to "Our Town." When I sang to him it was kind of quiet with no one around, just him sitting in an easy chair. When Sinatra reflects, he rolls the bottom of his thumb over his lower left, and that's how he reflects. And his highest praise is: Yeah. Yeah.


CAHN: High praise. And he doesn't turn down to song - never has.


Do you want to change a lyric that you wrote?

CAHN: Only one time.

GROSS: Which one was that?

CAHN: That's in the song, one of my very, very favorite songs, "The Last Dance." We started the idea of writing an opening song for an album and a closing song for an album, like "Come Fly With Me," of course, and the closing song, which is, "It's Nice to Go Traveling." And then we wrote "Come Dance with Me." And then we needed a closing song. And we quickly discovered that Irving Berlin, the legendary Irving Berlin, I discovered that he had written every song you can possibly write about dancing. "Cheek to Cheek," "Change Partners," "I'm Putting On My Top Hat." And usually, I write a song very, very swiftly. But here I am and I can't come up with the last song. Finally I turned to Van Heusen one day. I said, has there ever been a song called "The Last Dance?" And Van Heusen, who is very, very familiar with the literature of songs, said no. There's been "Save the Last Waltz For Me," but not the last. I said sit down.

And I said it's "The Last Dance." We've come to the last dance. They're dimming the lights down, they're hoping we will go. It's obvious they're aware of us, the pair of us, alone on the floor. But I want to hold you like this forever more. So Sinatra is recording this song and I had a line that said (Singing) They're wondering just when will we leave. But till we leave, keep holding me tight through the last dance, each beat of the last dance and save me the first dance in your dreams tonight.

So when you speak, you would say they're wondering just when we will leave. You wouldn't say, they're wondering just when will we leave. So he said that one, just when we will leave. I said no, it isn't - hold it. I said they're wondering just when will we leave. But till we leave. He said what kind of cockamamie word is...


CAHN: I said no one speaks like that. I said no. I said no one speaks like that, but we aren't speaking, Frank, are we? We're singing, aren't we, Frank? And that's the only time we ever kind of good-naturedly quarreled about a line.


SINATRA: (Singing) It's the last dance. We've come to the last dance. They're dimming the lights down. They're hoping we'll go. It's obvious, they're aware of us, the pair of us, alone on the floor. Still, I want to hold you like this forever and more.

(Singing) It's the last song. They're playing the last song. The orchestra's yawning. They're sleepy, I know. They're wondering Just when will we leave. But till we leave, keep holding me tight. Through the last dance. Each beat of the last dance. Save me the first dance in your dreams tonight.

GROSS: Is there a song that you've written that you're proudest of the ones you were able to come up with?

CAHN: Yes. The one I tell everyone, the one I'm very, very proud of is "Call Me Irresponsible." Simply because I want to say and it's not as facetious as it sounds. It has five syllable words in it. (Singing) Call me unpredictable. Tell me I'm impractical. I said five syllable words from a fellow who came from a one syllable neighborhood.

GROSS: You know what I love in that song? Throw in undependable too. I love the throw in. How did you get that?

CAHN: Well, you...

GROSS: That's a vernacular. I really love that.

CAHN: You say, but every song, the title dictates the architecture of the song. If you say the title is call me irresponsible, da, da,da, da, da, da, da, da, that's the architecture. Call me irresponsible. Call me undependable. Throw in unreliable too. Do my foolish alibis bore you? Well, I'm not too clever. I just adore you. Call me unpredictable. Tell me I'm in practical. Rainbows I'm inclined to pursue. Call me irresponsible. Yes, I'm undependable. But it's undeniably true. I said you know, Jim, if I had unreliable down there, undeniable coming after unreliable would be better, so we switched the two lines on top. I call that neatening up a song. So we changed the two lines. On top of it had (Singing) Call me irresponsible. Yes, I'm unreliable. But it's undeniably true. That's called graceful and very gratifying to the ear.

DAVIES: We're listening back to a 1985 interview with the late lyricist Sammy Cahn. This year marked the 100th anniversary of his birth. We'll hear more after break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to our 1985 interview with the late lyricist Sammy Cahn. This year is the centenary of his birth. He told Terry about writing about the song "Be My Love" for the singer Mario Lanza.

CAHN: In this instance, the music was already written in ink: Love Theme for Lanza. De da de, de, da, da, da. Every note was written, not in pencil, which you can erase and make a change written in ink by this very, very talented little Hungarian, Nicholas Brodsky, friend of Joseph Pasternak, another little Hungarian. And I was called in to put a lyric to this melody. But think about it. The title is "Be My Love." They're absolutely singing the words (Singing) Be my love. You can sing everyone of the line. For no one else can end this yearning. This need that you, and you alone create. Every one of those words you can bite them, chew them. Now, I don't know if you realize it. When I wrote that lyric, not a word rhymes.

GROSS: Gosh, you're right. I hadn't realized that before.

CAHN: (Singing) Just fill my arms of the way you fill my dreams. And no rhymes yet. We're halfway through a song. First rhyme. The dreams that you inspire, with every sweet desire. And I'm not ruling my R's the way opera people love to do. Now I rhyme the whole song, be my love in with your kisses, set me burning - yearning burning - one kiss is all I need to seal my fate. Create - fate. Now, listen now every word fits the mouth and it's really singing words. And in a hand, we'll find love's promised land. They'll be no one but you, ooh - ooh sounds very good in the high notes - for me intern...

Now Lanza, who had a voice that you could not believe unless you heard it in person - no mechanical reproduction of this voice does it any gestures. In a room with him it was a staggering experience. So there will be no one but you for me etern - hear that - eternally. If you will be my love. It's a high C. I don't know. It's just... Now, as I say to you, he knew every note of that song. He didn't know the lyric. I had the lyric. And you know what chutzpah is. You know what chutzpah means? That's cheek or gall. Chutzpah, the classic version is, the ancient version is this chap kills his parents and he pleads for mercy because he's an orphan. That's classic chutzpah. But my chutzpah was me singing to Mario Lanza. So Mario looked at me after I talk-sang "Be My Love" for the first time, he took the lyric out of my hand as contemptuously as you can take a lyric out of someone's hand, and he sang "Be My Love" back at me. And I tell you, that was an experience.


LANZA: (Singing) Be my love for no one else can end this yearning. This need that you and you alone create. Just fill my arms the way you've filled my dreams, the dreams that you inspire with every sweet desire. Be my love and with your kisses set me burning. One kiss is all I need to seal my fate. And hand in hand we'll find love's promised land. There'll be no one but you for me eternally. If you will be my love.

GROSS: You've written a rhyming dictionary. Did you actually use one? Would you ever use one when you were writing?

CAHN: I've always had a rhyming dictionary.

GROSS: Yeah?

CAHN: For the composer.


CAHN: That's the truth.

GROSS: Really?

CAHN: I always felt - I, personally, I always felt that if I couldn't think of the word I shouldn't use it. But the composer, he used to say to me - every time I was writing the composer used to say to me you have a rhyming dictionary? I said sure, here it is. Give it to the composer.

GROSS: Right. I get it. Are there words that you really avoid because you know they're un-rhymable?

CAHN: No. Every word is rhymable. Rhymable. Rhymable. Take a simple name like Nicholas you can rhyme it with ridiculous. If you aren't too meticulous. You know, every word's rhymable.

DAVIES: The late lyricist Sammy Cahn speaking with Terry Gross in 1985. This year marked the 100th anniversary of his birth. Here he is singing his song "The Tender Trap" which he co-wrote with Jimmy Van Heusen. It was recorded in 1972 at the 92nd Streetwise Lyrics and Lyricist Series.


CAHN: (Singing) You see a pair of laughing eyes and suddenly your sorrow sighs. You're thinking nothing's wrong. You string along, boy, then snap. Those eyes, those sighs, they're part of the tender trap. You're hand in hand beneath the trees. And soon there's music in the breeze. You're acting kind of smart until your heart just goes whap. How those trees, that breeze, they're part of the tender trap.

(Singing) Some starry night when her kisses make you tingle she'll hold you tight and you'll hate yourself for being single. And all at once it seems so nice that folks are throwing shoes and rice. You hurry to a spot that's just a dot on the map. How you wonder how it all came about. It's too late now, there's no getting out. You fell in love and love is the tender trap.


DAVIES: Coming up, "American Hustle." David Edelstein reviews the new film starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Amy Adams. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. In the late '70s the FBI joined forces with a convicted swindler on a scheme to catch politicians on the take. Because they used a fake sheik it became known as ABSCAM. Director David O. Russell uses ABSCAM as a springboard for his new comedy, "American Hustle" which reunites him with actors from his last two films: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from "Silver Linings Playbook," and Christian Bale and Amy Adams from "The Fighter." Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: David O. Russell hovers at the top of my list of favorite directors. He captures the messy collision of self-interests that for him defines America. In "American Hustle," he whips up a black comedy based on ABSCAM, the late-'70s FBI sting that centered on a bogus sheik and led to the bribery convictions of sundry U.S. politicians.

He doesn't tell the real ABSCAM story; he adapts it to fit his theme, which is that most of us are busy re-inventing ourselves and conning one another. Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a master flim-flam artist who steals from people desperate for bank loans.

He and his fellow swindler and lover Sydney, played by Amy Adams, eventually get snared, but the FBI agent in charge, Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper, offers a way out of the net. Help him catch a bunch of bigger fish and they'll go free. It sounds like a routine plot, but you've never seen it in clothes and hairstyles this garish.

Bale's Irving has the most outlandish comb-over in history - thin strands and wayward puffs glued down and topped with a small, ugly rug. A burgundy three-piece suit and aviator shades completes the hideous effect. Cooper's Richie is a thin-skinned hothead with tight little curls. He and Irving spend much of the movie spraying testosterone at each other and competing for Sydney, who affects a bad English accent to fool Richie - whom she likes but doesn't trust.


BRADLEY COOPER: (as Richie) You're going to do this because you've got no choice. You work for me.

CHRISTIAN BALE: (as Irving) Now, you keep changing the rules. You know, you're getting a little power drunk, Richard. You know, you want to tell me, want to wake him up?

AMY ADAMS: (as Sydney) Oh, no. I said we shouldn't do any of it, Irving. You know I said that. So now I support Richie. He's got vision. Do it heavy or don't do it.

BALE: (as Irving) I mean, he's the one ruining America, not me.

COOPER: (as Richie) How the (bleep) am I ruining America?

BALE: (as Irving) Because people just got over Watergate and Vietnam, all right? And you're going to (bleep) over all the politicians again? It's just because you want to be a big shot and get a promotion.

COOPER: (as Richie) No. I'm thinking big. All right? This is going to be fantastic. We're doing video surveillance. I'm doing this from the feet up.

BALE: (as Irving) You will never do it properly because you've got too much government attitude to be small and sleek. I like to be a con man, all right? I'm in and I'm out. I was there the whole time. You don't know it. All right? That's an art, become somebody who people can pin their beliefs and their dreams on.

EDELSTEIN: You can hear that "American Hustle" is loud and big. Russell out-Scorseses Scorsese with hyperbolic technique: whip-pans, whooshes, slo-mo, and tacky but great '70s chart-toppers. He winds his actors up and lets them loose. Bale is outrageously skeevy; Adams uses her blue eyes like stilettos. They put everything they have into scene after scene. The movie is like a slot machine that never stops spitting quarters.

Jennifer Lawrence is the wild card. She's Irving's wife, who's understandably jealous of his lover and doesn't care who knows. Under a high bleached beehive, her baby face framed with ringlets, she shoves a metal tray into the couple's new microwave - this after she was warned. But don't think that means she'll say sorry when it blows.


BALE: (as Irving) I told you not to put metal in the science oven. What'd you do that for?

JENNIFER LAWRENCE: (as Rosalyn) Don't make such a big deal. Just get another one.

BALE: (as Irving) I don't want another one. I want the one that Carmine gave me.

LAWRENCE: (as Rosalyn) Oh, Car - I want the one that Carmine gave me. Carmine, Carmine. Why don't you just marry Carmine? Get a little gold microwave and put it on a chain around you neck. You want to be more like Carmine? Why don't you build something like he does instead of all your empty deals.

(as Rosalyn) Just like your (bleep) science oven. You know, I read that it takes all of the nutrition out of our food. It's empty just like your deals. Empty. Empty.

BALE: (as Irving) That's bull (bleep).

LAWRENCE: (as Rosalyn) It's not bull (bleep). I read it in an article. Look. By Paul Bredoor(ph). Bring something into this house that's going to take all the nutrition out of our food and then light our house on fire? Thank God for me.

EDELSTEIN: Who could have dreamed, when Lawrence showed up as a grimly determined Ozarks teenager in "Winter's Bone," that she had comic chops this spectacular? An opening title claims that some of "American Hustle" is actually true, though not much, if you read up. The sting was built around a bogus sheik, but the real mayor of Camden, New Jersey, Angelo Errichetti, was corrupt to his toes.

His onscreen counterpart, Jeremy Renner's Carmine Polito, is a Boy Scout in an Elvis pompadour who talks of using the sheik's cash to put people back to work. So Irving, the man who sets him up, becomes a sort of Judas figure - and suffers for it. It makes for a fine Hollywood climax, but once you come down from the high, you might wonder what Russell's saying. That graft isn't bad if it helps cities get back on their feet?

Maybe that is what he's saying. Russell's affections are with small-time con-men, like Irving and the army heroes in his "Three Kings," who are in the middle of a heist when they decide to risk their lives for Kurdish civilians abandoned by the U.S. In Russell's world, it's the small-time crooks who see what's really going on, as opposed to government suits or FBI agents who don't care about the little guy.

You don't have to buy Russell's moral relativism completely to think it makes for good political satire. "American Hustle" is a bit of a hustle itself, but if I'm being taken for a ride, let it be as rollicking as this one.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. You can download podcasts of our show at Follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair and on Tumblr at

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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