30 June 1931, Chicago, Illinois, USA, d. 20 April 2007, Jersey City, New Jersey, USA. Port Au Prince, Haiti, is usually given as Hills birthplace, but he actually hailed from Chicago. He studied composition privately with Paul Hindemith and Bill Russo, and played accordion and tap-danced on the streets where Earl Fatha Hines heard him. In his teens he was in Paul Williams R&B band, played with Charlie Bird Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Gene Ammons, Von Freeman, Johnny Griffin, Malachi Favors and John Gilmore, and became virtually Chicagos house pianist for visiting artists. Having spent some months in New York as Dinah Washingtons accompanist Hill relocated there in 1960 whilst working with Johnny Hartman. From 1962-63 he worked in Los Angeles with Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Jimmy Woode among others. In 1963, he returned to New York to work with Joe Henderson. During the 60s he made a number of excellent albums for Blue Note Records (under his own name and with Bobby Hutcherson and Henderson), probably the best-known being Black Fire and in 1964 the highly-acclaimed masterpiece Point Of Departure, which featured Henderson, Eric Dolphy and Kenny Dorham. Later Blue Note sessions featured a dense, turbulent music that was both strikingly individual and intensely gripping; Compulsion! (1965) showed Gilmore in ferocious form, while a set recorded with Sam Rivers (and later released under the tenorists name as one half of the double-set Involution) essayed a moving, almost desperate, sombreness.
When the contract ran out in 1970 Hill moved to upstate New York. His career during the 70s is rather a mystery and he later seemed reluctant to clarify it, but he did hold a number of academic posts, including composer-in-residence at Colgate University in New York (where he wrote pieces for string quartet and orchestra) and with the Smithsonian Institute, for whom he toured rural areas of the US, playing hospitals, prisons and introducing jazz to an entirely new audience. In 1977, he moved to Pittsburgh, California (near San Francisco), and from the early 80s his career seemed to take off again, with more record releases (most notably the 1986 recording Shades, with Clifford Jordan) and tours, including a season at New Yorks Knitting Factory, and a Contemporary Music Network tour of Britain with Howard Riley, Joachim Kühn and Jason Rebello in 1990. He re-signed to the new Blue Note, where he was paired with the then upcoming alto saxophonist Greg Osby. A lengthy hiatus was broken in the new millennium with the release of the excellent Dusk on the Palmetto label.
This highly individual pianist and composer was often compared to Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor, if only by virtue of his uniqueness. This quality persisted through the brooding power of his 60s music to the more celebratory feel of his later releases. Id say interesting... happy... warm, is how Hill responded to a 1976 request to describe his style. There was an angry period, but you get tired of pounding the piano. Its too good an instrument.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.