an appreciation by
Detail of 1997 photograph of Andrew Hill Ziga Koritnik©2007
Andrew and I knew each other as kids coming up in Chicago. We are about the same age and we grew up relatively near each other on the South Side. I lived on 47th Street and he lived somewhere in the 30s. He got me one of my first gigs in 1949, maybe 1950 – a duo, piano and bass. It was at a club in some strange neighborhood, I think on the West Side. We started at 10:00. Around 3:00, I asked, “What time are we finished?” And he said, “Whenever they tell us we can go home.” I didn’t realize it until then, but we were working for the Mafia. So, when Andrew wasn’t looking, and the Mafia owners weren’t looking, I took my bass and the cover – I didn’t even put it on the bass – and took it out to my car. I told Andrew, “Never call me again. I can’t work like this.” Fortunately, he didn’t listen to me, because he called me for his next gig.
We soon went our separate ways and we didn’t play together until the ‘60s, when we made those recordings, but I didn’t work with him at any clubs then. The only time I worked with him in a club was about five years ago, I think at The Jazz Standard. The records were the first time I played his compositions. I found them to be very, very free, in the sense that I could just about play anything that came to my imagination. It was very open and complex at the same time, I would say, but it was very easy for me to play. I was very comfortable with what some would call the difficult parts of Andrew’s music, the unique ways he put things together. Every time we played one of his pieces it would be different, so sometimes hearing them later was a little strange. I wish I could remember which album it was, but I heard this record on the radio, and the bass player was really good. “Wow. That guy is terrific,” I thought. I had never heard anybody play bass like that. So, when the record was over, the DJ announced who it was. It was Andrew Hill, with Richard Davis on bass. Andrew later told me which record it was and I took it out and played it. I thought that was funny. That could only happen with Andrew.
I think Andrew was really a unique composer and performer. I don’t think anyone could ever copy what he was doing.