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Hill, Andrew

Andrew Hill

Composer, pianist, bandleader

For the Record

Selected discography


Andrew Hill, a groundbreaking composer and pianist, who played an important role in the post-bop movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s, excels at creating music that sounds at once familiar and disorienting. An improviser who has embraced the avant-garde, he always appears in command of his material, regardless of a works complexities and abstractions. He is a visionary grounded in tradition, relying more upon compositional mastery than upon chance. As a pianist, Chris Kelsey of All Music Guide wrote, Hill displays a flowing melodicism and an elastic sense of time Hills playing has an ever-present air of spontaneity and is almost completely devoid of cliché.

Hills music exhibits a certain abstract, intellectual quality that simultaneously invigorates and challenges the listener. Andrews music is very heavily mental. You go into rooms you wouldnt normally enter, recalled vibes player Bobby Hutcherson, who worked with Hill in the 1960s, to Down Beats Ted Panken. Theres always a little story in the melody, a reason why this tune is being played. Nonetheless, Hill, unfairly overshadowed among many of his contemporaries, remains largely overlooked by many Americans.

Within the jazz community, however, Hills reputation is firmly grounded, and he continues to serve as a mentor to a new generation of musicians. I hear some young artists with incredible techniques, but at a certain point their creativity turns monotonous, Hill observed, as quoted by Down Beat contributor John Murph. When I listen to some of these artists, I can still tell that they need some new material to study or a record to help them evolve. All of a sudden Im a mentor.

He furthermore strives, as an educator and advisor, to correct misinterpretations about the evolution of modern jazz. I would like to talk to some of the young musicians about success, because historically jazz has become a bit Europeanized and discussed like it was art for arts sake, he added to Murph. It wasnt art for arts sake. It was a viable living for the community, and the community was involved. I want the younger musicians to realize that we werent like these sages who would go into this hibernation for knowledge and come out of the woodwork with this music. We have a responsibility to bring that magic to the people.

Born on June 30, 1937, in Chicago, Hill was drawn to the piano at an early age. To my memory, I could play the piano as long as Ive been talking, he told Fred Jung for a Jazz interview. Growing up on Chicagos South Side, he was surrounded by music resonating from neighborhood clubs and theaters. At the age of six, Hill began playing blues accordion and tap dancing on the streetswith friend Leo Blevins on guitarto earn money to help support his family. Hill eventually commenced his formal training around the age of 13, under encouragement from several prominent figures in his neighborhood. Pianist Earl Hines, as

For the Record

Born on June 30, 1937, in Chicago, IL. Education: Studied with German classical composer and music theorist Paul Hindemith, 1950-52; earned doctorate degree from Colgate University.

Began playing piano at early age; started playing accordion and tap dancing as street performer, age six; commenced formal training in composition and piano, age 13; began professional career, 1952; moved to New York City, recorded for Blue Note Records, 1963-66; recorded the classic album Point of Departure, 1964; dedicated himself mainly to teaching, 1970s-1980s; released Dusk with his new sextet, 2000.

Awards: Jazz Journalist Association, Critics Choice Award for Best Composer, 2000-01; Down Beat and Jazz Times, Best Album of the Year for Dusk, 2001; Jazzpars Award, 2003.

Addresses: Record company Palmetto Records, 71 Washington Place, Ste. 1A, New York, NY 10011, phone: (212) 673-9394, website: Website Andrew Hill Official Website:

well as jazz composer, arranger, and trombonist Bill Russo, took notice of Hills talent. Russo in particular took a great interest in his development and introduced the youngster to the renowned German classical composer and music theorist Paul Hindemith, with whom Hill studied from 1950 until 1952.

In 1952 Hill started performing professionally, and in the summer of 1953 he accompanied Charlie Parker in Detroit at the Greystone Ballroom. Thereafter, he worked with trumpeter Miles Davis and tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins prior to forming his own trio, featuring drummer James Slaughter and bassist Malachi Favors, a founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. In 1955 the trio recorded Hills first album, So in Love with the Sound of Andrew Hill.

In 1961 Hill relocated to New York to work with singer Dinah Washington, then spent a brief time in Los Angeles working with Rahsaan Roland Kirks group. Returning to New York in 1962, Hill pursued his own career in earnest, as sideman and leader. He recorded with Blue Note Records from November of 1963 through March of 1966. His albums for the label are now considered classics, especially Point of Departure. Recorded in 1964 with Eric Dolphy, Joe Henderson, Kenny Dorham, and Tony Williams, this album features some of the most brilliant and uncompromising ensemble work in free jazz. His other recordings with Blue Note include Black Fire, Smokestack, Judgment, Andrew!, Compulsion, Involution, and One for One. Years later, he returned to Blue Note to record Eternal Spirit and But Not Farewell.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Hill continued to release albums, among them From California with Love in 1978, Strange Serenade in 1980, and Shades in 1986. But he spent most of this period in academia, earning a doctorate degree from Colgate University and serving as the schools composer-in-residence from 1970 until 1972. Thereafter, he remained mainly on the West Coastuntil his wife La Vernes death in 1989where he offered solo concerts, gave classes and workshops, and played on occasion at international jazz festivals. Additionally, Hill became a tenured associate professor at Portland State University, founding that institutions Summer Jazz Intensive, and he performed, held workshops, and/or established residencies at Wesleyan University, University of Michigan, University of Toronto, Harvard University, and Bennington College.

Upon his return to New York City, Hill, now remarried, experienced a renewed interest in his music through a series of live performances in the mid-1990s. Eventually, in 1998, he formed a new group, the Point of Departure Sextet, for the Knitting Factorys 1998 Texaco Jazz Festival. In addition to Hill on piano, the sextet comprises saxophonists Marty Elrich and Greg Tardy, trumpeter Ron Horton, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Billy Drummond. The group went on to hold week-long engagements at the New York venues Birdland and the Jazz Standard, and it performed at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Summer 1999 series.

In 2000 Palmetto Records issued the sextets first album, Dusk, which was recorded in 1999 and garnered much acclaim, winning the recognition of Best Album from both Down Beat and Jazztimes. The music is mysterious, elusive, soulful, rich in mood and character, wrote Panken in his review of the album, expansively written, replete with beautiful melodies and counter-melodies, complex intervals, unique voicings, intense vamps and ostinatos. Each section is tailored to the tonal personalities of the musicians, morphing from keening rubato passages to long lines propelled by churning counter and cross-rhythms that define the overall motion.

Besides his sextet, Hill also formed a trio with Colley on bass and Nashied Waits on drums, as well as the Andrew Hill Big Band. With the latter, he recorded the album A Beautiful Day, released on Palmetto in 2002. It, too, drew critical accolades, as did the big bands live performances.

Selected discography

(With Dave Shipp) Romping/Lets Live, Vee Jay, 1954.

So In Love with the Sound of Andrew Hill, Warwick, 1955.

(With Johnny Hartman/Andrew Hill) Trio 1961 Live, VGM, 1961.

(With Rahsaan Roland Kirk) Domino, Mercury, 1962.

(With Walt Dickerson) To My Queen, New Jazz, 1962.

(With Jimmy Woods) Conflict, Contemporary, 1963.

(With Joe Henderson) Our Thing, Blue Note, 1963.

(With Hank Mobley) No Room for Squares, Blue Note, 1963.

Black fire, Blue Note, 1963.

smokestack, Blue Note, 1963.

Point of Departure, Blue Note, 1964.

Andrew!, Blue Note, 1964.

Compulsion, Blue Note, 1964.

(With Bobby Hutcherston) Dialogue, Blue Note, 1965.

Involution, Blue Note, 1966.

Grass Roots, Blue Note, 1968; reissued, 2000.

Dance with Death, Blue Note, 1968.

One for one, Blue Note, 1968.

Lift Every Voice, Blue Note, 1969; reissued, 2001.

Spiral, Arista/Freedom, 1974.

Blueback, East Wind, 1975.

Divine Revelation, Steeplechase, 1975.

Homage, East Wind, 1975.

Live at Montreux, Arista/Freedom, 1975.

Nefertiti, East Wind, 1976.

From California with Love, Arista House, 1978.

Faces of Hope, Soul Note, 1980.

Strange serenade, Soul Note, 1980.

Verona Reg, Soul Note, 1986.

Shades, Soul Note, 1986.

Eternal Spirit, Blue Note, 1989.

(With Russell Bab) Earth Prayer, Ruba Music, 1992.

(With Reggie Workman) Summit Conference, Postcards, 1994.

(With Greg Osby) Invisible Hand, Blue Note, 2000.

Dusk, Palmetto, 2000.

(With the Andrew Hill Big Band) A Beautiful Day, Palmetto, 2002.



Atlantic, April 1999.

Boston Globe, April 30, 1999, p. D16; May 5, 1999, p. F5; January 13, 2002, p. C4.

Down Beat, January 1995, p. 40; July 2000, p. 69; January 2001, p. 30; August 2001, p. 40; December 2001, p. 20; January 2002, p. 54; April 2002, p. 54.

Los Angeles Times, February 21, 1986, p. 3; November 8, 1989, p. 6; January 21, 2000, p. F24; December 29, 2000, p. F26; March 11, 2001, p. 1; April 13, 2001, p. F20; September 22, 2002, p. F69.

New York Times, July 24, 1999, p. 10; May 19, 2000, p. E25; February 2, 2001, p. 29; August 2, 2001, p. E5.

Rolling Stone, October 6, 1994, p. 89.

Village Voice, February 6, 1996, p. 62; November 24, 1998, p. 113.


Andrew Hill, All Music Guide, (November 19, 2002).

Andrew Hill Official Website, (November 22, 2002).

Dusk, All About Jazz, (November 22, 2002).

A Fireside Chat with Andrew Hill, Jazz, (November 22, 2002).

Making the Rounds: Andrew Hill at the San Jose Repertory Theater, Jazz Now, (November 22, 2002).

Laura Hightower

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Hill, Andrew 1931–2007

Andrew Hill 1931–2007

Pianist, composer, bandleader

Unlike fellow musical revolutionaries such as Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, jazz pianist and bandleader Andrew Hill received little publicity during the wide-open years of 1960s jazz. Yet, his albums on the Blue Note label gradually gained the status of jazz classics. The strength of Hill's music, as well as the difficulty jazz fans had in comprehending it at first, came from its eclectic style: Hill was at heart an improviser in the no-boundaries free jazz style, but anything from Latin rhythms to twentieth-century classical techniques might appear in his performances and his large body of original compositions. Fortunately, Hill lived long enough to see his music receive its proper recognition, and he experienced a flowering of late-life creativity in his final years.

Concocted Tale of Haitian Origins

Hill had a tendency to embellish aspects of his early life during interviews, leaving a trail of uncertainties for later researchers to unravel. For example, he said that he had been born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, or that his parents were Haitians, and he often gave 1937 as his birth year. Hill freely admitted that he had made up the story of his Haitian origins. “I used to blame it on other people, but it was me, and [jazz writer] A. B. Spellman helped me plot the crime,” he said to Phil Johnson of the London newspaper the Independent. “I was born in Chicago and had no interest in Haiti or patois, but that enabled me to get gigs on the college circuit, the Dave Brubeck thing, you know? People looked at jazz music as exotic and pretending you came from Haiti helped.”

Most jazz authorities now agree that Hill was born in Chicago on June 30, 1931. The beginnings of Hill's keyboard career dated back to his childhood. The family did not own a piano, but Hill recalled teaching himself to play an accordion or to follow along with the actions of a player piano—even one that was set up to produce four-hand piano music.

Playing music on the streets of Chicago's South Side, Hill apparently encountered some influential musicians who encouraged him. Jazz pianist and bandleader Earl Hines was on Hill's paper route. Around 1950 he encountered German-born classical composer Paul Hindemith, after either being introduced to him by jazz arranger William Russo or catching Hindemith's attention while trying to write down music in a notebook. Hindemith gave Hill tips on notation and composition. Hill was surrounded by jazz of various kinds as well. There were Latin musicians in his neighborhood, and Latin rhythms would play a major role in his own music later on. As an aspiring jazz composer with open ears, he educated himself. “All you had to do was go to the movies and you heard everything you needed to know about advanced harmony,” he told Johnson. “[Jazz composer] Claude Thornhill was on the radio. It was a learning situation more thorough than a university.”

Backed Charlie Parker in Detroit

By 1952 Hill had begun performing professionally, and in 1954 he landed a gig backing bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker at the Greystone Ballroom in Detroit. Hill told Ben Ratliff of the New York Times that Parker made a remark that stuck with the young pianist: “I look at melody as rhythm.” Hill began to amass a large body of original compositions in which a rhythmic element, such as a repeated pattern, could serve as a central melodic component in what was often a very complex structure—his music was, from the start, slow to catch on with the public but was deeply admired by other jazz musicians. He worked with some of the biggest stars in jazz, such as trumpeter Miles Davis and saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, in the 1950s, and he recorded his debut, So in Love With the Sound of Andrew Hill, with a trio for the Warwick label in 1955.

Hill spent time in both New York and Los Angeles in the early 1960s, accompanying both experiment-oriented multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk and mainstream vocalist Dinah Washington. He recorded as part of a trio that backed vocalist Johnny Hartman on the Live release of 1961. After several other backing gigs, Hill was signed to the Blue Note label and released albums throughout the 1960s. These albums, especially 1964's Point of Departure (featuring a roster of other top-notch soloists including Eric Dolphy), are now considered classics.

This period of Hill's career represented an intense burst of creativity. During one eight-month period, he recorded five albums— Black Fire (1963), Smokestack (1963), Judgment! (1964), Point of Departure, and Andrew!!! (1964)—and he recorded a total of about twenty albums during the 1960s, some of which went unreleased by Blue Note until the second flowering of Hill's popularity in the 1990s. His music was difficult to classify; it included elements of free jazz (free group improvisation unmoored from any preexisting melody or model), postbop (an extension of bebop into new experimental realms), and other styles. He was influenced by the wildly original, minimalist style of pianist Thelonious Monk, but he could also produce dense, full-blooded improvisations.

Earned a Doctorate

Hill resisted the idea that jazz should be an art for art's sake and stressed the idea that it was rooted in the African-American community. After the interest of jazz fans shifted to the fusion jazz of Miles Davis in the 1970s, however, he began to seek out arts grants and college and university teaching positions. He served as composer-in-residence at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, from 1970 to 1972 and received a doctorate from the school. Hill moved to the West Coast with his wife, La Verne, remaining there until her death in 1989. For a time, he taught music in prisons and thought about returning to school for a sociology degree, but he kept his musical chops up by playing piano at a Baptist church in Pittsburg, California. “I've always been in music,” he pointed out to Fred Jung of Jazz Weekly. “There were just periods where I was more visible than other periods.” He continued to record, for Arista and other labels, and he returned briefly to Blue Note in 1989.

At a Glance …

Born on June 30, 1931, in Chicago, IL; died of lung cancer on April 20, 2007, in Jersey City, NJ; married La Verne (died 1989); married Joanne. Education: Given composition lessons by composer Paul Hindemith; Colgate University, PhD.

Career: Played accordion on Chicago streets as a child; began performing professionally, 1952; backed Charlie Parker, Greystone Ballroom, Detroit, MI, 1954; recorded debut, So in Love With the Sound of Andrew Hill, 1955; performed and recorded with other musicians in New York and Los Angeles, CA, early 1960s; Colgate University, Hamilton, NY, composer-in-residence, 1970-72; First Baptist Church, Pittsburg, CA, pianist; Portland State University, Portland, OR, associate professor, 1989-96; formed Point of Departure Sextet, 1998.

Awards: Jazz Journalists Association, Critics' Choice Award for Best Composer, 2000-01; Down Beat and Jazz Times, Best Album of the Year for Dusk, 2001; Jazzpars Award, 2003.

From 1989 to 1996 Hill taught at Portland State University in Oregon, rising to the rank of associate professor there, and also had residencies and summer programs at the University of Michigan and other schools. He met his second wife, Joanne, while living in Portland. In the mid-1990s he returned to New York and found that his live appearances brought new audiences for his dense, challenging music. In 1998 he formed a new group, the Point of Departure Sextet, which was notable for the freedom Hill allowed its individual members. This was unusual in a jazz world where a group's personality is usually defined by the leader, but Hill pointed to his approach as a contributor to his career renaissance. “That was not a leadership approach, I was told, because the common philosophy is that if you have the ball, run with it,” he told Jung. “Don't give anyone else a break. Too much of one thing is like a monotone, no matter how great it is. I don't want that.”

Hill's decision was vindicated, with his last albums, beginning with Dusk (2000), earning wide acclaim. Dusk, which appeared on the Palmetto label, was named the best jazz album of 2001 by both Down Beat and Jazz Times, and it was followed by A Beautiful Day (2002), which featured a seventeen-piece big band. Hill also witnessed the rerelease of much of his 1960s material, including some that had been by-passed by Blue Note during his rush of creativity. Hill was given the Jazzpars Award, among the most prestigious honors in the jazz world, in 2003. In July of 2004 he was diagnosed with lung cancer but continued to record and perform; his Time Lines album of 2006, for which he returned to the Blue Note label for the third time, was regarded as one of his best. Hill died in Jersey City, New Jersey, on April 20, 2007.

Selected discography

So in Love With the Sound of Andrew Hill, Warwick, 1955.

Black Fire, Blue Note, 1963.

Smokestack, Blue Note, 1963.

Andrew!!!, Blue Note, 1964.

Judgment!, Blue Note, 1964.

Point of Departure, Blue Note, 1964.

Compulsion, Blue Note, 1965.

Dialogue, Blue Note, 1965.

One for One, Blue Note, 1965.

Involution, Blue Note, 1966.

Dance With Death, Blue Note, 1968.

Grass Roots, Blue Note, 1968.

Lift Every Voice, Blue Note, 1969.

Spiral, Arista/Freedom, 1974.

Blue Back, East Wind, 1975.

Divine Revelation, Steeplechase, 1975.

Homage, East Wind, 1975.

Live at Montreux, Arista/Freedom, 1975.

Nefertiti, East Wind, 1976.

Faces of Hope, Soul Note, 1980.

Strange Serenade, Soul Note, 1980.

Shades, Soul Note, 1986.

Verona Rag, Soul Note, 1986.

Eternal Spirit, Blue Note, 1989.

But Not Farewell, Blue Note, 1990.

Dusk, Palmetto, 2000.

(With the Andrew Hill Big Band) A Beautiful Day, Palmetto, 2002.

Time Lines, Blue Note, 2006.



Contemporary Musicians, Vol. 41, Gale Group, 2003.


Guardian (London), April 23, 2007.

Independent (London), April 25, 2007.

New York Times, February 24, 2006; April 21, 2007.

Times (London), May 5, 2007.


Andrew Hill, (accessed January 3, 2008).

“Andrew Hill,” All Music Guide, (accessed January 3, 2008).

Jung, Fred, “A Fireside Chat With Andrew Hill,” Jazz Weekly, (accessed January 3, 2008).

—James M. Manheim

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