Hall Franklin Overton (February 23, 1920 – November 24, 1972) was an American composer, jazz pianist, and music teacher. He was born in Bangor, Michigan. He was the first of three sons born to Stanford and Ruth (Barnes) Overton and grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
As a youngster in this small mid-western town, he found that his few piano lessons didn't satisfy his longing for that elusive "something" he was seeking in music. He was fortunate in having a high school music teacher who recognized his gift, and urged him to study at The Chicago Musical College. It was there that he studied theory and composition from 1940 to 1942. The latter year marked his entry into the armed services, and from 1942 until 1945 he served in overseas combat duty with the U.S. 3rd Armored Division. It was during that time that he learned to play jazz.
Upon his discharge from the army, he pursued his musical studies at The Juilliard School of Music, studying composition with Vincent Persichetti. He graduated in 1951 with an M.S. degree, and then became a member of the faculty there.
In later years, he also taught at the Yale School of Music and the New School of Social Research. He received awards from both The Koussevitzky Foundation and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
His New York City loft at 821 Sixth Avenue (aka the Jazz Loft Project), alongside legendary photographer W. Eugene Smith, musicians Dick Cary and Jimmy Stevenson and others, and painter David X. Young in 1954, provided the perfect setting for the musicians to practice. The October 2000 release of Jazz Loft comprises many hours of these priceless sessions recorded by Smith. A large ongoing project involving Smith's photos and tapes can be seen at the Jazz Loft Project site.
While he was writing his classical compositions, he was also deeply immersed in jazz. He recorded with such notables as Stan Getz, Duke Jordan, Jimmy Raney and Teddy Charles. Thelonious Monk selected him to score his piano works for full 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 orchestra arrangements by Overton at the New York Philharmonic Hall entitled Big Band and Quartet in Concert.
His opera, Huckleberry Finn, commissioned by the Barney Jaffin Foundation, was presented by The Juilliard Opera Company just months before his death on November 24, 1972, aged 52, from cirrhosis of the liver.
Hall Overton was also survived by his brothers Harvey and Richard Overton.
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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 )