Andrew Hill was born in Chicago, Illinois (not Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as was reported by many earlier jazz reference books), to William and Hattie Hille. He had a brother, Robert, who was a singer and classical violin player. Hill took up the piano at the age of thirteen, and was encouraged by Earl Hines. As a child, he attended the University of Chicago Experimental School. He was referred by jazz composer Bill Russo to Paul Hindemith, with whom he studied informally until 1952. While a teenager he performed in rhythm and blues bands and with touring jazz musicians, including Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Hill recalls some of his experience as a youngster, during a 1964 interview with Leonard Feather: "I started out in music as a boy soprano, singing and playing the accordion, and tap dancing. I had a little act and made quite a few of the talent shows around town from 1943 until 1947. I won turkeys at two Thanksgiving parties at the Regal Theatre," parties sponsored by the newspaperChicago Defender, which Hill coincidentally used to sell on the streets.
In 1950, he learned his first blues changes on the piano from the saxophonist Pat Patrick and in 1953, he played his first professional job as a musician, with Paul Williams' band. "At that time", he recalls, "I was playing baritone sax as well as piano." During the next few years, the piano gigs brought him into contact with a passel of musicians, some of whom became relevant influences: Joe Segal and Barry Harris, among others. In 1961, after travelling as an accompanist for Dinah Washington, the young pianist settled in New York City where he worked for Johnny Hartman and Al Hibbler, then briefly moved to Los Angeles County, where he worked with Roland Kirk's quartet and at the jazz club Lighthouse Café, in Hermosa Beach. It was then that he met his bride-to-be, Laverne Gillette, at the time an organist at the Red Carpet. They married in 1963 and moved to New York. She died following a long illness in California, where the couple had moved.
Hill first recorded as a sideman in 1954, but his reputation was made by his Blue Note recordings as leader from 1963 to 1970, which featured several other important post-bop musicians including Joe Chambers,Richard Davis, Eric Dolphy, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Elvin Jones, Woody Shaw, Tony Williams, and John Gilmore. Hill also played on albums by Henderson, Hutcherson, and Hank Mobley. His distinctive compositions accounted for three of the five pieces on Bobby Hutcherson's classic Dialogue album.
Hill rarely worked as a sideman after the 1960s, preferring to play his own compositions. This may have limited his public exposure. He later taught in California and was an associate professor on a tenure track atPortland State University. During his time at PSU, he established a Summer Jazz Intensive program, in addition to performing, conducting workshops and attending residencies at other universities such as Wesleyan University, University of Michigan, University of Toronto, Harvard University and Bennington College. He married dancer/educator Joanne Robinson Hill in Portland in 1992. They moved to New York City in 1995. His final public performance was on March 29, 2007 at Trinity Church in New York City. Andrew Hill suffered from lung cancer during the last years of his life. He died at his home in Jersey City.
In May 2007, he became the first person to receive a posthumous honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music.
Hill's main influences were pianists Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Art Tatum. "Monk's like Ravel and Debussy to me, in that he put a lot of personality into his playing [...] it's the personality of music which makes it, finally," he said in a 1963 interview with A. B. Spellman. Powell was an even greater influence, but Hill thought that his music was a dead end: "If you stay with Bud too much, you'll always sound like him, even if you're doing something he never did." Hill referred to Tatum as the epitome of "all modern piano playing".
Hill created a unique idiom that utilized chromatic, modal, and occasionally "free" improvisation. Although usually categorized as "avant-garde", Hill's music bears little resemblance to the free atonality and extended improvisations of Cecil Taylor and others. Like his contemporaries Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, and Eric Dolphy, Hill was considered to be a cusp figure: too "out" to be "in", but too "in" to be "out". His earlier work, particularly the album Point of Departure, featuring fellow innovator Eric Dolphy, exhibits Hill's desire to advance while remaining grounded in the traditions of his predecessors. Throughout, his skill as both composer and leader can be sensed as the band ventures into unknown territory while still remaining precise and controlled. Hill's compositions sometimes have a contemplative mood. He was known for the rhythmic and harmonic complexity of his performances and compositions.
As a pianist, Hill's style was marked by extreme chromaticism, complex, dense chords, flowing, legato phrasing, and frequent rubato. He would often play against the rhythmic pulse, or move into different time signatures.
His album Dusk was selected as the best album of 2001 by both Down Beat and JazzTimes; and in 2003, Hill received the Jazzpar Prize. Hill's earlier work also received renewed attention as a result of the belated release of several unissued sessions made in the 1960s for Blue Note, notably the ambitious large-group date Passing Ships.
As a consequence of his renewed prominence, a new Blue Note album titled Time Lines was released on February 21, 2006.
- 1963: Black Fire
- 1963: Smokestack
- 1964: Judgment!
- 1964: Point of Departure
- 1964: Andrew!!!
- 1965: Pax (issued 2006)
- 1965: Compulsion!!!!!
- 1966: Change (issued 2007)
- 1968: Grass Roots
- 1968: Dance with Death (issued 1980)
- 1969: Lift Every Voice
- 1969: Passing Ships (issued 2003)
- 1965-70: One for One (issued 1975)
- 1989: Eternal Spirit
- 1990: But Not Farewell
- 2006: Time Lines
- Mosaic Select 16: Andrew Hill
- Mosaic Select 23: Andrew Hill-Solo
- Other labels
- 1959: So In Love (Warwick)
- 1979: From California with Love (Artists House)
- 1993: Dreams Come True (Joyous Shout!) with Chico Hamilton
- 1998: Les Trinitaires (Jazzfriends)
- 2003: The Day the World Stood Still (Stunt) with Jazzpar Octet + 1
With Walt Dickerson
- To My Queen (Prestige, 1962)
With Rahsaan Roland Kirk
- Domino (1962)
With Jimmy Woods
- Conflict (Contemporary, 1963)
With Hank Mobley
- No Room for Squares (1963)
With Joe Henderson
- Our Thing (1963)
With Bobby Hutcherson
- Dialogue (1965)
With Russel Baba
- Earth Prayer (1992)
With Reggie Workman
- Summit Conference (1994)
With Greg Osby
- The Invisible Hand (Blue Note, 2000)