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Warren Hill — Featured Smooth Jazz Artist Archives (2017)

May 2017

Warren Hill – From Canada With Vision

Toronto-born Warren Hill began his musical journey learning to play guitar when he was eight years old. His guitar teacher asked the question that every music teacher should ask, “Tell me your favourite songs, and I’ll teach you to play them.” What better way to capture a child’s heart? It worked with the young Mr Hill. Within a couple of years, he had a huge repertoire of songs and a burning desire to learn more. That simple question set the stage for Hill’s entire musical future, playing the music that he loved.

His most recent album, Under the Influence, harks back to his early rock days with some awesome jazz covers of thirteen rock classics ranging from Pink Floyd’s “Money,” Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” Edgar Winters awesome “Frankenstein,” and my favourite, his cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.”

After 30 years in the business, the Under the Influence album took Hill back to the music that he had been playing as a 13-year-old fronting a Toronto-based rock band. It wasn’t until he was 17 attending a summer music camp at the Eastman School of Music that he first got to hear jazz. He’d arrived carrying both his instruments, guitar and saxophone, but after hearing Charlie Parker, he left the guitar in the cupboard and focused on the saxophone.

A straight A-student, Hill had to choose between following a career in mathematics and physics or playing music. He earned a himself a place on the prestigious Engineering Science course at the University of Toronto and then began what he described as “one of the most difficult years of his life.” The demands of the course were so tough that he only found time to play music once a week. He began to realize how important music was to him, but it was the tragic death of his older sister that really changed his life.

Hill realized just how precious life was and that time on Earth could be so short. He decided that he was going to spend his time doing something he loved. He applied to, and was accepted, at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. “It was,” he says, “the best career decision I ever made.”

It was at his graduation, three years later, that Hill had confirmation that he had made the right choice. He was approached by the triple Grammy award-winning record producer Russ Titleman and invited to play on the Chaka Khan album CK. The 1988 album contained a virtual who’s who in music including Marcus Miller, Dave Grusin, and Miles Davis.

After moving to L.A. the following year and being invited to record an album with Atlantic records which failed to materialize, Hill signed to RCA. He eventually released his debut album Kiss Under the Moon in 1991. The album climbed to the top of the Contemporary Jazz charts. Hill was invited to be the opening act by Natalie Cole for her upcoming 40-city “Unforgettable Tour” across the States and Canada. Playing to over 250,000 people and with a top-selling album behind him, Hill’s career was finally beginning to take shape.

Hill went on to release another 5 albums during the next ten years until, in 2002, he realized that the music industry was changing. He recognized that the traditional music distribution channels were changing. He wanted to be able to control how his music would be presented and offered to the public. That brought about his idea of the “Smooth Jazz Cruise.” It took another two years for that concept to come to fruition but, in January 2004, the first Warren Hill’s Smooth Jazz Cruise set sail.

Following the success of the inaugural cruise, Hill embarked on the first full ship charter in the history of the smooth jazz cruise format. The following years, 2005/2006, both sold-out to critical acclaim, and Hill’s vision opened the doors for others to promote similar cruises.

After 3 years of sold-out cruises, Hill decided to move on to other projects and invited the great Wayman Tisdale to captain the proceedings. Warren’s initial concept and design is still being used to produce several sold-out cruises around the world to this day. It is estimated that Smooth Jazz- themed cruises produce close to $10,000,000 in annual revenue and have quite possibly become one of the highest grossing concert events in the history of the genre.

Now, the renowned saxman has moved on to sponsor one of the most exciting Labor Day weekend events in smooth jazz history – the Warren Hill’s Cancun Jazz Festival, an absolutely heavenly musical experience with a killer talent lineup each year that spans 4 days and is an all-inclusive dream for smooth jazzers who flock to Cancun in droves each year for the event. I don’t have a handle on gross revenues for the event yet, but I can almost guarantee that it will – if it has not already – rival that of the smooth jazz cruises he initiated years ago. Yes, Hill can rightly refer to himself as a music business “pioneer” and guru.

Of course, he’s never left his musical prowess behind as he continues to dazzle and rock the smooth jazz world with constantly innovative and stirring albums and performances. With his daughter, Olivia Rox, now making her own mark in the world of music, the Hill music gene lives on and will continue to excite the world for years to come. – Steve Giarchardi

To view Warren Hill’s complete discography, visit www.amazon.com or www.warrenhill.com