Andrew Hill | Photo
ANDREW HILL American composer, pianist and ensemble leader, born
June 30, 1937 in Chicago, Illinois (not Haiti as stated in the notes of
some records) died April 20, 2007, Jersey City, New Jersey.
At the age of six, Andrew played the accordion, tap danced and sang outside
the nightclubs and theaters in his neighborhood. He began playing piano
when he was 13 and among others, Earl "Fatha" Hines encouraged
Hill. After sending a composition to Paul Hindemith at Yale, the German
classical composer and music theorist - in exile - helped Hill with extended
composition for a couple of years.
The professional musician
Hill began gigging in 1952, and in the summer of '53, only 16 years old,
he accompanied alto saxophonist Charlie Parker in Detroit. Hill also played
with Miles Davis and Johnny Griffin in local clubs while still a teenager.
He moved to New York in '61 to become Dinah Washington's accompanist and
worked with Rahsaan Roland Kirk in Los Angeles in '62 before being contracted
as a leader by Alfred Lyons, the founder of Blue Note Records. Andrew
Hill collaborated with front runners as Eric Dolphy, Kenny Dorham, John
Gilmore, Roy Haynes (JAZZPAR Prize Winner 1994), Joe Henderson (JAZZPAR
Prize Nominee 1994), Bobby Hutcherson, Elvin Jones, Sam Rivers (JAZZPAR
Prize Nominee 2001), Tony Williams and Reggie Workman.
Hill's recording debut was in 1954 on the Vee Jay label with a quintet
under bassist Dave Shipp's name. But it was especially on Blue Note -
beginning in '63 with Joe Henderson's "Our Thing" - that Hill
built an eclectic discography as a leader, including "Black Fire",
"Judgment!", "Compulsion", and "Smokestack".
Hill's Blue Note work featured some of the best and brightest post-bop
musicians of the day, including Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard. His '64
recording "Point of Departure" remains an essential jazz title
from that decade. Unfortunately, the Blue Note years did not bring Hill
fame and fortune but rather "fame and poverty".
With the exception of the period 1969-74, recordings with Hill have frequently
been released on various labels - for instance "Spiral" with
Lee Konitz (JAZZPAR Prize Winner 1992) and several on the Danish label
SteepleChase. When Columbia University's WKCR-FM some time ago broadcasted
Hill's entire discography it lasted more than 50 hours.
Andrew Hill became a music educator after earning a doctorate from Colgate
University in the early 1970s and in '77 moved to the West Coast where
he taught in California prisons and taught emotionally troubled children
in public schools while continuing to occasionally tour and record for
various independent labels.
Andrew Hill is an innovator whose rhythmically and harmonically complex
music inhabits the future yet reflects intimate knowledge of the past.
When Hill entered the jazz scene his unique conception was categorized
as avant-garde. Don't expect free form music! Hill's compositions include
melodies that differ from section to section and complex harmonic sequences.
His pieces can be catchy but offbeat. The labyrinthine melodies feature
odd turns: An extra beat is put into a rolling rhythm to throw it off
balance, and suddenly phrases are five or nine bars long instead of the
usual four or eight.
Hill subjects his fellow musicians not only to difficult compositional
structures but also to unorthodox methods of notation, conduction and
interpretation. But for Hill it is not an academic experiment - he wants
music to be a sensual expression.
Hill's melodies are often performed in unison at first, then repeated
like rings in the water. Unusual bleats, hiccups, sirens, smears may be
interspersed behind solos. Hill goes for dynamic range, elasticity and
Hill's work can sound almost like a standard ensemble. But during performance
the musicians may quickly follow cue cards and Hill's instructions dictated
by the impulse of the music itself. This approach keeps the musicians
on their toes, liberates the music from the page and allows each arrangement
to exist in continual present tense.
Some of Hill's trademarks are angular phrasing, jagged melodies and dense
layering of sounds. The offbeat forms make Andrew Hill sound familiar
and disorienting at the same time. Hill has created an challenging, unconventional
and identifiable approach to the piano. His playing has a melodic flow
and an elastic sense of time. Hill will rather imply the beat than pronounce
it - he plays tricks with time. And like his composing, he has an ever-present
air of spontaneity and is devoid of clichés.
The energy level is sometimes high and more out of free jazz than out
of hard bop. Still, the quiet selections often bring out the best in Hill.
His solos are playfully discontinuous. Hill is fond of hammered chords
that tug against the beat and cryptic little runs that break up. He uses
the sustain pedal sparingly, giving his chords an eerie ringing glow.
And he builds chords like no one else.
Thelonious Monk is a major inspiration. But where Monk puts rhythmic accents
in unexpected places, Hill on occasion seems to virtually ignore the meter
his sidemen have established. He improvises to his own time signature,
yet he manages to arrive at key pitches and other structural turning points
precisely when his colleagues do.
Lately Hill has expanded his artistic evolution. His album, "Dusk"
(Palmeto), opened up new opportunities for further exploration for the
sextet. A 17-piece ensemble (sextet + 11) is another event in his long
and diverse career. Andrew Hill's concert activities cover a wide range
At the JAZZPAR 2003 Concerts Andrew Hill will be featured with a semi-large
orchestra and smaller units (quartet, trio, duo, solo) within the band.
In 1997, for his 60th birthday, Andrew Hill received a Lifetime Achievement
Award from the Jazz Foundation of America. In 2000, he was awarded The
Best Composer Critics' Choice Award by the Jazz Journalist Association
and he is among the first recipients of the Doris Duke Foundation award
for jazz composers.
Andrew Hill's singular approach to the piano, to ensemble playing and
as a composer has won admiration from his peers but it has not brought
him the wide recognition he deserves. Only recently Hill has begun to
gain international recognition for his uniquely original, impeccable and
indefinable music by a new generation of reverent musicians, jazz aficionados
and general, yet appreciative audiences. In a jazz world that often celebrates
imitators, Hill stands as a genuine original. The 2003 JAZZPAR Prize should
serve to remind us of the importance of his work.
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