NEA Arts Magazine

Andrew Hill

Keyboardist

p6-hill.jpg

Andrew Hill

Pianist Andrew Hill. Photo by Jimmy Katz.

Recognized by Blue Note Records founder Alfred Lyon as his "last, great protégé," pianist Andrew Hill spent 40 years composing, performing, recording, and mentoring young musicians.

Born in Chicago in 1931, Andrew Hill began teaching himself to play piano at age 10, and was later introduced to German composer and music theorist-in-exile Paul Hindemith. Hill started performing in 1952 with touring jazz musicians, including Charlie Parker, Dinah Washington, Coleman Hawkins, and Miles Davis.

He moved to New York in 1961 and shortly thereafter was contracted by Alfred Lyon as a leader and sideman, producing his early classics for the label, such as Point of Departure and Black Fire. Hill's Blue Note sessions with acclaimed musicians such as Eric Dolphy, Kenny Dorham, John Gilmore, Roy Haynes, Joe Henderson, and Elvin Jones cemented his reputation as a musician and composer of some renown.

Andrew Hill's widow, Joanne Robinson Hill (right), receives Hill's NEA Jazz Masters award from Nancy Wilson

Andrew Hill's widow, Joanne Robinson Hill (right), receives Hill's NEA Jazz Masters award from Nancy Wilson. Photo by Tom Pich.

 

From 1970–72, Hill served as composer-in-residence at Colgate University of Hamilton, New York. In California, he performed in concert and taught classes at public schools and social service institutions before becoming an associate professor of music at Portland State University, where he established the successful Summer Jazz Intensive.

Hill returned to New York City in the 1990s, reestablishing himself as a pianist, ensemble leader, and composer. In 2000, Hill released Dusk, a song cycle loosely based on Jean Toomer's 1923 book Cane, with yet another phenomenal band. The album brought him to the attention of and garnered him acclaim from a larger jazz audience, claiming a place on best-album-of-the-year lists with Fortune Magazine, San Diego Union Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jazz Times, and Down Beat.

The new attention led to reissues of his classic Blue Note recordings of the 1960s and new issues of some previously unreleased recordings from that time period. One of the most interesting was Passing Ships, a previously unknown nonet recording that prefaced his big band recording in 2002, A Beautiful Day, by more than 30 years. In 2003, he received the prestigious Danish award, the JAZZPAR Prize.

After fighting lung cancer for many years -- and continuing to tour and perform until weeks before his passing -- Hill succumbed to the disease in April 2007. He was notified of the NEA Jazz Masters award two days before his passing. His widow, Joanne Robinson Hill, accepted the award in Toronto on his behalf. "This was the last tribute that he would receive in his lifetime," commented Robinson Hill about the award. "He considered it to be a very great and precious honor."