POINTS OF DEPARTURE: Andrew Hill, 1931-2007

Andrew Hill
Lift Every Voice
Blue Note : 1970

AH, piano; Woody shaw, trumpet; Carlos Garnett, tenor sax; Richard Davis, bass; Freddie Waits, drums; Lawrence Marshall, choral director.

Andrew Hill
Live At Montreux
Freedom : 1975

AH, piano.

We’re deeply saddened by the passing of the great pianist, composer, and bandleader Andrew Hill. He was an important artist who held fast to his idiosyncratic vision — even when that meant long stretches in the commercial wilderness. In recent years, Hill’s music experienced a resurgence through reissues and remarkable new projects. Where he once may have seemed a fascinating but marginal figure, his influence is now indelibly stamped on many of today’s most creative players.

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We’re honored to include this touching remembrance and tribute to Hill from one of those musicians — pianist and composer VIJAY IYER:

“Andrew Hill was a hero, mentor, and supportive friend to me and to a number of other young musicians. His music changed my life, repeatedly, starting in the early 1990s. Every time I heard him live, I would find my usual sense of time and space overridden or intensely altered.

“I introduced myself to him several times throughout the 90s, and eventually Hill came to recognize me as one of his crazed Bay Area fans (along with pianist Graham Connah, whom I first met with a copy of the LP Smokestack under his arm, as we both stood in line at Yoshi’s to see Hill in action). One particular revelatory evening was Hill’s performance with Trio 3 (Workman, Lake, Cyrille) in ’94 or so. I also saw him at Maybeck Recital Hall, Mills College, the Oakland Museum, Golden Gate Park, and several times at Yoshi’s — unfailingly magical and beguiling.

“My move to New York coincided with his full-fledged return to the scene from Portland, so I started seeing him even more frequently. In 1999 when I was on a Steve Coleman tour, he played solo before us in Verona. I seized the moment and talked to him for a while, and perhaps he started taking me more seriously after that. We became friendly enough that he started coming to my gigs. He would call me early the next day to tell me what he thought, often to devastating effect; his gentle but frank words would echo in my head for weeks afterward, leaving me to rethink everything. Once when the collective trio Fieldwork played at the KF’s AlterKnit, Andrew was in the front row at a table with Henry Threadgill and Muhal Richard Abrams, making it one of the scariest evenings of my life.

“I was glad to be around to observe his post-millennial renaissance. He made such interesting and careful choices in his music and career, and he provided a model for how to achieve longevity in a challenging area of the music world.

“And then one summer Andrew told me he was dying. We were standing outside the hotel at the North Sea Jazz Festival. My heart dropped, but he was oddly upbeat. He had known for some time, and I was left thinking that maybe he found solace in the certainty of it, knowing that the coming years would be framed by this circumstance.

“The last time I saw him was at Merkin Hall last fall, for the recreation of Passing Ships. His advanced frailty was heartbreaking to see, and I was mortified by the presenters’ thoughtlessness: a man dying of lung cancer was made to carry his own chair, and then interviewed on stage without a microphone. But Andrew’s good humor and his top-form playing dispelled all the pity in the room; we were in the presence of sheer mastery.

“Afterwards I was headed for the subway, but as I reached the corner something told me to turn around. The building had closed but I talked my way back inside, found him backstage, and sat with him and his wife Joanne for an inspiring half hour. He was remarkably warm, light-hearted, lucid, even affectionate. This was our last earthly interaction, and it will always be a cherished memory for me.

“Andrew Hill’s recordings, performances, compositions, and personality influenced me to such a degree over such a long period that he feels like family, like a part of me. I am humbled and blessed to have received his generosity, wisdom, and friendship. His spirit lives on through his musical legacy, his vast influence on modern music, and all the lives he touched.”

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“The Man Who Knew More Than He Was Asked”
Jason Moran once said Andrew Hill knew more about different styles of music than people suspected. Hill famously carved out his own unique style of halting phrasings, odd chords and meters, and compositional left turns. His former student emphasized how Hill was also capable of pulling from a vast and surprising storehouse of styles at a moment’s notice. Moran noted how Hill was deeply informed by classical, funk, boogie woogie, cartoon music, and numerous other genres not normally associated with the maestro.

“Still Waters”
These tracks pay tribute to Hill’s range, casting light on some overlooked corners of his discography. “Hey Hey” is an atypical slice of free-funk, an insidiously catchy groove number complete with a large chorus. There’s a wonderful sense of play here, melding funk and an odd vocal counterpoint that seems to stem as much from the classical tradition as the gospel.

“Nefertisis” is the flipside to the jubliant band effort of “Hey Hey.” This solo piano effort is solemn and dirge-like, but completely riveting. When Hill filtered his ideas through ensembles, it was sometimes easy to miss the power of his own playing. What Ethan Iverson perfectly described as “the Mad Scientist approach.” In this piece you can’t miss his wonderfully eliptical phrasings as he teases, coaxes, and conjures one surprising idea after another from the material. You can also hear his absolute authority on the instrument — a quality that was never showy but never more immediately palpable than on this track.

“The Classic Years”
For those who want to hear tracks more representative of Hill’s work, check out any of his stunning Blue Note albums from the early 1960s, all of which are back in print. Or see our previous post dedicated to Compulsion, one of Hill’s more untethered masterpieces.

Be sure to check back in the coming days for more updates and thoughts about one of jazz’s true masters.

Category Andrew Hill

20 Responses to POINTS OF DEPARTURE: Andrew Hill, 1931-2007

  1. I was eerily just about to listen to “Dance With Death” when I read in the paper that Andrew Hill had passed away. Kinda creepy I think…

    It is a really sad day, but like you said, there are lots of guys around now who are carrying on Hill’s vision in their compositions and playing, so his legacy will hopefully remain intact. I think his name, and his singular music, will only become more respected as time goes on. He’s one of those guys where ever time I listen to his stuff, I hear new things, and learn new things. I think that’s what I like best about his music. Now, I’ll stop rambling and go back to listening to Dance With Death.
    RIP Andrew Hill

  2. “nuff” respect to the maestro, one love brother, you will be missed, rest in peace.

  3. Great post, thanks….finally got to see him play early last year, sorry it won’t happen again.

  4. wkcr has a hill memorial broadcast going until 9 PM on Tuesday

  5. I just started getting into Mr. Hill recently when I picked up “Passing Ships” on a lark (at the Tower going-out-of-business clearance sale) and proceeded to be blown away by it… R.I.P.

  6. Thank you so much for the post and the tracks. This has quickly become one of my favorite blogs, first on my radar screen when Alice Coltraine passed. I have posted about Andrew Hill’s passing as well, and included an MP3, on my site burningdervish.com.

  7. Itâ??s also sad that we are often spurred to recommend listening when we remember someone at their death. I should have made more effort when he was alive. Nevertheless, along with his 60s Blue Note recordings, may I recommend 1975â??s Spiral with Lee Konitz on Arista/Freedom, and 1986â??s Shades with Clifford Jordon on Soul Note. If you missed these, celebrate Hillâ??s off-kilter playing, and his intellectual yet powerfully emotional music with some quiet reflection.

  8. Alice Coltrane and Siegfried Kessler earlier the year. And now him. RIP, that’s all I can say. I put “Smoke Stack” on, “Wailing Wall” is a moving tune if there ever was one.

  9. I was introduced to the sounds of Andrew Hill long before I learned about him, through a Melbourne pianist, Jex Saarelaht: a great fan of Hill’s who I used to see quite a lot when I was younger. It was only about two or three years ago that I actually picked up an album of his, Point of Departure, and I feel lucky to have found him. Living in Australia means missing out on discovering many great artists, and I made it my mission to introduce as many of my friends as possible to his work.
    Last year, I saw his performance during the JVC Jazz Festival when I went to NY, where he performed much of his material from Time Lines. It was a wonderful, moving performance, and it’s a memory I’ll treasure.

  10. Thanks so much for the post. One of my all time favorites and I never got a chance to see him.
    I was asked just last week who I would want to play with if I could play with any musician in the world; Andrew Hill was my second pick (after Ahmad Jamal); a little tiny part of me hoped that there was some way it could really happen.

  11. I saw Andrew Hill play the entirety of “Passing Ships” for the first and perhaps the only time, along with a solo piano recital. It was exciting to hear an unearthed masterpiece performed live but I could tell it was going to be one of his last concerts. An underappreciated figure in the jazz world. He will be missed.

  12. i hope, in time, andrew hill’s name will be often cited in the same breath as bird, monk, trane, miles, mingus, etc. he is truly one of the most original and innovative thinkers in the history of jazz, creating and occupying his own musical universe and leaving a towering legacy for all of us.

    i heard through the grapevine that he had a trio recording session scheduled for blue note last month, following his final performance at trinity church in NYC. anyone know if that actually happened or not? what a blessing it would be to get one last album from the maestro…

  13. Nels Cline’s reflections on Hill’s passing on Crypto Musings. Nels did a Hill tribute album last year, New Monastery: A View Into the Music of Andrew Hill.

    An earlier, longer post with some of Cline’ thoughts on Hill here.

    BTW, the previous post was on another fine musician who just passed, Herman Riley.

  14. April was “Jazz Appreciation Month,” perhaps more aptly “Jazz Underappreciation Month,” and how fitting that Hill passed at the time he did, either way. I played a little bit of Hill on the radio yesterday, about 40 minutes or so, and here’s a recommendation: grab a set of good headphones and slap em on, close your eyes, and really focus, really concentrate on Hill’s harmonies and his lines over the top. I rarely get the chance to listen in this kind of focused way and Hill’s music delivers very rich rewards when it is absolutely the only thing happening. In particular, yesterday, I was struck by the sheer density of Hill’s altered and suspended chords and the glorious dissonances. Echoes of Booker Little’s chromatics.

    Does anyone know why Hill worked with so many different, stellar drummers on the Blue Note sessions?


  15. It was on a 1978 album on the Artists House label called “From California With Love” that I first heard Andrew Hill. I had no idea who he was, and I was still learning about Jazz then. But the description in the catalog sounded interesting so I took a chance. It’s hard to believe 30 years have come and gone, and that his music has been with me all that time. While I’m grateful he lived a long life, and left behind such an extraordinary legacy of recordings, I feel the same sadness I always feel when one of the true innovators of the music passes. Though others will surface who are influenced by the man, we will never again see an Andrew Hill. Musicians of his quality are one of a kind.

  16. Andrew Hill tribute Monday, April 30, 9PM-11PM EDT Charlottesville.

    91.1 in central Virginia. Good sounding webstreams wtju.net

  17. Sadly, I was familiar with Andrew Hill but didn’t know his music. Happened to be listening to wrfg in atlanta and this one program was paying tribute to him and his music was reminding me of Salim Washington’s music. Called to see who was the artist and was told it was Andrew Hill who had recently passed. So this sent me into searching… Go to the link to check out Andrew Hill’s last concert at Trinity Church.

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