[Dixielandjazz] You know you are getting old when . . .

Stephen G Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun Jun 20 07:22:48 PDT 2010

Caveat: Not OKOM, may not be YKOM. However, if you were around New  
York City when this man was, you know you are getting old when he, a  
major force in the avant-garde jazz movement of the 1960s predeceases  
you. As Dave Frishberg songwrote; "Do You Miss New York?"  Do you  
remember the October Revolution?
Those were interesting times and Bill Dixon was an interesting man. RIP.

And if it is not YKOM, at least read the very last 2 sentences. IMO,  
that's how all of us musicians should play.

Steve Barbone

Bill Dixon, Leading Edge of Avant-Garde Jazz, Dies at 84
NY Times - June 20 - By BEN RATLIFF

Bill Dixon, the maverick trumpeter, composer, educator and major force  
in the jazz avant-garde movement of the 1960s, died on Wednesday at  
his home in North Bennington, Vt. He was 84.

His death was announced by Scott Menhinick, a representative of his  
estate. No cause was given.

In the early 1960s, when rock was swallowing popular culture and jazz  
clubs were taking few chances on the “new thing” — as the developing  
avant-garde was then known — Mr. Dixon, who was known for the deep and  
almost liquid texture of his sound, fought to raise the profile of  
free improvisation and put more control into musicians’ hands. In 1964  
he organized “The October Revolution in Jazz,” four days of music and  
discussions at the Cellar Café on West 91st Street in Manhattan, with  
a cast including the pianist-composers Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor, among  
others. It was the first free-jazz festival and the model for present- 
day musician-run events including the Vision Festival.

Soon after that, he established the Jazz Composers Guild, a  
cooperative organization intended to create bargaining power with club  
owners and build greater media visibility. Mr. Dixon played hardball:  
he argued for a collective strike on playing in jazz clubs and hoped  
for the support of John Coltrane, the wave floating most boats of the  
“new thing.” The strike never happened, and the Guild fractured within  
a year.

William Robert Dixon was born in Nantucket, Mass., on Oct. 5, 1925.  
His family moved to Harlem when he was about 7; he first aspired to be  
a visual artist and studied commercial art in high school. (He  
continued to paint throughout his life.) In 1944 he enlisted in the  
Army, eventually serving in Germany during the last few months of war  
in Europe.

After his return he attended the Hartnett Conservatory in Manhattan  
and then started performing around town — alongside, among others, Mr.  
Taylor, whom he met in 1951; the bassist Wilbur Ware; and eventually  
the saxophonist Archie Shepp, with whom he formed a quartet.

On records including “Intents and Purposes” (1967) and the two-volume  
“Vade Mecum,” recorded in 1993, Mr. Dixon displayed a fascination with  
whispered notes and the lowest, darkest ends of a band’s sound. He  
used delay and reverb on his trumpet, in long, floating tones and  
scrabbling figures; his music got closer to the ideal of pure  
abstraction than that of many of his colleagues.

In the late 1950s, he was raising a family and working during the day  
as a secretary at the United Nations. By 1959 he was booking the new  
music into West Village cafes, including the Phase 2 and Le Figaro.  
Thus began a long-running role as bootstrap activist and outspoken  
critic of nearly all the systems of jazz: how it is presented, taught,  
promoted, recorded and written about.

Mr. Dixon is survived by his daughter, Claudia Dixon of Phoenix; his  
son, William R. Dixon II of New York; and two grandchildren, as well  
as his longtime partner, Sharon Vogel.

In 1968 he began a career in academia at Bennington College in  
Vermont. Hired simultaneously with the dancer Judith Dunn, with whom  
he collaborated in all his work for a six-year stretch, he worked  
first in the dance department and eventually in music. In 1973 he  
established the Black Music Division, a performance-and-theory  
curriculum of his own devising.

During the 1980s his recording career picked up: small-group music,  
orchestra pieces and a sideline of solo trumpet works, eventually  
released as a self-produced six-disc set, “Odyssey.”

In experimental jazz, where the most successful tend to be the most  
prolific, Mr. Dixon’s output looks comparatively scant. But most of  
his albums, even up to last year’s “Tapestries for Small Orchestra,”  
have a profound and eerie center, and his influence among contemporary  
trumpeters is clear.

“When I play,” he told the journalist Graham Lock in 2001, “whether  
you like it or not, I mean it.”

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