Mere ambition and even enormously hard work have amazingly short shelf lives. True art comes from those who can face the pleasure and pain of being alive and project them honestly. It is apparent in the music he writes and the sounds he makes that trumpeter/composer/educator Marquis Hill (MM ’12) is a true artist.
Hill’s first job at age 12 was with the South Shore Youth Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of saxophonist and educator Professor Ronald Carter. “He ingrained in me the importance of being serious about the art form and seemingly little things, like being on time, being professional and prepared,” says Hill. “I learned the importance of being able to read music, the importance of being versatile.” Listening to Hill repeat certain words suggests the urgent, repetitive licks he plays in unison with saxophonist Christopher McBride atop the driving rhythms of “White Shadow,” a collaboration with spoken-word artist Tumelo Khoza from the 2014 Marquis Hill Blacktet recording “Modern Flows EP Vol. 1.” This and his other compositions reflect his emotionalism and connection with language.
“Chicago artists have a broadness, a grit in their sound,” Hill says. “You can hear the free jazz influence, that very spiritual and moving music.” Free jazz, an experimental style, is a hallmark of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a renowned musicians’ collective. “I was brought up going to places like the Velvet Lounge, a kind of home base for AACM members,” Hill remembers, “and I was fortunate to work with Ernest Dawkins and Fred Anderson.” In turn, Hill has shared his knowledge with students at Harold Washington College, Mayo Elementary and other schools. “My passion for teaching is always there,” he says.
In 2014, Hill won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. His prize included a recording contract with Concord Music Group. He is working on a new album, possibly of jazz standards, and splits his time between Chicago and New York. “I learned from musicians like Von Freeman that this is a lifelong journey. I want to stay current with the music and try to touch the masses of people.”