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Before & After: Marquis Hill

Chicago-raised trumpeter listens to old and new cuts

Photo of Marquis Hill (photo by Deneka Peniston)
Marquis Hill (photo by Deneka Peniston)

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.

  1. Ingrid Jensen
    “Dear John” (Higher Grounds, Enja).
    Jensen, trumpet; Gary Thomas, tenor saxophone; David Kikoski, piano; Ed Howard, bass; Victor Lewis, drums; Freddie Hubbard, composer. Recorded in 1998.

BEFORE: [sings along] It’s “Dear John.” I’m waiting to hear the trumpet player, of course. Swingin’. Modern, definitely modern. I’ll guess from New York. New York band. New York musicians. Tim Hagans?

[after the track ends] That’s nice. Lots of energy. I love that tune, “Dear John.” Based on “Giant Steps.” I’ll give myself three guesses. I said Tim Hagans. Two more. It’s definitely coming out of that Tom Harrell school of playing. It’s not Tom Harrell. Alex Sipiagin? OK, I’ll give myself one more. Jim Rotondi?


AFTER: I’ve checked Ingrid’s music out, and I actually played with her a couple of times. We did this thing at Dizzy’s and also the Jazz Gallery—the [annual Festival of New Trumpet Music, or FONT]. We did a huge trumpet summit and she was a part of it both years. She’s amazing. Absolutely amazing, her clarity and flexibility around the horn. Yeah. Nice. Ingrid.

  1. Sly & the Family Stone
    “St. James Infirmary” (Live at the Fillmore East, October 4th & 5th, 1968, Epic/Legacy).
    Sly Stone, organ; Cynthia Robinson, trumpet, Freddie Stone, guitar; Greg Errico, drums. Recorded in 1968.

BEFORE: Um-hum. “St. James.” Kermit Ruffins? Very deep groove. My mind automatically goes to New Orleans, ’cause it’s a New Orleans traditional tune. I’m not sure [who it is]. I like it, though. Very raw. Raw sound. I would definitely guess a trumpet player from New Orleans. Band is very tight, listening to one another very well.

AFTER: That’s bad, man. It’s soulful; it’s rooted. The energy was there. It’s nice.

  1. Donald Byrd
    “Have You Heard the News?” (Thank You … For F.U.M.L. (Funking Up My Life), Elektra).
    Byrd, trumpet, vocals; Paul Jackson Jr., Rick Littlefield, Wah Wah Watson, guitars; Greg Phillinganes, piano; Eddie Watkins Jr., bass; Anthony Cox, drums; the Uptown Singers, vocals. Recorded in 1978.

BEFORE: Donald Byrd? Yeah, that’s one of my major influences. I love Donald Byrd, man.

And you did a Byrd tune on your last album.

Yeah, “Fly Little Bird Fly.” From a different time period [off 1966’s Mustang!]. This is more of his ’70s pop stuff. But he still has that sound in the core of his music.


What do you like about Donald Byrd?

First [time] I was attracted to Donald Byrd was [when] I discovered his more jazz-bebop stuff. So I was attracted to the way he highlighted chord changes. And something about just the way he would speak, my ear was attracted to. His sound, his articulation. The decisions he made, even the little nuances in his solos, I was just kind of attracted to it. It spoke to me. Definitely his ideas and the way they flow. He would have these eighth-note lines that are flowing, and I was attracted to that in his playing. Then I discovered his Blackbyrds stuff and I was just like, “Yeah.” He did it all, you know?

Can you hear in your own music how you might have been influenced by Byrd as a player or composer?

That’s a really good question. I think I relate to him more in my actual sound and improvisation than in my music. But just talking about the similarities in the music, definitely the groove aspect. Even his bebop, straight-ahead stuff of that era still had that aspect of groove. That essence was from where this music comes. And I try to capture that in my music—even my more hip-hop or funky stuff to my more swinging jazz stuff. It’s all about capturing that feeling and being able to transfer it to people. I think his music captured that throughout his career.

  1. Tito Carrillo
    “Shades of Morpheus” (Opening Statement, Origin).
    Carrillo, trumpet; Darwin Noguera, piano; Lorin Cohen, bass; Dana Hall, drums. Recorded in 2011.

BEFORE: Keyon [Harrold]? Fat, fat sound. I’ve heard this before. Wooo. Oh. [laughs] Tito. That’s Tito, yeah. From the first note I thought it was Keyon, ’cause Keyon Harrold is one of my favorite trumpeters. He has a really fat, rich sound. Oh yeah, that’s Tito.

I picked this because I saw that you had studied with him.

Man, Tito is … Tito’s a bad man. He’s one of my teachers from Chicago, one of my mentors. Yeah. His vocabulary. I gotta check this record out more. Thank you for reminding me.


What did you learn from him?

He’s one of my trumpet teachers that engraved in me that you have to be able to play the instrument—the importance of being able to execute on your instrument. Because once you hear these ideas, you hear these things while you’re improvising, if you can’t actually play the things that you’re hearing, it’s no good. So he was really big on fundamentals: embouchure, air flow, flexibility. And then in the jazz world, he was just really big about finding your own voice. Transcribing. Checking out the greats, what they did. Just being really thorough about the information, as you can hear when he plays. Man. Yeah, Tito’s bad.

I hadn’t heard of him before I assembled this playlist. Is he sort of a Chicago secret?

He is. I feel like if Tito would’ve left Chicago or travelled anywhere else, he would have been one of the names that cats remember and talk about. ’Cause he’s absolutely amazing. Not to take anything away from him—he’s definitely had a huge impact in Chicago, and teaches at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He’s a trumpet teacher there. He taught a lot of players in Chicago, plays in Chicago a bunch. Yeah, he’s one of those hidden gems in the city.


Is there a Chicago sound going on here that you can identify?

People talk about the Chicago sound a lot, and it’s interesting. In my opinion, it’s just a certain rawness to it, a certain energy. And I love playing with musicians that have that. You can tell that it’s a Chicago musician.

  1. Takuya Kuroda
    “I Don’t Remember How It Began” (Zigzagger, Concord).
    Kuroda, trumpet; Takeshi Ohbayashi, keyboards; Rashaan Carter, bass; Adam Jackson, drums. Released in 2016.

BEFORE: Is this Takuya? He’s got a pretty distinctive sound when it comes to his music combining hip-hop and jazz: his melodies, the form of his tunes, the shape of his tunes. [He’s] blurring that line, because they’re really coming from the same place. I ran into him and his band a few times touring in the last year, and I’ve been able to hear him play beautifully.

  1. Eddie Henderson
    “Scorpio-Libra” (Realization, Capricorn).
    Henderson, trumpet; Bennie Maupin, tenor saxophone; Herbie Hancock, keyboards; Pat Gleeson, synthesizers, organ; Buster Williams, bass; Billy Hart, Lenny White, drums. Recorded in 1973.

BEFORE: Coming out of the Miles thing, if it isn’t Miles. I really love how the bass is mic-ed. Seventies electric bass vibe. Damn. Wooo. Yeah. This is the ’70s? OK. You probably threw something really obscure, right? Eddie Henderson?


Has Eddie been an influence at all?

You know, yeah, I would say, in his own way. I did a tour with him in college, Northern Illinois University. Professor Ronald Carter would bring in these amazing artists and Eddie Henderson was one of them. I got to rap with him a little bit and kind of follow him all week and listen to him. And then, also through the FONT organization, we honored him two years ago at the New School. I got to talk with him a little bit. He’s just one of the masters of the music, definitely. We’re lucky to still have him around.

Right. What do you like about his trumpet playing specifically?

It’s very raw. It’s hard. It’s in-your-face. But it’s also beautiful. He has clarity; he has flexibility. In my opinion, he has all the things that us trumpet players strive to get. He has that aspect of [how it can sound] free when he plays. Completely liberated. He’s able to play the things that he hears without hesitation. That’s the goal, to me—being able to sit and play these ideas in your head and put them on your instrument in the moment. When I hear Eddie Henderson, that’s what I’m hearing. And he just keeps getting better. [laughs]

  1. Ibrahim Maalouf
    “Essentielles” (Red & Black Light, Mi’ster/Impulse!).
    Maalouf, trumpet; François Delporte, guitar; Eric Legnini, keyboards; Stéphane Galland, drums. Released in 2015.

BEFORE: Wooo. Bad. Polyrhythmic. Let’s see if I know who this is. Very clean articulation, I love that. He’s dealing very well with the rhythm moving and the way it’s moving. It’s nice. Funny, the vibrato reminds me of a Clark Terry type of thing. Coming out of that a little. Very pretty sound. Fan of that.

AFTER: It’s grooving. Very rhythmic. Polyrhythms. And he’s dealing with that: It seems natural to him to deal with those rhythms and be able to improvise over that feeling. I enjoyed it. Pretty sound. Not one of those players who screams at you when he plays. He isn’t overbearing.

  1. Olu Dara
    “Harlem Country Girl” (In the World: From Natchez to New York, Atlantic).
    Dara, cornet, vocals; Kwatei Jones-Quartey, Ivan Ramirez, guitars; Alonzo Gardner, bass; Greg Bandy, drums. Released in 1998.

BEFORE: It’s got a great feeling. Soulful. Rooted. The player, he’s in that trumpet-vocal tradition. You know, that’s a tradition—trumpet player singing. Very beautiful sound. Another one of those players, at least in this situation, who isn’t beating the listener over the head. Very lyrical. Beautiful.


AFTER: Oh, yeah. Duh. It’s so funny, I was gonna say that, too. That’s [hip-hop artist] Nas’ pops.

  1. Ron Miles Trio
    “Wildwood Flower” (Ron Miles Trio, Capri).
    Miles, trumpet; Eric Gunnison, piano; Kent McLagan, bass. Released in 1999.

BEFORE: Um-hum. Very beautiful, fluffy sound. I’m a fan of that. I don’t know who this is but it feels familiar. The hookup that the band has is ridiculous. [laughs] Beautiful sound. Sound is everything. Who is this?

AFTER: I was gonna say Ron Miles. Flumpet. He has that thing in certain situations—he stays in a certain register, you know? Yeahhh. I love Ron Miles’ playing.

What do you like about his sound?


It’s very reminiscent of a human voice. When I play, that’s the goal. You wanna be able to sing. When you’re playing your instrument, your instrument is just an extension of your voice, so I feel like he’s tapped into that.

His ideas are clear—very, very clear. There’s clarity in everything he says. But the most [important] thing, I’m attracted to the sound. Very warm. Yeah.

Read Nate Chinen’s column on Marquis Hill from October 2015 issue of JazzTimes.

Originally Published