Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Judith Hill - The Amazing Singer From The Michael Jackson Memorial & The Voice

Update March 2013:  Judith Hill will be featured on the 2013 season of "The Voice" on NBC - Her blind audition was selected by NBC as the teaser video for the upcoming season - Wetpaint / The Voice on Judith Hill

Update February 2012:  Judith Hill had ten songs selected by Spike Lee for the 2012 film "Red Hook Summer".  Lee introduced Hill at a February performance at the Key Club in Hollywood (link to video below).

Hill was featured in an article at the same time in LA Weekly - Judith Hill: Why Just About Everyone Is Falling for Her

July 7, 2009 was the day much of the world was introduced to the singer Judith Hill, who performed as part of the Michael Jackson Memorial in Los Angeles. Hill is a native of Pasadena, California, and was hired for the scheduled Michael Jackson London O2 shows only weeks before Jackson's untimely death.

I've had the fortune of knowing Judith over the past two years, having first heard her singing with the wonderful woodwind player Katisse Buckingham, most often at a club called The Baked Potato in Studio City just north of Los Angeles (Judith's vocals are included on two tracks on Katisse's "Lyrical Worker" album, "Just Listen" and "Fame Buffet"). I've heard and met any number of the greatest jazz singers of our times, including Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Horn, Etta Jones and others. When I first heard Judith Hill, I was quite simply knocked out, and that doesn't happen hardly at all...she was just that good.

Hearing what I'd heard, I took the opportunity to regularly write about her appearances with Katisse for LAJazz.com. I encouraged Judith to use some of the things I'd written for promotional purposes (which she eventually did as part of her online press kit), because I thought she deserved more recognition as the outstanding young female singer of all I'd heard in L.A. I also began documenting video and audio of her performances. Included on this page are songs recorded in May, 2009 at the only solo performance Judith had given in more than a year, on this occasion as a guest of Ryan Cross' weekly "Soul Funk Night" at Harvelle's in Santa Monica, CA.

Judith only recently turned 25, but has a musical sophistication of someone twice her age. Her father, Robert "Peewee" Hill, is a R&B bass player and producer who has worked with artists including Jimmy Smith, Bruce Springsteen and Thelma Houston, her mother, Michiko, a classical pianist and choir director who has also worked with jazz luminaries including Wayne Shorter. When I struggled to find a comparison for Judith, the best I could come up with was a young Valerie (Ashford &) Simpson, but earthier. The subtlety and sophistication she displayed with Katisse's band was at times astonishing...showing so many of the little things in terms of phrasing, timing, pitch, accents and more reserved for only the finest veteran singers. Yet there she was.

As I heard her more over the past year, I became convinced that of the many fabulous musicians I've had the fortune of meeting over the past several years in Los Angeles, Judith was the one that had the best chance of becoming a major star. I shared that view with her, and many other people, while writing about her for LAJazz.com as part of my weekly "About & Out" column.

I heard various samples of her own tunes as well, which she was slowly putting together in her family's music studio over the past year. I was especially taken with a recently finished song called "Excuse Me!", in which she'd somehow managed to create a danceable hip-hop tune in 7/4 with lyrics like these:

Imma take control of this infiltration
The CEO’s in a state of delirium
They can’t take me off the system’s hacked and I’ve cracked the code I’m roaming you
All downloading
Imma double the number of those revolting, the crowd is jolting the seats in the stadium
It’s a revolutionary type of a missionary coup lets move it common now
Everyday I come in everyway, I’m cashin radio plays, broadcastin up in 5 4 3 2 1

When I first heard it a few months ago, I played it twenty times (or so) in a row...it was that striking. Judith currently has it available on her MySpace Music page (Play button & link below).

Excuse Me!

I was thrilled when Judith landed the Michael Jackson London O2 gigs, and we had a chance to talk about what it could mean for her career and more, including the pending release of her first solo CD, which she'd just finished around the time the call came from Jackson's people. I was equally devastated by the news of Jackson's passing, and what it might mean for what I thought would be the near-instant stardom that would follow her appearances in duets with Jackson in London. Hearing and seeing her perform live conveys something difficult to find the exact words, yet incredibly moving. Judith had told me that vocal director Dorian Holley had moved from asking her to sing the planned "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" duet with Jackson "just like the record", to "do what you do" after only a few rehearsals - I can only assume he'd heard what others of us had.

When Jackson's "This Is It" movie appeared in late October, 2009, a rehearsal performance of "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" I'd heard about from Judith (she'd told me they had shot the duet during three separate rehearsals) appeared, and Judith's talent (Jackson had never heard her sing live prior) was inspiring enough to bring Jackson to full throat for the first time, extending the song with an improvised duet, to the almost giddy delight of the dancers and crew in attendance.

Judith Hill discusses working with Michael Jackson and the rehearsals for "This Is It" - The Turntable with Justis Mustaine

Hill also has fans in some of the toughest veteran musicians I know, people who are renowned for both sparing and faint praise, if any is to be offered at all. In Judith's case, even the most difficult critics have been floored. In producing her own record, Judith also used some of the most sophisticated veteran players in L.A. to get the sound she wanted for her own music.

Judith also learned in 2007 what a truly big stage was when she toured as a backup singer with French superstar Michel Polnareff, playing for audiences as large as 1 million people at the Eiffel Tower (video sample below).

I watched the live memorial to see what, if any, role Judith might play, as we'd not spoken since a few days after Jackson's death. I instantly knew her voice off-camera backing John Mayer's "Human Nature", with a purity that is one of her gifts (you can hear Judith come in distinctly just before the 3:00 mark singing a high part originally done by Jackson - scroll down for video).

Left To Right - John Mayer, Ken Stacey, Judith Hill, Darryl Phinnessee, Dorian Holley

Judith Hill with Orianthi Panagaris

When I began watching "We Are The World", and then "Heal The World" live, and saw Judith move front and center, I was in tears both for her fabulous performance, and the knowledge that the rest of the world would see what only a relative few of us had known before that point...a genuinely extraordinary talent that was almost impossible to deny.

Welcome, world, to Judith Hill.


Judith Hill Music

The Official Site Of Judith Hill

Judith Hill on MySpace