Best Elder Statesman

Buck Hill
“A lot of cats came into D.C. who were heralded, who played the horn,” legendary jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath once recalled, “and nobody warned them about Buck Hill.” Tenor man Hill was the terror of Washington bandstands from the ’40s onward—but only by night. He worked his days as a mail carrier, holding the job all the way to retirement and earning the nickname of “The Wailin’ Mailman” along the way. Now 85, Hill no longer conquers jam sessions; he’s only an occasional stage presence these days. Nor do area saxophonists fear to cross axes with him anymore, though he’s lost none of the mighty swing and cocksure, paint-peeling tone from his heyday. Instead, today’s young lions scramble to be able say they once played with Hill—and to pick up a thing or two from a master who forges one of the last links to the golden age of D.C. jazz.