Chicago has always been known as a major music hub in the Midwest, producing artists from a number of genres, including blues, hip-hop, house and jazz. The windy city’s uniquely modern style of jazz has attracted both veteran and young musicians to join its ranks.
The well-known Chicago Jazz Festival, which was organized to honor the legendary Duke Ellington, has featured many artists, including industry idols Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, and Dizzy Gillespie.
Trumpeter, composer and native Chicagoan Marquis Hill is already on his way to leaving his mark on the genre. He’s won numerous competitions, including the International Trumpet Guild in 2012, and in 2014, he took top honor at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition, which is considered as one of the most prestigious awards in the industry.
Hill’s latest album Modern Flows Vol. 1 showcases his unique talent and highlights his skills as one of Chicago’s top trumpet players. Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble had a chance to catch up with the musician to learn where he got his start and what fans can expect from him in the future.
How old were you when you fell in love with music?
I fell in love with music at a very young age. I’m going to say fourth or fifth grade. I started playing the drums in fourth grade, and I switched to the trumpet in fifth grade. I’m going to say that’s where my love really started when I discovered jazz. My elementary school band director actually gave me my first jazz CD. It was a Lee Morgan CD entitled Candy, and after I went home and put that on, I just kind of fell in love with it. That’s all she wrote from there.
What led to you taking an interest in trumpet?
Actually, my older cousin played the trumpet. Like I said, I started off with drums. I lived in apartment building where I could hear my cousin practicing above me, so I wanted to be like my cousin, and I switched to the trumpet in the fifth grade.
How does Chicago influence your sound?
I would say it influences my sound in a lot of ways, just the history of the city and being around the mentors that I was around going to the places like The Velvet Lounge and The Apartment Lounge, especially going to those places at a very young age. I started going to jam sessions at nightclubs like The Velvet and The Apartment Lounge, I would say around freshmen year of high school, which is really young.
But Fred Anderson who is the owner of The Velvet, and Von Freeman who ran the jam session at The Apartment Lounge, they knew that we were hungry for the music, and we weren’t really trying to start trouble. We just wanted to come and play, so they would allow us to come in and play at a very young age.
Who would name as early influences or mentors?
Professor Ronald Carter from Northern Illinois University, Ernest Dawkins, Fred Anderson, Von Freeman, Diane Ellis, which is my elementary school band director, and Tito Carillo was one of my first trumpet teachers. So, I was fortunate enough to have really good mentors growing up in Chicago.
How did The Blacktet come together?
The Blacktet came together after I finished grad school. I thought it was time for me to really get my voice out there, and I really wanted to put a band together. At this point, I had been working as a sideman with a bunch of different groups, but I really wanted to put my own band out there and really try to get my voice.
So, I had a friend that lived in Orlando who had a band called The Bluetet, and I thought that was very cool. I just wanted to take one of my favorite colors and just really name my ensemble something different instead of something like quintet or quartet. So, I came up with the concept of The Blacktet.
How did it feel to win the Thelonious Monk International Trumpet Competition in 2014?
Oh, man. I’m still floating on cloud nine. It was definitely an honor and a pleasure to be a part of it. I still can’t believe it. It was amazing. It’s the most prestigious award there is in jazz. I’m now on a list of, in my eyes, a lot of the jazz greats of my time, so it’s an honor to have won and be a part of that legacy.
Your album Modern Flows Vol. 1 dropped last year. How do you feel it was received?
I think it was received really well. Before this Monk thing, I had a pretty small fan base. I’ve been doing everything independently, so I’ve got my fans who really support and have been following me since I put my first record out. I think it was received really well.
I would say it’s one of my favorite projects of the four projects that I’ve put out. I wish I could have had it on a higher platform where I could actually get it out to radio more and just work it from the press angle a little bit more, but timing was bad. I think the project altogether was received well.
Do you have any plans for the remainder of 2015?
I’ve got a couple festivals this summer and a bunch of things with my group coming up in June. Just a bunch of random things. You know, us working musicians, we just go, and we follow where we’re needed. I plan to record in October and release my next record for Concord early 2016. So, the rest of this year is just about writing music and playing this summer and just getting ready for the record in October.
Do you have anything else that you want to add or promote?
Definitely the record, Modern Flows. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Also, I have a new website: www.MarquisHill.com. You can check there for dates and upcoming shows. And go check out the music if anybody hasn’t!