Courtesy of Andrew Hill
CHAT WITH ANDREW HILL
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
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
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
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
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
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?