March 2008

Andrew Hill (6.30.31 – 4.20.07)

Unique, idiosyncratic, perceptive, adaptable, progressive, fearless, experimental, generous, forthright, honest, introverted, extroverted, unpredictable … genius. I could sit for days listing definitives, describing Andrew Hill. An entire lifetime wouldn’t be enough time to list them all.

My fondest memories of Andrew are the marathon-length telephone calls that would begin casually enough as a simple hello but would segue and develop into an extended and detailed rap session, complete with explanations of his advanced compositional methodology and thinking. During these conversations, he literally bombarded me with ideas and information.

In the beginning of our association, I found it overwhelmingly frustrating to speak with him at times, as I could not fully understand or comprehend the sometimes ambiguous and cryptic manner in which he spoke. I felt that I needed some brand of decoder device that would decipher the complexity of his thoughts and words. In time, I reached an understanding of where he was coming from and developed a complete and resounding respect for the profundity of his perspectives. Each time after we spoke, I would sit for a while, as if to let the smoke clear before I could move on. He was just that deep (and oftentimes confusing).

I used to question why I was chosen to be the recipient of his advisory and attention, but Andrew would never reveal why. He would call me at odd hours to explain some of his most detailed musical findings. He often made literary and documentary recommendations, would cite various historical references, examine the cultural and theological ties of American creative music to African offerings, and give his most colorful and personal overviews of the contemporary scene. His sense of humor was sometimes scathing but incredibly funny in a sly and sideways manner.

In between various departures and conceptual excursions, or whenever I would offer something of fancy, he would say “Oh, bless your heart!” In addition, Andrew would always conclude telephone conversations with a gentle “Thank you for your time.” Verbal phrases like those—especially coming from him—stood out in contrast to the sometimes cacophonous nature of his music, but he was indeed a gentle person.

Andrew was probably the only person whom I would allow to admonish me for certain creative or career decisions that I made, mainly because his comments were genuinely given as a propulsive effort and not as idle browbeating. I let him have his (exceptionally opinionated) say because he genuinely wanted the best for my generation and me and, in his own terms, sought to utilize me as a messenger of his conceptions and ideals. Some of his criticism was quite startling, but always done in earnest. I emerged from every session completely renewed and ready to implement the new information. And I was honored to receive it directly from such an accomplished and respected sage.

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