In the fourth grade, Marquis Hill was introduced to jazz by his elementary school band director, Diane Ellis. Hill instantly fell in love with the music, and with the support of his family, friends and mentors, he was able to become the internationally renowned trumpeter he is today.
The Lincoln community will have the chance to witness Hill’s mastery of the trumpet when he and his band Blacktet perform at Jazz in June on Tuesday, June 18 at 7 p.m.
Blacktet’s music is a blend of jazz, R&B, Motown, gospel and hip-hop, which creates an atmosphere that strives to connect the audience with music on a personal level.
Hill grew up with a mother who loved to play R&B, ‘70s Motown and gospel music in the house, so it was no surprise when he decided to join his elementary school band and play the drums. It wasn’t until the sixth grade that Hill switched instruments after listening to his older cousin practice the trumpet.
“I wanted to be like my cousin, so I switched to the trumpet, and I had a kind of natural attraction to it,” he said.
From a young age, Hill knew he wanted to be a musician, and he started working toward that goal when he was a freshman in high school at Kenwood Academy in Chicago.
“In the ‘80s, on the South Side of Chicago, I could have easily done something else that wasn’t jazz music,” he said. “But I was blessed to have people in my life to push me in the direction of what I wanted to do.”
Hill said he’s very grateful for the support he received from the people around him. By the time he was in high school, the friends who joined the band with him in elementary school quit because they didn’t have people there supporting them the same way his mom did.
“She was supportive of whatever I wanted to do,” he said. “She would sit and listen to me practice for hours and, at that time, of course, I wasn’t sounding that good, but she saw that I had an attraction to it, so she supported me.”
Hill received his bachelor’s degree in music education at Northern Illinois University then attended graduate school at DePaul University, earning a master’s degree in jazz pedagogy.
Milton Suggs, a vocalist who has performed with Hill numerous times in the past, met Hill at Northern Illinois University and has remained close friends with him over the last 12 years.
“[Hill] is one of those musicians that has really done it from the ground up,” Suggs said. “After he graduated, he played in small venues throughout Chicago consistently and regularly, honing his craft through larger and larger venues. And now he tours the world, and it’s really impressive to see.”
Hill said he always tries to be honest in his music because that is what differentiates poignant performances that touch the audience from potentially money-driven performances. According to Hill, he and his band put their full hearts and souls into the music for every one of their performances.
Along with his own artistic style, Hill’s music draws from many genres of jazz and African American music, and it has developed throughout the years. According to Suggs, Hill’s music has become something that is truly captivating for the audience.
“It grooves, it swings, it feels good and it has a strong melodic and harmonic component to it that it really draws in the listener,” Suggs said.
Throughout Hill’s day-to-day life, if there are any negative thoughts that start to invade his mind, he tries to think of all the different aspects of his life he is grateful for. According to Hill, there’s a saying that thoughts of gratitude make the negative energy and spirits go away. He said he is not only grateful for his family, friends and mentors, but also the chance to be a part of the music scene.
“I am super grateful to be able to play music for a living,” he said. “It’s a blessing to try to uphold this music to the utmost and be able to eventually put my name on the list of masters and be a part of this legacy, this lineage of Black American music.”