Hall Franklin Overton (February 23, 1920 – November 24, 1972) was an American composer, jazz pianist and music teacher. He was born in Bangor, Michigan, the first of the three sons of Stanford and Ruth (Barnes) Overton. He grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
After taking piano lessons as a youngster, Overton realized he'd have to travel beyond his small Midwestern town to find the kind of music instruction he wanted. His high school music teacher recognized Overton's gift and recommended he attend The Chicago Musical College after graduation. Overton studied theory and composition there from 1940 to 1942. He then entered the armed services and served in overseas combat duty with the U.S. 3rd Armored Division until 1945. It was during his time in the service that he learned to play jazz.
On discharge from the army, Overton continued his musical studies at The Juilliard School of Music, studying composition with Vincent Persichetti. He graduated in 1951 with an M.S. degree, then became a member of the faculty there.
In 1954 Overton moved into a New York City loft at 821 Sixth Avenue, known as the Jazz Loft, where he lived alongside legendary photographer W. Eugene Smith, musicians Dick Cary and Jimmy Stevenson, painter David X. Young and other established and rising musicians and artists. This provided the perfect setting for the musicians to jam and learn together. Smith recorded many of these sessions, which were released in October 2000 as part of the Jazz Loft Project, a large ongoing project involving Smith's photos and tapes from that period.
While Overton was writing classical compositions, he was also deeply immersed in jazz, and recorded with such jazz notables as Stan Getz, Duke Jordan, Jimmy Raney and Teddy Charles. Thelonious Monk selected him to score his piano works for orchestra; a performance of these compositions in New York City was recorded live on February 28, 1959 and released on the album The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall. In 1963, Monk recorded a second live album with orchestral arrangements by Overton at the New York Philharmonic Hall, released as Big Band and Quartet in Concert.
In later years, Overton taught at the Yale School of Music and the New School of Social Research. He received awards from The Koussevitzky Foundation and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
Overton died on November 24, 1972, aged 52, from cirrhosis of the liver. Just a few months earlier, his opera Huckleberry Finn, commissioned by the Barney Jaffin Foundation, was presented by The Juilliard Opera Company.
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About his music, Hall Overton said:
Since I am both a composer and active jazz musician, my work reflects both of these sources of musical experience. As a composer, my main interest has been in the exploration of non-systematic, intuitive harmony, both tonal and dissonant from which other elements—melody, counterpoint and form—can be derived. I am not particularly concerned whether this places me in the middle of the road, left or right. Or even if there is such a thing as a road to be on or off. There are only individual expressions for which we must find the right language. Some are good, some are bad. My attitude towards jazz is one of deep respect. Having attempted to master this difficult and exacting art for several years, with some small degree of success, I feel that I have come to know it in a way that is possible only through actually performing and creating in this idiom. Jazz has had a strong influence on my compositional style, but purely on a subconscious level. For I am opposed to the practice of trying to make jazz respectable through the unnatural imposition of classical forms or materials. (Article information provided by his widow, Nancy.)
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With Jimmy Raney
- A (Prestige, 1954-55 )
With Teddy Charles
- New Directions (Prestige, 1953)