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Artist Profiles

Andrew Hill: Time Lines and Full Circles

By Published: March 11, 2006
"When I think about Blue Note, I think, to a certain extent, about traditional values. Because it seems like at a certain point, everything in jazz had gotten so free and so formless— and at the same time, a lot of the techniques of classical music have been incorporated into the music. But when I think of Blue Note, I think of this area and time where within the form, you had the black music and the white music. And in all the neighborhoods, it was the popular music.

"And now all of a sudden, the black side hasn't survived but the white side has. Of course, music isn't black or white, but still, to a certain extent, a certain form of the music was put in limbo. But everytime people have reached for that form, they prosper—just like all of a sudden, they found a Coltrane/Monk record that sold 400,000 copies. So people like the music. People have always said that record companies have always had more control than the people. But what has amazed me through the years is that what really dictates is the peoples' taste. Hype really has nothing to do with it. Some of the mistakes that musicians have made is to think, 'Well, the audience aren't musicologists, so how can they have a right to like or dislike it?' They give no rights to the audience. But actually, they have more rights than the musicians, since they've been listening to this music for years! Maybe not analytically, but it's their music.

Whatever Blue Note's motivations in resigning Hill, Time Lines is above reproach. Its eight tracks and six tunes ("Malachi and "Ry Round appear in two configurations apiece) surely rank among Hill's best recorded work. Best of all, it feels like an album—there's a rich variety to the compositions and the album sequencing, with the two "Malachis bookending the tracks, has an elegant balance.

"A lot of that was Michael Cuscuna's idea, he nods. "But a lot of it was sort of following the shape of the old Blue Note records—they'd have a bluesy-type number, a Latin number. Everything wasn't the same. It was good music, but it was inclusive of all people —not just one dimension of the music for a small segment of people who only liked that one type of music.

When asked to name his favorite of all his recordings, Hill shakes his head. "I try not to look at it like that. If you say, well, this was successful because of this, then you've trapped yourself. I liked them all for their sincerity. Of all the projects, some were better-received by the audience. I liked them all, because there was a certain sincerity that went into all of them.

With the release of the year's best contender Time Lines, his upcoming performances here and abroad and new challenges like his string quartet composition, Hill's probably not got much time to bask in past glories anyway. So he's doing fine—but what about jazz music itself? How's he think it's doing?

"I think it's better than than it's been in 20 or 30 years, he says without hesitation. "Like I said, a certain element of the black music was lost. Once jazz wasn't supported by the corporations, but it breathed better; it was more naturally selected by the people—who they liked, who they didn't. But now, we're dealing with a digital revolution... [and] younger musicans are now listening—they can get Charlie Mingus streamed for a couple of dollars. They can do selective listening and the music business is getting better. You've got an intelligent cross-section of people who like the music. What that does is that the younger musicans are looking at the Blue Note things as being classics of music. Not saying that's better than any other genre, but I do hear more younger players coming on the scene playing themselves, but in the tradition.

He pauses and thinks it over. "The only thing I'm worried about is places like the MacArthur Foundation are looking for young jazz artists—they don't want to give a grant to anyone over 40. That's wrong to me, because they're setting up a false standard for the music. But in spite of all that, the music is doing so good. Especially in New York, it's incredible—people are out there creating this repertoire of music and no one's ever heard it before. And people enjoy it. The scene hasn't been this vibrant in a long time. People talk about Wynton Marsalis being at the top—which is a conversation piece and an argument. But anytime you talk about a top, he grins, "you sort of justify the so-called lower levels, so you've got places like the 55Bar, all these places around now for musicians to play in. It sort of reminds me of the '50s. So I think this is a good period, if the other hands don't put their fingers in the pie too much.

After decades as a performing artist, does he feel his playing has changed over the years?

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