Jimmy Hill

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Jimmy Hill's 60-some years of playing saxophone began when he made off with the horn his older brother kept hidden in a closet. Hill started gigging professionally at clubs in the '40s while still in…
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Jimmy Hill's 60-some years of playing saxophone began when he made off with the horn his older brother kept hidden in a closet. Hill started gigging professionally at clubs in the '40s while still in high school, but his recording career didn't really kick off until his senior years, when he began a superb series of self-produced releases featuring his working band. Hill was strongly identified with the tri-state scene of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, where he won great respect for his educational endeavors. The reed player founded and directed Youth Theatre Interaction, Inc., an after-school performing arts program for Yonkers and Westchester area kids. He was also associated with bandleaders such as singer Etta Jones, to whom he dedicated a fine tribute album, saxophonists Sonny Stitt and Houston Person, organists Gloria Coleman and Dr. Lonnie Smith, pianist Cedar Walton, and guitarist Joe Puma.

Hill learned to play by ear, his head literally in a bucket -- as in the Bucket, a jazz jam club that had the same status in Mt. Vernon, NY, as Minton's did in the Big Apple proper. While Hill claimed to have never taken a "formal" lesson, he did study with players such as Mike Mainieri and Sal Mosca, absorbing some aspects of the difficult Lennie Tristano school even though Hill never learned to read music. That didn't keep him out of important venues such as Sweet Basil in New York City, and Hill also performed at a variety of festivals and concerts in the jazz mecca as well. In the '90s, Hill focused on his own group and at least on his recording dates had the benefit of a consistent lineup. Hiroshi Yamazaki on piano, Fred Hunter on bass, and Joe Ragusa on drums filled out the group, which also sometimes featured vocalist Glenda Davenport. His 2001 release entitled Friends is dedicated to Etta Jones, with whom Hill also recorded on her album entitled At Last. Hill's energetic run came to an end on June 9, 2004 when the saxophonist passed away as a result of emphysema. He was 76.