One of the leading jazz guitarists of the modern era, Jim Hall, during the 50th annual Monterey Jazz Festival died early Tuesday at age 83.
One of the leading jazz guitarists of the modern era, Jim Hall, during the 50th annual Monterey Jazz Festival died early Tuesday at age 83. (Associated Press )

NEW YORK -- Jim Hall, a jazz guitarist who for more than 50 years was admired by critics, aficionados and especially his fellow musicians for his impeccable technique and the warmth and subtlety of his playing, died Tuesday at his home in Greenwich Village. He was 83.

The cause was heart failure, his wife, Jane, said.

The list of important musicians with whom Hall worked was enough to earn him a place in jazz history. It includes the pianist Bill Evans, with whom he recorded two acclaimed duet albums, and the singer Ella Fitzgerald, as well as the saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Paul Desmond, the drummer Chico Hamilton and the bassist Ron Carter, his frequent partner in a duo.

But with his distinctive touch, his inviting sound and his finely developed sense of melody, Hall made it clear early in his career that he was an important musician in his own right.

He was an influential one as well. Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell and John Scofield are among the numerous younger guitarists who acknowledge him as an inspiration. Hall worked at various times with all three.

James Stanley Hall was born Dec. 4, 1930, in Buffalo to Stanley and the former Louella Cowles, and spent most of his early years in Cleveland. He started guitar at age 10 and began playing professionally in his teens.

Like most of his guitar-playing peers, he was influenced by the first two great jazz guitar soloists: Charlie Christian, best known for his work with Benny Goodman, and the Belgian Gypsy Django Reinhardt.

While studying music theory at the Cleveland Institute of Music, he played guitar on weekends "but wasn't all that involved in jazz," he said in an interview found on his website. His plan was to become a composer and teach on the side. But shortly after he graduated in 1955 and began studying for a master's degree at the institute, that plan changed. "I had to try being a guitarist or else it would trouble me for the rest of my life," he said.

Moving to Los Angeles, where he studied classical guitar, he became a charter member of the Chico Hamilton Quintet, one of the first and most successful exemplars of the soft-spoken style known as cool jazz. (Hamilton died last month.) He then worked with the clarinetist, saxophonist and composer Jimmy Giuffre.

Hall attracted further attention in the early 1960s when Sonny Rollins, a major star returning to music after a long hiatus, chose him to be in his new quartet.