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Artist Profiles

Bill Dixon: In Rehearsal, In Performance

By Published: February 2, 2008
But, best of all, there was the chord. I had heard it in rehearsal, and it appeared in the piece itself—an aggregate of such all-encompassing beauty, of such majesty and magnitude; Scriabin's opening to Prometheus provides a glimpse into the worlds encapsulated by this sonority, but it pulsed, morphed without growing, individual voices emerging to fade and be replaced by another. It embodied the whole piece, the fabric of which the work was woven, and I have never heard a sound like it, live or on disc.

Bill Dixon Only when the ovations had died down, when it was clear that Dixon was not going to come back out, when Steve Dalachinsky had read a poem in his honor, and when Copilots had taken the stage, did I begin to realize fully the enormity of what I'd heard. It happened when the trio began to play, and I became aware of something familiar. Henry Grimes stopped the proceedings, approached the microphone, and dedicated the piece to Dixon; it was a transcription of "Long Alone Song," one of Dixon's solo works from the early 1970s. Faithful and yet imbued with freedom, it was a perfect summation of what we had witnessed, the mystically Eastern flavor of the original and its angelic silences somehow augmented and transmogrified, rendering a conventional piano trio into more than it was. Indeed, almost every group in the festival, and the festival itself, would not exist had Dixon not forged the template—equal parts love and rage—that brought this music to the sociopolitical space it currently occupies.

I don't know if he heard the tribute, and I don't know if he shared my frustration that it was almost the only acknowledgment his fifty-plus years of work received on a night purportedly in his honor. As I've written elsewhere, the man deserves more, much more than he's been afforded. Only now, after the festival and two highly successful post-Vision appearances in Chicago, does it seem that a few brave souls are beginning to listen, to dare to enter the universe he has created and acknowledge previous ignorance. It needs to happen now, while he is alive to reap the benefits of the discovery so that his work can continue in the fashion he desires and so richly deserves. As the old song says, "Now's the time!"

Photo Credits
Top Photo: Thrill Jockey
Bottom Photo: Mark Ladenson

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