You didn’t necessarily have to pay a cover to see “Hilly.”
If you walk the streets of Pittsburgh with any regularity, chances are you saw the big trombonist bringing the music to the people at a pop-up show.
Pittsburgh musician Hill Jordan, a mover and shaker on the scene for decades, died Wednesday at 50 of unknown causes.
The trombonist, a nephew of Pittsburgh jazz legend Nelson Harrison, was the bandleader of Hill Jordan & Slide Worldwide and a founding member of funk/R&B band House of Soul. It wasn’t unusual for him to also turn up with reggae group The Flow Band and Afrobeat ensemble Afrika Yetu. Along with regular shows at Con Alma, Superior Motors and other clubs, he loved doing pop-up gigs outside of Millie’s Ice Cream, where he said the vibe was “up close & personal.”
“I can’t imagine the Pittsburgh jazz community without him,” said jazz singer Phat Man Dee. “He’s been on the scene as both an instrumentalist and an organizer for so long. He was always so kind and so supportive of artists coming up and he always spoke his mind.”
Reggie Watkins is among those on the receiving end of Jordan’s welcoming energy. Mr. Watkins, whose resume includes stints with Maynard Ferguson, Jason Mraz and Postmodern Jukebox, met Mr. Jordan at a jam session in Pittsburgh when he moved here in 1997.
“We hit it off big time in part because we were both jazz trombone players and around the same age,” he said. “Since I was new to town, Hill offered to meet up with me and show me around the scene. We met on the North Side and I parked my car and rode with him around Pittsburgh listening to music and talking shop. He took me to make the rounds on the jazz scene to multiple spots including James Street, The Crawford Grill, Fosters and The Too Sweet Lounge. This meant the world to me and I’ll always be grateful for him taking the time to welcome me to the community and treating me like a brother.”
“Thing about Hill Jordan is that he would put everyone on stage,” Derek Eff posted on Facebook. “You had to be decent, but he didn't keep a clique like most musicians do. Because of that, he created some amazing, spontaneous shows over the years.”
Mr. Jordan’s range of styles stretched to being a regular guest with Machete Kisumontao, a Puerto Rican riot salsa band.
“Hill was such a joyful person,” said Machete singer Gena Nieves Escoriaza. “Always with a cheerful disposition and ready to perform. The issues that naturally happen in gigs did not affect his mood. He would always be happy to play. He was a kind father, and he would bring his kids, Bryant and Isabella, as they are roughly about the same age as my daughter to band practice and gigs. There was a lot of love in all his interactions with everyone.”
Scrolling through Mr. Jordan’s Facebook posts reveals his interest in sports and politics but much of it is the trombonist expressing his appreciation for other musicians, many of them Pittsburgh greats, from Stanley Turrentine to Harold Betters.
Ms. Neives Escoriaza’s last encounter with Mr. Jordan was at a ceremony in 2020 to honor the passing of Pittsburgh-based African drummer Anicet Mundundu.
“He was playing his heart out with so many wonderful musicians honoring another great,” she said.
In September, Mr. Jordan posted a video of a joyous street parade that he took part in and noted, “Well yesterday I played my first REAL Pittsburgh Funeral parade. I’ve played music often at funerals for close friends & loved ones but never a full fledged Black, Soulful, get-all-the-way-down, honest, pour-your-heart out ‘Homegoing’ Party/Celebration with over 1,000+ people from the community out sharing love & memories of their dearly departed who has gone to be with Jesus which is why we celebrate!!!”
Responding to the outpouring for Mr. Jordan on social media, Richard Gartner, a Pittsburgh musician and yoga instructor, posted, “It's great to see how much Hill is loved. The last time I played a show with him was a speakeasy-style gig. He could play. Even more important than that, he could tell stories. I listened to tales about jazz legends and clubs, stories he was told as a kid. I had never heard any of it, and I could have listened to him all night.”
This story will be updated.
First Published October 28, 2021, 3:15pm