Andrew Hill, who died last week aged 76 was one of the best, if not necessarily best-known, musicians of his generations. In his compositions and his playing he linked the modern mainstream and the avant-garde. Perhaps the best way to describe his percussive style of piano playing is as the missing link between Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor. Another way might be to say that he was the piano-playing equivalent of Eric Dolphy, in that his work was firmly rooted in tradition, but could sound as out as the free-est of the avant-garde.

Andrew Hill was born in Chicago in 1931. His parents were from Puerto Rico, and for many years he claimed to have been born there himself, before finally admitting in the late 1990s that this was merely a marketing ploy. Early in his career he worked as a sideman with, among others, Gene Ammons, Von Freeman, Dinah Washington and Roland Kirk before beginning to record under his own name in the early 1960s.

Hill’s recorded career falls into three main periods: the many sessions for Blue Note in the 60s, only a few of which were released at the time; the 1980s work on Soul Note; and the late 90s and early 00s releases on Palmetto and Blue Note. He also made a handful of recordings as sideman, including sets with Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Henderson, Sam Rivers and, more recently, Greg Osby. For much of the time since the early 70s he supported himself by working at an academic at various American institutions.

Suggested listening:

  • Point of Departure, 60s Blue Note set with Eric Dolphy, Joe Henderson and Kenny Dorham.
  • Compulsion!!!!. Another 60s Blue Note album, featuring Freddie Hubbard, some of John Gilmore’s rare work away from Sun Ra, and a good dollop of African percussion.
  • Shades. Mid-80s trio and quartet set with Rufus Reid, Ben Riley and Clifford Jordan. This is the most straightahead Andrew Hill recorded I’ve heard, very reminiscent of a particularly good set from Charlie Rouse period Monk.

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