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