A profile of pianist Andrew Hill at a rehearsal for his Smoke Stack album taken in 1963. Photographer Francis Wolff worked alongside Blue Note Records owner Alfred Lion. In addition to producing, Wolff took many of the studio photographs that would appear in Blue Note releases.
Photo: Francis Wolff/Corbis
Essential Andrew Hill
Covers from three of Andrew Hill's classic albums.
Andrew Hill, jazz pianist, died today at the age of 75, several years after he'd been diagnosed with lung cancer.
Andrew Hill studied with one of the great 20th-Century classical composers, Paul Hindemith. While still a teenager, he played with jazz greats including Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. He was an accompanist for singer Dinah Washington.
Blue Note Records Founder Alfred Lion, who produced Hill's first recordings in the 1960s, called him "my last great protege."
"Enigmatic is the perfect word for Andrew," says record producer Michael Cuscuna. "Like a lot of bright people, when you had a conversation with him, you had to stay on your feet. You had to hang for dear life to follow the concepts he was talking about. It was kind of like listening to James Joyce being read aloud."
Hill recorded a number of groundbreaking albums for Blue Note between 1963 and 1970. And though his work was always critically acclaimed and admired by musicians, he never achieved the popularity that many thought he deserved. In an interview with NPR in 2000, Hill said that never bothered him.
"Public acceptance is such a fickle thing 'cause in one period, people like you, in one period, they don't like you," Hill said. "But the dividends from what I did in the '60s have really helped me. I said I don't want to live to be young man, live to be an old man. And my only experience would be playing and living in New York. So I really don't feel anything about that because in my life I said, 'Well, I have been blessed.'"
For a long time, Hill dropped from view entirely. He taught at Portland State University, gave master classes at NYU and continued to compose and perform. Then, starting in 1989, he began recording again. Cuscuna says Hill's absence from the music scene increased people's curiosity about him.
"When he finally resurfaced, suddenly there was a lot of interest in his music," Cuscuna says. "And I think he had been given this air of mystery. I think that helped him get recognition in the last years of his life."
In the end, says Cuscuna, "Andrew Hill was playing to packed houses and got both the critical acclaim and audience recognition he so justly deserved."