The Prize Winner 2003

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.

The beginning
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.

The educator
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.

The composer
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 depth.
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.

The pianist
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 of projects.
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.

| Back |