A valuable and talented musician/arranger whose life was cut short by illness, Alex Hill accomplished a great deal in a short period of time without gaining any real fame. Considered a bit of a prodigy, Hill was taught piano by his mother. He attended Shorter College and met Alphonse Trent, for whom he wrote his first arrangements. After graduating in 1922, at the age of 16, he spent a couple years freelancing in territory bands including a brief stint with Terrence Holder's Dark Clouds of Joy. Hill led his own group (1924-1926), played with Speed Webb in 1926, and the following year was with Mutt Carey's Jeffersonians in Los Angeles, also contributing arrangements for Paul Howard's Quality Serenaders. Later in 1927 he settled in Chicago and soon Hill was the staff arranger for the Melrose Music Publishing Company in addition to contributing arrangements for the Carroll Dickerson Orchestra. In 1928 he played with Jimmy Wade and the following year was a member of Jimmie Noone's Apex Club Orchestra.
During a tour with Sammy Stewart's Orchestra, Hill relocated to New York in early 1930. He freelanced as an arranger for such artists as Paul Whiteman, Benny Carter, Claude Hopkins, Andy Kirk, Ina Ray Hutton, the Mills Blue Rhythm Orchestra, and Duke Ellington, plus contributed charts for recording dates headed by Fats Waller, Eddie Condon, and Willie Bryant. Hill was also the staff arranger for the Mills Music Company. He teamed up with fellow pianist Fats Waller for a revue, Hello 1931, and accompanied singer Adelaide Hall as part of a piano duet along with Joe "Stride" Turner. Things were looking up in 1935 when Hill formed a big band but, after playing at the Savoy Ballroom, he was forced to break up the group due to his failing health, caused by tuberculosis, and not helped by excessive drinking and overwork. After returning home to Little Rock, he passed away at the age of 30.
Most of pianist/arranger's recordings have been gathered together on the 1998 Timeless CD Ain't It Nice: The Recordings of Alex Hill, Vol. 1 - 1928-1934, including the highlights of dates with Albert Wynn, Jimmy Wade, Jimmie Noone, Junie Cobb, Eddie Condon, and the Hokum Trio, plus all of his 11 titles as a leader. Among Alex Hill's best-known compositions are "Beau Koo Jack" (recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1928), "I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby," "Baby Brown" (a minor hit for Fats Waller), and especially the standard "I Would Do Anything for You." ~ Scott Yanow
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