Trumpeter Bill Dixon passed away today after 84 creative years of composing, educating and expanding the outer limits of jazz. Dixon was fond of saying “someone is always trying to get you away from the thing you do,” but no one was ever able to stop him from any of his numerous artistic pursuits. From his early days alongside Cecil Taylor until his recent collaboration with Rob Mazurek he, in his own words, played “in total isolation of the market places of this music,” but still managed to win countless fans internationally and influence many of the musicians involved in contemporary improvisation.
Born in Nantucket, Massachusets, Dixon was raised in New York City where he began his artistic pursuits as a painter. His talents for music didn’t emerge until he was discharged from the Navy following World War II. Soon thereafter he became friends with Cecil Taylor, and the pair slowly picked up like minded musicians – such as Archie Shepp, Roswell Rudd, Paul & Carla Bley among others, culminating in the formation of the Jazz Composers Guild in 1964.
Of that era, his work as a sideman on Cecil Taylor’s 1966 LP Conquistador and his own 1967 LP Intents and Purposes: The Bill Dixon Orchestra are especially notable for his painter-like use of negative space and wide intervals, his uncompromisingly cerebral solos and his occasionally lyrical playing.
In 1967 his career as a music educator began with the founding of the Free Conservatory of the University of the Streets, a program for inner city youth in New York. The following year he was tapped for a faculty position at Bennington College in Vermont, where he taught (with a few breaks) until 1996 – during which time he recorded sporadically and performed much more frequently.
Bill Dixon’s legacy will be that of an artist who fought to put the power back in the hands of musicians, through organization and education. A fiery player, top-shelf composer and inimitable improviser, they just don’t make ‘em like Bill Dixon anymore. His influence will be felt for a long time, but he’s already missed.
A terrific biography and interview here.