"In Chicago at that time," recalls pianist Andrew Hill of the 1940s, "music was in all the neighborhoods and you grew up in a tradition hearing music all the time." Hill, who was 4 when his family came to the city from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was soon playing piano, organ, accordian and baritone saxophone, singing soprano and tap-dancing. He's combined his several skills in talent show appearances and once won two Thanksgiving turkeys at a Regal Theatre contest sponsored by the Chicago Defender, a black newspaper that he used to sell on the streets.
"I was able to start my professional music career at 14 with a job with Charlie Parker at the Greystone Ballroom," says Hill. He joined an R & B group when he was 15 and was soon regularly sitting in at local jam sessions. "From my late teens to mid-twenties I played with every professional jazz musician that was alive." The roster includes singer Dinah Washington, saxophonist Ben Webster, bassist Oscar Pettiford, multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan and trumpeter Miles Davis. Hill has recorded more than 20 albums under his own name and often tours here and abroad in duo with organist LaVerne Gillette, his wife. Hill will appear in quartet format Friday and Saturday at the One Step Down. The combo will include reed player Jimmy Vass.
Hill recalls the gig he did as a teen-ager with Parker -- the great "Bird": "He was telling me there will be a time in my life when I will be a keeper of the flame, simply from having experienced certain areas of music in the black traditions, things that only I and a few others really know about."