Bill Dixon : Tapestries for Small Orchestra


Bill Dixon (October 5, 1925 – June 16, 2010) was an American musician, composer, visual artist, and educator. Dixon was one of the seminal figures in the free jazz movement. He played the trumpet, flugelhorn, and piano, often using electronic delay and reverberation as part of his trumpet playing.

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.

Bill-Dixon-tapestriesSoon 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. (New York Times obituary)

Dixon’s playing was noted for his extensive use of the pedal register, playing below the trumpet’s commonly ascribed range, and well into the trombone and tuba registers. He made extensive use of half-valve techniques and the use of breath with or without engaging the traditional trumpet embouchure. He largely eschewed the use of mutes, the exception being his use of the harmon mute, with or without stem.

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 2008’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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