Jazz piano legend and Blue Note alumnus Andrew Hill died this morning in Jersey City, N.J., around 4 a.m. Hill had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004 and in the years following, his health wavered between better and worse bouts. He was 75.
On Blue Note, Hill recorded some of his most memorable compositions and significant albums, notably 1964’s masterpiece Point of Departure, widely considered one of the great, criminally overlooked jazz recordings. The album features Hill with his sextet, in what may be his most assured moment, moving forward with the avant-garde piano styles of Thelonious Monk.
During the early ’50s, Hill studied with Paul Hindemith, earning his chops on the local club circuit. He played with Chicago-area R&B groups-some of his earliest recorded work can be found on a single with Malachi Favors.
Hill left his native Chicago for New York in 1961, where he eventually caught the attention of Blue Note founder Alfred Lion. Though Hill’s albums never sold particularly well, he remained one of Lion’s treasures and a critical darling. After a string of lauded albums, beginning with his Blue Note debut Black Fire, Hill left the label in the 1970s.
Many of Hill’s Blue Note sessions got lost in the shuffle as the record label slowly started to fold, and in recent years, the previously “lost” Passing Ships was released for the first time, while many other classic Hill albums have been reissued and expanded. Last year, Hill came full circle, returning to Blue Note–he had actually put out two albums on the label in 1989 and 1990–with his well-received trio album Time Lines.
In a Feb. 2006 interview with All About Jazz, Hill remarked, “The old-timers in jazz used to tell me, ‘It’s good to be different, because difference is great-that’s what the music is based on. But lose that energy between the audience and the players and you have nothing.'”
That same year, jazz-fusionist and Wilco guitarist Nels Cline released a tribute album of sorts, reinterpreting several of Hill’s compositions. In the Feb. 2007 issue of JT, Cline wrote, “Hill’s never been predictable or safe, and his music maintains a maverick, loose-limbed quality that trusts the improviser while also providing a visionary sonic structure to work within.”
Born on June 30, 1931 in Chicago, Ill., Hill has often had his birthdate and place of birth printed incorrectly. Though Hill was not actually born in Haiti, his Caribbean heritage permeates into his musicianship. He taught music at Portland State University and gave master’s classes at New York University and other institutions.
On May 12, Hill will receive an honorary doctorate of music from Berklee College of Music, along with Gloria and Emilio Estefan and U2’s The Edge.
Hill is survived by his wife Joanne Robinson Hill, as well as a niece, a nephew and a cousin.Originally Published