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. Addresses: Record company--Palmetto Records, 71 Washington Place, Ste. 1A, New York, NY 10011; Website--Andrew Hill Official Website:

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 work's 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.... Hill's playing has an ever-present air of spontaneity and is almost completely devoid of cliché."

Hill's music exhibits a certain abstract, intellectual quality that simultaneously invigorates and challenges the listener. "Andrew's music is very heavily mental. You go into rooms you wouldn't normally enter," recalled vibes player Bobby Hutcherson, who worked with Hill in the 1960s, to Down Beat's Ted Panken. "There's 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, Hill's 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 I'm 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 art's sake," he added to Murph. "It wasn't art for art's sake. It was a viable living for the community, and the community was involved. I want the younger musicians to realize that we weren't 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 I've been talking," he told Fred Jung for a Jazz interview. Growing up on Chicago's 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 streets--with friend Leo Blevins on guitar--to 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 well as jazz composer, arranger, and trombonist Bill Russo, took notice of Hill's 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 Hill's 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 Kirk's 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 school's composer-in-residence from 1970 until 1972. Thereafter, he remained mainly on the West Coast--until his wife La Verne's death in 1989--where 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 institution's 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 Factory's 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 sextet's 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 band's live performances.

by Laura Hightower

Andrew Hill's Career

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.

Andrew Hill's 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.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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