In both his technique and the way he organizes his music, trumpeter Marquis Hill, 30, strikes a balance between merriment and determination. On his most recent album, the exhilarating 2016 standards collection The Way We Play (Concord Jazz), featuring his band the Blacktet, he solos with seriousness and direction but also tenderness and excitement. He barrels and dives on his horn. He exclaims and encourages. And his moves as an arranger follow the same pattern. Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” is somber sailing, but only until about a minute and a half in, when breathy female scat vocals part the clouds and raise the temperature. This approach explains the musician Hill is: He knows that complexity actually lies between extremes, not inside them.
Raised in Chicago and now based in New York, Hill, winner of the 2014 Thelonious Monk trumpet competition, recently sat down with JT to reflect on a wide range of new and old trumpet music.