Singer and pianist Todd Hill of the Todd Hill Quintet says the group keeps jazz standards fresh by approaching them in surprising, unconventional ways. The band will play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Clemens Fine Arts Center of WKCTC, 4810 Alben Barkley Drive.
Photo contributed by Todd Birdsong
Todd Hill, director of jazz studies at Murray State University, has sung and played piano with the Todd Hill Quintet nearly 30 years. He said the group owes its longevity to the fact that its members view each other as family.
If you listen carefully to the Todd Hill Quintet in concert, you can hear the members pass around a few musical inside jokes.
That kind of closeness is one of the rewards that comes from working with the same group of musicians for decades, says bandleader, singer and pianist Todd Hill.
“Everyone knows very well what the others will do — the response they will make to a lyric, or even a little blues lick getting passed around the band,” Hill said.
Hill, who hails from Paris, Tenn., formed the band as a student at Murray State University. Nearly 30 years later, he serves as director of jazz studies at the university, and the ensemble is still going strong.
According to Hill, the group has stayed together so long because the members see each other as family.
“We are all genuinely concerned about each other’s lives and these connections — the caring and sharing — come through in the musical performance,” Hill said.
Hill and tenor saxophonist Ron Bramlage, of Crescent Springs, have played together since 1986. Bassist G.R. Davis, of Kingston Springs, Tenn., and guitarist Andy Brown, of Decherd, Tenn., joined the group 10 years later. Drummer Dean Hughes, a Princeton resident, is a relative newcomer, having spent about nine years with the quintet, Hill said.
“Everyone knows their role within the larger picture, and they all think about the group goal and not their own individual part. That’s all too uncommon in music today,” Hill said.
The music the quintet takes on has similar staying power. At their Saturday performance, the group will offer its own take on tunes from such greats as George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington.
“We try to approach each tune differently, and try to avoid the ‘tried and true,’” Hill said. “We may change the genre — turn it into a tango, rhumba or bossa nova. We don’t try to ‘cover’ anyone’s version of a song.”
Hill said this attitude keeps the music fresh for both the musicians and the audience.
“The audience knows when the performers in front of them are interested and involved, and when they are just going through the motions. We avoid the latter at all times,” he said.
Hill said the quintet’s favorite venues are small and intimate, bringing the audience nearer to the players.
“The band feeds off the energy of the crowd, and the effort the band puts forth energizes the audience, so you wind up with this incredible feeling of sharing joy,” he said.
The Todd Hill Quintet will perform at just such a venue on Saturday, when it will take the stage at the Clemens Fine Arts Center of West Kentucky Community & Technical College, 4810 Alben Barkley Drive. As part of the Backstage Pass series, the performance will offer an informal setting with on-stage seating, desserts, and beverages.
The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $5 at the door. For more information, visit www.artsinfocus.org, or call 270-534-3212.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641 or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.