“Someday we will all be saying we knew Jesse when…”
– Andi Oustalet
Jesse Hill experienced his first thrill of performing for a live audience when he performed “You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley for his 4-year-old preschool program. He was used to microphones, music, and speakers because he was always underfoot during his father’s weekly band practices.
Jesse was always around music via his Dad’s band, Coast, which was a well known Gulf Coast band during the 1980s and 1990s. They peaked when they opened for Billy Ray Cyrus in the Pensacola Civic Center and the MS Gulf Coast Coliseum. Jesse was always singing with his dad, Bill Hill, who always favored anything by Elvis Presley.
When Jesse was in the 5th grade at St. Martin Middle School, he told his Bill that he wanted to enter the school talent show. Bill suggested that he sing the song “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole. He sensed the deep jazz tones in Jesse’s voice and felt that it would be a stand-out song. No other 5th grader would be performing a jazz standard. Jesse stole the show with his rendition of “L-O-V-E,” especially when he blew a kiss to the judges, put his hand to his ear like he was holding a telephone, and mouthed the words, “Call me.” Needless to say, he won first place. Jesse still has a picture of himself hugged up to one of the lovely judges as he held his trophy.
Jesse entered the 6th grade talent show at St. Martin Middle School the following year. This time he performed “Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin in a black and white suit. Again, he took home the 1st place trophy. This success jump started Jesse’s interest in the jazz musical era.
He quickly fell in love with the music of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and Bobby Darin. Tammy, his mother, would bring home DVD’s of these performers, and Jesse would study them. He even became a member of the Dean Martin Variety Show Club and ordered several of the DVD’s. He began studying this genre of music as if he were preparing for an important end of the year Biology exam. He knew all about the singers and the history behind the songs. His bedroom soon donned a poster of the Rat Pack and several of Frank Sinatra himself.
Tammy asked his Bill when he was going to start teaching Jesse to play the guitar. Bill responded, “When he is ready, he will come to me.” When Jesse was twelve years old, Bill took him to an Eagles concert at the MS Coast Coliseum. Jesse was so amazed and impressed by Joe Walsh. When they returned home, Jesse immediately asked to play around on his Bill’s prized Fender acoustic guitar. Bill took him the next day and bought him his own acoustic on which to begin learning chords. From that day on, Jesse was inseparable from his guitar. Bill and Tammy were amazed at how quickly Jesse learned chords and how he was soon playing full songs. Jesse and Bill spent many evenings jamming together in the living room or around a bon fire in the back yard.
In 2006, Jesse’s oldest sister, Shannon, got married. She wanted Jesse to sing for the “Father/Daughter” dance. He began practicing “The Way You Look Tonight.” Everyone was amazed at the smoothness of Jesse’s voice. When he played around on his guitar, he was playing mostly classic rock songs. He was a hit at the wedding, and many guests requested a CD if he ever recorded one.
Bill came home one day telling Jesse of a new singer on the radio that sounded much like Frank Sinatra. He was new on the scene, and his name was Michael Buble. Many people told Jesse that he sounded a lot like the new guy on the radio. Bill took Jesse to see Michael Buble’ during his It’s About Time tour in Pensacola, Florida. Jesse came home so impressed over this young man who was doing the music that he had grown to love. He followed Buble’ and quickly was studying his style with the same concentration as he had given to his “Rat Pack” heroes.
Jesse recorded a CD in the home of Hal Fountain, one of his Bill’s friends who had played with him in the band “Coast.” He recorded “Fever”, “Fly Me to the Moon” “The Way You Look Tonight” and “Come Fly with Me.” Bill would play the CD for friends and ask who they thought the singer was. Most people thought it was Frank Sinatra or that new kid on the scene, Michael Buble’. Most were speechless when they were told that it was Jesse. The similarity was astounding. Jesse quickly began performing for school events. One of Jesse’s most memorable performances was when he performed a Christmas show at the Sunplex Subacute Rehabilitation Center in Ocean Springs. His grandmother was a resident there and his number one fan. He sang Christmas songs as well as jazz standards.
Jesse landed his first paying gig at the age of 16 when he performed with Noel Aucoin and Steve Fields on the patio of Al Frescos Restaurant. He later performed at Al Frescos with two of his closest friends, Trent and Trevor Wilkerson. He performed off and on through two summers, and a small fan base began forming. People would see him out and want to know when they could see him perform again.
After graduating high school, Jesse began attending MGCCC Jefferson Davis Campus and landed at job at a local retail store as a golf technician. He had been on the golf team during high school, and next to music, golf was a big passion. Although he was not performing publicly, Jesse continued to sing at home and dabble at recording in his make-shift recording studio.
During the fall of 2010, Jesse decided he needed to do something more than his retail job to earn an income. His hours at the retail store were being cut back, and he was not earning very much money. He burned some CDs of the recordings he had made and began pounding the pavement along the Coast trying to land some music gigs. He returned to his old stomping ground, Al Frescos Restaurant, but the manager told him that he already had a band. He visited many restaurants and bar establishments and was quickly shut down by many. Leo’s Pizza and Capone’s were the only two establishments that were willing to give him a chance. He performed one weekend at Leo’s and the second weekend at Capone’s. Jesse’s style of music and Capone’s restaurant atmosphere was a perfect match. He received a positive response from the diners on his first appearance. One diner responded that she was coming back the next weekend “only if he (pointing at Jesse) is here.” Chef Danni, owner of Capone’s, hired Jesse to perform every Saturday that he was available. Jesse had found a home at Capone’s, which dons a Godfather movie poster, the same one that hangs on the wall in Jesse’s practice room. Jesse was now able to earn money on the weekend, which gave him time during the week to devote to his studies. He decided to make music his full time work.
Jesse’s business cards were quickly being depleted by diners, so Bill had to make a rush order. After Jesse’s third weekend performing at Capone’s, Bill received a call wanting to hire Jesse for a private party. Chef Dani was very supportive of Jesse and said he was welcome to book out as long as he would perform at Capone’s on the Saturdays he wasn’t booked. Bill began taking bookings for Jesse at various holiday events along the Coast. Each event would bring at least one or two other bookings. Many of the events would involve some of the same clients, so Jesse was quickly adding to his repertoire of songs to keep his show fresh and new. Jesse spent much of the holidays meeting wonderful new people and performing at various events.
He continues to play along the Coast for weddings, private parties, and local establishments such as Vintage Station, Salutes, Chimneys, and Capone’s. Jesse has been featured in South Mississippi Livingmagazine and three times in the Sun Herald newspaper. Jesse recently recorded two cover songs, “Haven’t Met You Yet”, and “Honey Bee” which are available for download on iTunes.
Jesse is a big fan of other types of music genres, but he has a great appreciation for the songs that have stood the test of time. Although the music to which Jesse sings is recorded tracks, the vocals are raw and real.