In the liner notes to The Complete Blue Note Andrew Hill Sessions (Mosaic)–the excellent seven-disc set that arrived earlier this year–the Chicago-born pianist explains the frequently published myth that he was born in Haiti. “It seemed like a good career move at the time….Growing up in the black belt, I could only go so far because there was such a color caste system in Chicago. So being from Haiti was a good neutralizer.” It may also have seemed a good career move to acquiesce when people labeled his early-60s recordings “avant-garde”–when Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane had made that term an honorific for young musicians. Hill’s startlingly individualistic Blue Note recordings–which, incidentally, introduced both Joe Henderson and Bobby Hutcherson to many jazz listeners–do strike us as “avant-garde,” even today. But they eschewed the blank-verse poetry of Ornette Coleman’s “free jazz.” (Coleman’s music of the time sounds wide-open; by comparison, Hill’s tightly wound compositions and structurally bound improvisations remain within the lines of demarcation that they explore with such detail and curiosity.) Like one of his piano heroes, Thelonious Monk, Hill creates music with slightly skewed, subtly sour harmonies; from the example of another idol, Art Tatum, he developed a soloing style of unexpected intervals and asymmetrical phrases driven by tumbling, herky-jerky rhythms. Taken together, these tactics allowed Hill to update blues tonalities (like Coleman) and to explore much of the same “freebop” territory being surveyed by Hill’s fellow Chicagoan Muhal Richard Abrams. (“Really listen to the avant-garde,” Hill has said, “and you can hear African rhythms. You hear the roots of jazz.”) For this show, which marks his first homecoming in nearly a decade, Hill will perform unaccompanied, a format that offers a mellower, less angular side of his musical personality. He plays as part of an inventive program entitled “Night of the Ticklers” (a once popular term for jazz and blues pianists) presented by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, on whose board this writer serves. He’ll join two other local natives, the crafty blues pianist Erwin Helfer and the soulful jazzman Junior Mance, who was born in Evanston and returns home about as often as Hill. Friday, 7:30 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 427-1676.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Radke.