Bill Dixon

Bill Dixon, one of the most important figures in free jazz, made his mark as a player and organizer over a 50-year career. Dixon was a sharply lyrical trumpeter. His delivery was as vocalic and clear as any other free jazz trumpeter, except for Lester Bowie. He was a good improviser and had a similar temperament to Ornette Colman, but his compositional style was quite different from that of the altoist. Dixon’s music featured wide spaces, large intervals that didn’t imply any particular key or mode, and dark backgrounds due to the use two or more double bassesists. His art was both thoughtful and viscerally thrilling. Dixon was born in New York City. His first classes were in painting. After World War II, Dixon didn’t turn to music until he was released from the Navy. Dixon met Cecil Taylor in 1951, and they began playing together with other young musicians. He formed a quartet in the 1960s with Archie Shepp, a saxophonist. In 1962, the band recorded the Archie Shepp-Bill Dixon Quartet album for Savoy. Dixon was briefly the label’s artistic director. Dixon created the October Revolution in Jazz in 1964. This festival featured new music and was held at the Cellar Cafe in Manhattan. Around 40 bands performed, including some of the best free jazz musicians of that era. The Jazz Composer’s Guild was born from this. It was a musician’s cooperative that was founded in 1964 and included Dixon, Shepp Roswell Rudd Cecil Taylor, Paul Bley and Carla Bley. He recorded an album of his music in 1967 for RCA. He also founded the Free Conservatory of the University of the Streets in 1967, which was a music education program for inner city youth in New York. Dixon began his teaching career at Bennington College, Vermont in 1968. In 1971-1972, Dixon was a visiting faculty member of the University of Wisconsin. He then returned to Bennington in 1973, where he established the Black Music Division. Dixon was a mentor to a variety of free jazz musicians today, including Marco Eneidi, alto saxophonist, and Jackson Krall, drummer. Dixon stayed at Bennington until he retired from teaching in 1996. Dixon taught master classes and workshops all over the globe in the years that followed. The Cadence label made available a collection of Dixon’s work from 1970 through 1976. From 1980 to the end of the 20th Century, Soul Note was his only outlet for recording and performing, though he did so more often. After the new millennium, Dixon began to pay more attention to the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur with 17 Musicians In Search of a Sound. This recording was made live at New York City’s Vision Festival in June 2007, and released by AUM Fidelity in 2008. 2008 also saw the Thrill Jockey release of Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra. Dixon is joined by Rob Mazurek, a Chicago-based experimental band. Dixon’s last concert, Tapestries for Small Orchestra, was held at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (Victoria, Quebec) on May 22, 2010. Less than a month later, on the night of June 15-16, 2010, Bill Dixon died in his sleep at home in North Bennington, VT at the age of 84. from

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