Courtesy of Andrew Hill


(September 4, 2002)

I am an Andrew Hill fanatic. I have practically every record (except Smoke Stack damn it). I've seen him play a dozen times, most recently solo at the Bakery here in Los Angeles. I could gush on and on about the man, but rather I recommend you listen. Listen to Point of Departure, a classic. Listen to Judgment! Listen to Black Fire. Listen to Grass Roots. Listen to Lift Every Voice. Listen to Dusk. Listen and you will learn. Read and he will tell you, as always, unedited and in his own words.

ANDREW HILL: How come you didn't say hello when I was in LA, Fred?

FRED JUNG: Didn't want to bother you. Plus there was a chance I might not have left.

FJ: Let's touch on your latest for Palmetto, A Beautiful Day.

ANDREW HILL: You have seventeen pieces. I was looking for musicians that could improvise within the section, like whole sections improvising and then another approach I had to the album was that most big bands, the music never changes. People play the same thing over and over again continuously. So I wanted to have music that would keep the players interested, so I wrote it in sections because the section would depend upon the soloist's improvisation. The other component I wanted was to perform it in front of a live audience because in playing for a live audience, there is some type of honesty. So it had to be certain musicians and each one of them responded to the challenge. The compositions were written specifically for the album because I have to write the compositions in sections. I wanted to write them in sections so I could change the sections. New York is different than most cities in the world because demographically more people love music and I don't mean love music, but they seem to have an ear for music. That is why in the vacuum that is supposed to exist in New York, it is a situation that people come out to listen to music and they don't have to listen to representational music, like something they heard before from the Sixties. They seem to have ears. It is a sincere audience. I figured playing it before an audience who appreciate and know music, you have to be more honest. So enables you to try and strive for some type of synergy between the audience and the musicians. Recording in the studio is a projective audience and justifies one ego. It is really live music for people to participate or enjoy in another type of way.

FJ: People think big band and visions of charts begin dancing in their heads.

ANDREW HILL: Yes, but the only thing about the charts to me and talking to people who have performed in some of these bands for years, maybe decades, is the charts don't change. You play the same charts constantly every day. I wanted to have living, I call it a living big band where the next night I could just change the chart around completely where it won't just go straight, the music won't go straight down and the musicians know what is coming up next. Then by having them improvise in sections, that brings another ingredient to the mixture. In other words, to have a band that is spontaneous as opposed to one that can only read.

FJ: So it would behoove the audience to listen to A Beautiful Day in its entirety.

ANDREW HILL: Yes, I would recommend that. The first two sections are pretty mainstream in the extent that the first one is with two tenor saxophone players (Greg Tardy and Aaron Stewart) playing against the big band and the second one is a ballad. I would say that there is so much material there that for a new listener that he listen to it song by song. Plus, another ingredient, Fred, is kind of simplistic that there is so much going on that the more a listener listens, the more they will be able to hear it, which is kind of the way I like my music to be. A lot of times, you buy a CD or whatever and you listen to it one time and it's good, but you may not listen to it anymore. Buy this is the type of record that a person could almost listen to it repeatedly, over and over again and discover something new.

FJ: Early in your Blue Note period, you wrote for quintets and quartets, some trio. There was also a period where you wrote and recorded mostly solo compositions. Your last two recorded works have been for larger ensembles.

ANDREW HILL: I've always written for larger ensembles, but a lot of my stuff wasn't in the jazz genre. When I was a tenured professor at Portland State University, I used to do stuff with the symphony orchestra and choral vocal groups and string quartets. But for the recording itself, like a lot of things I do is in competition with myself from another decade. From that reservoir of human resources that was available then, a lot of repetition as a small group would only be second rate compared to those things. New avenues give you a new challenge.

FJ: How many albums did you record for Blue Note?

ANDREW HILL: It was actually twenty-two. Ten are still in the can. Like some of my ten or twelve pieces. There was one where I played organ. I can't say nothing good or bad about them because they are very generous with their royalties, but ten are still in the can.

FJ: Do I need to make some calls?

ANDREW HILL: Well, the first three or four or five or six if you bring in the reissue of the Mosaic first set are selling so well, the company, because you know, Fred, reissues are selling more than a lot of the newer things. So consequently, they can just shoot that out over and over again and that can last ten years. I've written enough music, unfortunately or fortunately for the next hundred years. After people get tired of one thing, they can gradually bring a new discovery out.

FJ: You had a significant association with the late Joe Henderson that began with Henderson's Our Thing, which subsequently led to your Blue Note debut, Black Fire, followed by the classic Point of Departure date.

ANDREW HILL: I first went to New York in April of '63 and my wife, my deceased wife who was an organist in LA. So we went to New York and the first week while I was there, I played a job with Kenny Dorham and Joe Henderson was in this band and so that was our first meeting. We did have a beautiful rapport. Like I said, for the Kenny Dorham date, for a while, we were in a sense inseparable. We could exchange ideas and we basically had a similar approach to music.

FJ: One of John Gilmore's rare sessions outside of Sun Ra was on your self-titled Blue Note, Andrew.

ANDREW HILL: Well, we did an album before that called Compulsion with drums. It is on the Mosaic set, but it hasn't been reissued. And John and I went back a long ways to Chicago. We played together often in Chicago when I was a kid before he went with Sun Ra. It was always refreshing to play with John and like you said with Sun Ra, I had hoped that he would leave Sun Ra because to me, he was too great an artist to be caught in that communal type situation.

FJ: Do you enjoy writing for the bass clarinet? Eric Dolphy, John Gilmore, and more recently, Greg Tardy and Marty Ehlrich have played bass clarinet on your sessions.

ANDREW HILL: Yeah, I've enjoyed it ever since the Point of Departure album. I used to spend a lot of time with Eric and he used to show me the nuances of the bass clarinet and do things that other people weren't doing and what a strong instrument it is in it of itself.

FJ: Let's talk about the Point of Departure record.

ANDREW HILL: Well, for Blue Note sessions, I did ten sessions within a period of three years, which was unusual. So maybe a month, a month to write it and then we would rehearse for two or three days and then we did it. At the Mt. Fuji Festival, the last festival that he was alive for, Lion introduced me to that audience as his last protégé besides Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols. I met Alfred at a Joe Henderson session, Our Thing. Shortly after playing with Kenny Dorham's band, maybe two or three months later, Joe was having a session and he had me on it and so Alfred heard me and immediately talked to me about joining the company.

FJ: As aggressive as Blue Note has been in reissuing your session, there was a period.

ANDREW HILL: Where I didn't exist. The reason was I had to leave New York in '75 because my deceased wife was involved with a hospice type situation. So I moved to California. At first I landed in San Francisco and then I went to a place called Pittsburgh, California, where I was lucky enough to get grants through the California Arts Council, maybe one or two concerts a month and attend to my wife and plus I did social work. So when she died in '89, I moved to Portland, Oregon and received a tenured professorship at Portland State University, where I stayed until 1995. Fred, I was always taught that you have to support yourself and I figured that either I would emerge again or not emerge again. The emphasis really wasn't on surviving. It was on living. People have been gracious enough to bring me out, literally. Before we did the Dusk album, when I first arrived here with the sextet, we were like Sun Ra or The Grateful Dead. We would do concerts and people, we would just go and do a concert and it was packed and we were getting critical acclaim. During that period, I had to take care of myself. In other words, Fred, kind of like I tell all the younger, great artists who come around me, don't just live to be a young man in New York and then become an old man in New York and have no life experiences in between. I always have practiced and I always have written music. So I have always played and then with the California Arts Council, I did tours, Orange County and different places in California once or twice a month. That was enough playing for me and enabled me to create a budget where I didn't have to depend on playing all the time and where I could have the money necessary to pay the medical bills and support my wife. My wife died in '89. It is almost a personal thing of values is why I left. In essence, you could say that the reason why I wasn't heard was that I really wasn't participating. I had another obligation that I had to honor.

FJ: Your return, Dusk, was one of the most heralded albums in some time.

ANDREW HILL: When we recorded Dusk, I was ready to disband the sextet because on our own we were working and the energy kept on creating jobs, but I had gotten to the point where I was tired of it and Howard Mandel told me that before I disband it, document it and then I saw Palmetto Records, who at the time didn't have any big artists, but was putting big promotion, the type you would expect from a bigger record company on smaller artists, so I figured that they would be the one to record for.

FJ: Words of wisdom for the youth?

ANDREW HILL: Just be open and play because a young man has the advantage over someone who has played in the fact that he is not polarized within a chronological range from a certain period. You really don't appreciate your fellow artists as much because you're competitive with them. So I just encourage them to be open and practice and be true to themselves and just get into the music. If they get into the music, the music will support them.

FJ: And the future?

ANDREW HILL: I have a smaller quartet because this year what I am doing is I am working a lot of medium gigs because next year I have the Jazzpar Award, where I have to go in with a bigger combination of pieces that I am writing for now and I tour the United Kingdom also. So this year, I am working with this, touring Europe and other things with this smaller quartet. Greg Tardy is on tenor and Nasheet Waits on drums and John Hebert on bass and myself.

FJ: Are you planning on documenting that group?

ANDREW HILL: At first, when we first played together in Chicago this year, I was thinking about immediate documentation, but I decided like I did with the sextet that recorded Dusk, that we work together for a while and see what develops.

FJ: Finally the much deserved acclaim is being bestowed upon Andrew Hill. I can die in peace. Does it all matter in the span of things?

ANDREW HILL: No, because since I came back, well, it matters. I can't say it doesn't matter because everyone loves being appreciated, but the real prize was to get my original enthusiasm for music back because people are away for years and they come back and your enthusiasm is gone. So it is really meaningless. Right now, I have the urgency that I had as a young man, the urgency to write and everything I do is well received so that is good. It all goes together.

FJ: Next time you are at the Bakery, bring Tardy.

ANDREW HILL: The next time, I was telling Ruth, because everyone says that with the resurgence and the fact that he plays solo, let me bring him in as a soloist. I tell them that they may call themselves saving money, but they are losing money because my reputation comes from creative contact with other players than as a solo artist. You need to take full advantage of me. You should think of me as a group. So I will be coming back to Los Angeles with the quartet, Fred.

Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and what can Brown do for you?. Comments? Email Him