Friday, April 20, 2007

Andrew Hill, Jazz Pianist And Composer, Dies at 75

Pianist and composer Andrew Hill, one of the most vital and groundbreaking artists in jazz's post-bop movement during a career that spanned a half-century, died early Friday after a three-year struggle with lung cancer, his record label announced.

Hill died at his Jersey City, New Jersey, home just 14 months after releasing his final album, "Time Lines," a farewell that earned him album of the year honors from Down Beat magazine and jazz artist of the year from Playboy. He was still performing just three weeks ago, when Hill appeared with his trio at Manhattan's Trinity Church.

"Our hearts go out to his wife, Joanne, and the countless musicians, friends and fans that his music and spirit touched over the course of his remarkable life," said a statement from Blue Note Records.

Although Hill was widely lauded within the jazz community, his music was often overlooked by mainstream audiences which focused on the work of contemporaries like Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. Hill performed with both while still in his teens.

"In a jazz world that often celebrates imitators, Hill stands as a genuine original," said the announcement accompanying his 2003 Jazzpar Prize, the prestigious annual Danish award given to an active internationally recognized performer. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jazz Foundation of America in 1997.

The Chicago native displayed a musical bent from his earliest years.

"I could play the piano as long as I've been talking," Hill told one interviewer. He began his formal training at age 13 after receiving encouragement from prominent jazz figures Earl "Fatha" Hines and Bill Russo.

Hill's professional career began in 1952; he worked with Parker, Davis and tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins before releasing his debut album three years later.

Hill came to New York in 1961 to work with singer Dinah Washington. In 1963, he began a 44-year association with the Blue Note label, where he released a series of classic post-bop albums that included the oft-hailed "Point of Departure."

Blue Note founder Alfred Lion once described Hill as "the next Thelonious Monk." But Hill spent most of the '70s and '80s in academia, teaching in colleges, public schools and prisons while releasing only occasional albums.

After nearly a decade away from recording, Hill resurfaced in the new millennium with three new albums: "Dusk" with his Point of Departure Sextet in 2000; the big-band production "A Beautiful Day" in 2002; and "Time Lines" last year.

"A master's record, quiet, daring and magnificent," wrote Ben Ratliff of The New York Times about "Time Lines."

In 2004, the same year he was diagnosed with cancer, Hill released "Passing Ships" — a collection recorded in 1969, but shelved for 35 years because Blue Note considered it "noncommercial."


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