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About James Hill

This trumpeter, vocalist, and composer has been active both as a player in Detroit and on the west coast, though in his first 50 years on the planet, his recording output has mostly been limited to self-distributed cassette releases. He recalls getting his first instrument from a downtown Los Angeles pawnshop. Hill was in the fifth grade at the time, and appropriately, used the horn to serenade girls in his class with an instrumental rendition of Petula Clark's then current hit "Downtown," no doubt oblivious to the importance that part of town would eventually play in that city's avant-garde. Stage band director Graham Young was a big influence on Hill in junior high school, encouraging the trumpeter to audition for the Burbank Police Boys Band. Hill must have hit the legal notes, because he became this group's youngest member. In 1968 his family relocated to Detroit, where he first came into contact with a jazz influence, courtesy of the fine trumpeter Marcus Belgrave.
Hill began taking jazz improvisation classes at the Metropolitan Arts Complex, coming into contact with Belgrave, as well as other players on the Detroit scene such as Ali Muhammad Jackson, Sam Sanders, and Harold McKinney. All told, this was heavy company for a 17-year-old.

Hill attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston following his high school graduation, beginning an intense collaboration with the performer and composer known as Yekkim. Hill thinks highly of Yekkim, and has been quoted as saying "I don't think Bartok has too much on Yekkim," perhaps not counting published and performed works, number of years dead, or servings of goulash consumed. Hill wound up heading back to Detroit, where he joined the faculty of Oakland University under the direction of Marvin "Doc" Holladay, and reestablished contact with percussionist Jackson, also on the school's faculty.

Jackson and Hill proceeded to start playing jazz in regional venues in the early '70s, inspiring the former musician to come up with a new stage name for his partner, Junior Hill. Whether he be James or Junior, the trumpeter was heard in the context of legendary Detroit bands such as Ali the Chosen and Beloved and the Silver Flutes Flourish. The trumpeter also played in groups led by Marcus Belgrave and Ed Nuccilli.
In 1974, at the ripe age of 21, Hill headed back to Southern California and studied with the brass maestro Harold Mitchell.

He played a wide variety of jazz gigs throughout that decade, including a sampling of musicians almost designed to test a listener's taste buds such as Leroy Vinnegar, Candy Finch, and John Lemon.

Hill headed north to San Francisco in 1980 and spent the next decade hiding out in a home studio composing and recording his own music. He became part of that era's freewheeling underground cassette network, distributing tapes of his singing as well as trumpet playing. In 1990 he began performing on the San Francisco jazz scene, including a collaboration with tenor saxophonist Vince Wallace that brought Hill back to his roots in bebop. ~ Eugene Chadbourne


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