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Andrew Hill was a great and even groundbreaking composer and pianist, yet the relatively circumscribed scale of his innovations might have originally caused him to get lost in the shuffle of the '60s free jazz revolution. While many of his contemporaries were totally jettisoning the rhythmic and harmonic techniques of bop and hard bop, Hill worked to extend their possibilities; his was a revolution from within. Much of the most compelling '60s jazz was nearly aleatoric; Hill, on the other hand, exhibited a determined command of his materials, however abstract they might sometimes be. His composed melodies were labyrinthine, and rhythmically and harmonically complex tunes like "New Monastery" from his Point of Departure album exhibit a sophistication born of mastery, not chance or contingency. As a pianist, Hill had a flowing melodicism and an elastic sense of time. Like his composing, Hill's playing had an ever-present air of spontaneity and was almost completely devoid of cliché.
He began playing the piano at about the age of 13. As a youngster in Chicago, Hill was encouraged by pianist Earl Hines. Jazz composer Bill Russo also took an interest, and introduced Hill to the renowned classical composer Paul Hindemith, with whom Hill studied from 1950-1952. While in his teens, he gigged with prominent jazz musicians passing through the Midwest, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker among them. In 1955, he recorded So in Love with the Sound of Andrew Hill for the Warwick label. He moved to New York in 1961 to work with singer Dinah Washington. After a brief foray to Los Angeles with Rahsaan Roland Kirk's band in 1962, Hill moved back to New York, where he began his recording career in earnest.
He made several records for Blue Note from 1963-1969, both as leader and sideman. Hill's Blue Note work featured some of the best and brightest post-bop musicians of the day, including Eric Dolphy, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Tony Williams, and Freddie Hubbard. Like many jazz musicians, Hill eventually turned to academia to make a living. He received his doctorate from Colgate University and served as the school's composer in residence from 1970-1972. Hill relocated to the West Coast, teaching in public schools and prisons in California. He eventually landed a teaching position at Portland State University, where he established the school's Summer Jazz Intensive. In addition to his teaching, Hill continued to perform and record in the '70s and '80s, making records for the Arista-Freedom and Black Saint/Soul Note labels. In 1989 and 1990, Hill recorded twice more for Blue Note, Eternal Spirit and But Not Farewell.
Hill moved back to the New York area in the '90s; a series of performances and new recordings helped place him back in the jazz spotlight. Hill formed a new Point of Departure Sextet for the Knitting Factory's 1998 Texaco Jazz Festival. The band included saxophonists Marty Ehrlich and Greg Tardy, trumpeter Ron Horton, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Billy Drummond. The band went on to play New York club engagements to much acclaim. In 2000, Palmetto Records released Dusk, which was named the best album of 2001 by Down Beat and Jazz Times magazines. It was followed by A Beautiful Day in 2002, Passing Ships in 2003, and Black Fire in 2004, as well as a solid series of Blue Note reissues of his '60s work that included bonus tracks and new liner notes. His 2006 album, Time Lines, reunited him with both trumpeter Charles Tolliver and the Blue Note label. Hill also participated in a 17-piece big band, and a January 2002 engagement at New York's Birdland was filmed and recorded by Palmetto for future broadcast. After battling lung cancer for many years, Hill succumbed to the disease on April 20, 2007, leaving behind a stunning legacy of work.
Andrew Hill (June 30, 1931 – April 20, 2007) was an American jazz pianist and composer.
Hill is recognized as one of the most important innovators of jazz piano in the 1960s. His most-lauded work was recorded for Blue Note Records, spanning nearly a decade and a dozen albums.
Life and career 
Andrew Hill was born in Chicago, Illinois (not Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as was reported by many earlier jazz reference books) to William and Hattie Hille. He had a brother, Robert, who was a singer and classical violin player. Hill took up the piano at the age of thirteen, and was encouraged by Earl Hines. As a child, he attended the University of Chicago Experimental School. He was referred by jazz composer Bill Russo to Paul Hindemith, with whom he studied informally until 1952. While a teenager he performed in rhythm and blues bands and with touring jazz musicians, including Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Hill recalls some of his experience as a youngster, during a 1964 interview with Leonard Feather: "I started out in music as a boy soprano, singing and playing the accordion, and tap dancing. I had a little act and made quite a few of the talent shows around town from 1943 until 1947. I won turkeys at two Thanksgiving parties at the Regal Theatre," parties sponsored by the newspaper Chicago Defender, which Hill coincidentally used to sell on the streets.
In 1950, he learned his first blues changes on the piano from the saxophonist Pat Patrick and in 1953, he played his first professional job as a musician, with Paul Williams' band. "At that time", he recalls, "I was playing baritone sax as well as piano." During the next few years, the piano gigs brought him into contact with a passel of musicians, some of whom became relevant influences: Joe Segal and Barry Harris, amongst others. In 1961, after travelling as an accompanist for Dinah Washington, the young pianist settled in New York City where he worked for Johnny Hartman and Al Hibbler, then briefly moved to Los Angeles County, where he worked with Roland Kirk's quartet and at the jazz club Lighthouse Café, in Hermosa Beach. It was then that he met his bride-to-be, Laverne Gillette, at the time an organist at the Red Carpet. They married in 1963 and moved to New York. She died following a long illness in California, where the couple had moved.
Hill first recorded as a sideman in 1954, but his reputation was made by his Blue Note recordings as leader from 1963 to 1970, which featured several other important post-bop musicians including Joe Chambers, Richard Davis, Eric Dolphy, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Elvin Jones, Woody Shaw, Tony Williams, and John Gilmore. Hill also played on albums by Henderson, Hutcherson, and Hank Mobley. His distinctive compositions accounted for three of the five pieces on Bobby Hutcherson's classic Dialogue album.
Hill rarely worked as a sideman after the 1960s, preferring to play his own compositions. This may have limited his public exposure. He later taught in California and was an associate professor on a tenure track at Portland State University. During his time at PSU, he established a Summer Jazz Intensive program, in addition to performing, conducting workshops and attending residencies at other universities such as Wesleyan University, University of Michigan, University of Toronto, Harvard University and Bennington College. He married dancer/educator Joanne Robinson Hill in Portland in 1992. They moved to New York City in 1995. His final public performance was on March 29, 2007 at Trinity Church in New York City. Andrew Hill suffered from lung cancer during the last years of his life. He died at his home in Jersey City.
In May 2007, he became the first person to receive a posthumous honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music.
Hill's main influences were pianists Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Art Tatum. "Monk's like Ravel and Debussy to me, in that he put a lot of personality into his playing [...] it's the personality of music which makes it, finally" said the pianist in a 1963 interview with A. B. Spellman. Powell was an even greater influence, but Hill thought that his music was a dead end: "If you stay with Bud too much, you'll always sound like him, even if you're doing something he never did." Ultimately, Hill referred to Tatum as the epitome of "all modern piano playing".
Hill created a unique idiom that utilized chromatic, modal, and occasionally "free" improvisation. Although usually categorized as "avant-garde", Hill's music bears little resemblance to the free atonality and extended improvisations of Cecil Taylor and others. Like his contemporaries Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, and Eric Dolphy, Hill was considered to be a cusp figure: too "out" to be "in", but too "in" to be "out". His earlier work, particularly the album Point of Departure, featuring fellow innovator Eric Dolphy, exhibits Hill's desire to advance while remaining grounded in the traditions of his predecessors. Throughout, his skill as both composer and leader can be sensed as the band ventures into unknown territory while still remaining precise and controlled. Hill's compositions sometimes have a contemplative mood. He was known for the rhythmic and harmonic complexity of his performances and compositions.
As a pianist, Hill's style was marked by extreme chromaticism, complex, dense chords, flowing, legato phrasing, and frequent rubato. He would often play against the rhythmic pulse, or move into different time signatures.
His album Dusk was selected as the best album of 2001 by both Down Beat and JazzTimes; and in 2003, Hill received the Jazzpar Prize. Hill's earlier work also received renewed attention as a result of the belated release of several unissued sessions made in the 1960s for Blue Note, notably the ambitious large-group date Passing Ships.
As a consequence of his renewed prominence, a new Blue Note album titled Time Lines was released on February 21, 2006.