Chicago trumpeter Marquis Hill won the prestigious 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition on November 9 at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre. Along with the win, he will receive $25,000 in scholarship money and a recording contract with the Concord Music Group. We recently caught up with Hill to ask him about how he got started in music, playing trumpet and of course his winning of the Thelonious Monk competition for 2014.
1. Give us some background on your musical upbringing. At what age did you become interested in music? There was always music being played in my home as I grew up. I am fortunate to have a mother who absolutely loves Black music from the Motown era and she exposed me to that music at an extremely young age. I remember music being played through our tiny one bedroom apartment all day, every day. My mother would be playing music while cleaning, cooking, reading, or simply unwinding. I believe this is where I found my love for the soul music being produced throughout the ’60s and ’70s. It wasn’t until the 5th grade when I was exposed to jazz and fell in love with it. 2. At what age did you start listening to jazz music and what was the inspiration behind turning to jazz? I began listening to jazz music in the 5th grade thanks to one of my mentors, saxophonist and educator Diane Ellis. One day after marching band rehearsal, Ms. Ellis handed me a copy of Lee Morgan’s 1958 release, Candy. I listened to the record that night and was hypnotized by what I heard. I had never heard anything quite like it. I fell in love with jazz right then and there! 3. Why did you decide to start playing trumpet and at what age? My primary motivation for wanting to play the trumpet was my older cousin. My first instrument was actually the drums, but I looked up to my cousin so much I switched to the trumpet in the 5th grade. At the time we lived in a family building and I would hear my cousin practicing through the thin walls. She made the trumpet seem cool and I wanted to be like her so I switched instruments and haven’t looked back since. 4. You just won the 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition, which comes with a major scholarship and a guaranteed recording contract with Concord Music. How does the process work to get in the competition? The process to enter the competition was fairly straightforward. Each contestant was required to submit an audio recording performing four pieces—a traditional 12-bar blues, an up-tempo jazz standard, a composition with a straight 8th feel, and a jazz ballad. 5. When you got to the final round how many other competitors where there and who were the judges? The final round featured three contestants total: myself, Billy Buss and Adam O’Farril. The judge panel consisted of Roy Hargrove, Ambrose Akinmusire, Arturo Sandoval, Jimmy Owens and the great Quincy Jones. 6. How did you prepare for the competition and what was the process for song selection? I didn’t change my daily routine at all in preparation for the competition. I tried not to consider the competitive aspects, but thought of my performance simply as a gig. In my mind it wasn’t a competition at all, it was just like any other night—just me and my instrument! This approach definitely helped with my nervousness. Selecting the music I performed in the contest was quite easy for me. I chose to play two of my favorite jazz standards and an original piece: “When Sunny Gets Blue,” “Straight No Chaser” and “The Wrath of Lark.” 7. After your final performance did you think you might have won? The only thing I could think about after my final performance was how thrilled I was that it was finally over! As confident as all of the contestants appeared, we all were quite nervous. There was a huge sense of relief that I felt after my performance. 8. Looking over the list of VIPs in attendance, it read as a who’s who of the jazz and music world. Who did you have a chance to meet and talk with? I had the opportunity to shake the hands of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Diane Reeves, Bill Clinton, Pharrell Williams and John Mayer. 9. Are there any expectations of how you spend the scholarship money? Half of the winnings can be used however the three winners decide. The other half must be used for educational purposes. My plan is to take private lessons. I’m in the process of deciding whom I want to take lessons with. I definitely would like to take classical trumpet lessons and a few jazz composition lessons. 10 What performances or new releases do you have coming up? We’re playing the NY Winter Jazz Festival the weekend of January 9 and 10, and the Tribeca Arts Center on January 31. Following that, I will be completing a three-month residency at the 18th Street Art Center in Santa Monica, California. nCJM