VF Mix 85: Bill Dixon by John Corbett

VF Mix 85: Bill Dixon by John Corbett



In Features, VF Mixes

A hypnotic tribute to the free-jazz trumpeter.

As a trumpeter, painter, and composer, also as an organizer and producer, Bill Dixon (1925-2010) was a central figure on the creative forefront of New York’s jazz scene in the early 1960s. He was the founder of the Jazz Composers Guild, a forerunner of the Jazz Composers Association, and he organized a legendary series of concerts at the Cellar Café uptown, where he presented the October Revolution in Jazz in 1964.

Erudite and spiffily dressed, Dixon aligned himself with other important players in what was called the New Thing, including saxophonist Archie Shepp and pianist Cecil Taylor, playing and recording with them until he eventually left the city for academic posts late in the decade. On trumpet, he had a very particular sound, highly textured and airy, sometimes veering out of the instrument’s natural range into deep bass tones or hissing high frequencies. Later in his work, he often alternated in a single piece between a dry microphone and one with huge reverb.

Dixon’s major contribution was an emphasis on quieter and more chamber-like possibilities, often without driving or swinging rhythm. His 1967 LP Intents and Purposes is the definitive statement on this approach, a masterpiece of what would much later be called “lowercase” improvised music.

In paying tribute to Dixon, I have chosen to stick primarily to his own music, running more or less in chronological order, which gives a sense of how the sound developed from the early, more free-bop work he recorded for Savoy Records to the string of wonderful outings from the first half of the 1980s, his most active period as a recording artist.

I’ve included one of the two remarkable long tracks from Intents and Purposes, with a large ensemble featuring percussion by Robert Pozar, later known as “Cleve,” and from a very rare self-produced LP of Pozar’s I’ve selected a beautiful marimba-centric cut.

While he was still in New York, Dixon was a producer for Savoy as well as being on their roster, and I chose one of several of his productions, saxophonist Ed Curran’s gorgeous quartet, featuring trumpeter Marc Levin, very much under Dixon’s spell. Austrian flugelhorn player Franz Koglmann recorded one side of an LP with Dixon, playing a composition written for the session by the American trumpeter; the original LP came with a cover hand decorated by Koglmann.

Some of Dixon’s most potent music was extremely short, sometimes hovering around minute in length; two such solo trumpet pieces show how wonderfully resourceful he was on the horn. At the start and conclusion of the program, I’ve slipped in excerpts from a phone interview I did with Dixon in the late 1990s, just to give a little sense of him, personally.

01. Bill Dixon in conversation with John Corbett, August 4, 1997
02. The Archie Shepp-Bill Dixon Quartet – ‘Somewhere’
03. Bill Dixon 7-tette – ‘The 12th December’
04. The Bill Dixon Orchestra – ‘Metamorphosis 1962-1966’
05. Cleve Pozar – ‘Echo Afrika’
06. The Ed Curran Quartet – ‘Duos’
07. Franz Koglmann/Bill Dixon – ‘For Franz’
08. Bill Dixon – ‘Shrike’
09. Bill Dixon – ‘Duo#one’
10. Bill Dixon – ‘Summer Song/One/Morning’
11. Bill Dixon – ‘Dusk’
12. Bill Dixon – ‘Webern’
13. Bill Dixon – ‘Windows’
14. Bill Dixon discussing Intents and Purposes with John Corbett, August 4, 1997

Comments (3)

  1. Stephen Haynes 8 months ago

    Thanks for keeping a light on in the window for Bill Dixon, John. Damon Smith showed me this last night, and we played a duet together for Bill at the end of the evening. I hope one day to meet you and have a long talk.

  2. Charles Fibonacci 8 months ago

    This is a fantastic program really made my day thanks.

  3. Billy Tokyo 7 months ago

    This is great! Thanks!

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