All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource


Bill Dixon: In Medias Res

By Published: September 15, 2009


Bill DixonIt's apt that the latest release in Dixon's discography is entitled 17 Musicians In Search of a Sound. At 83, Dixon is still searching—"Music doesn't come easy for me because I'm always trying to do something I haven't quite done." This searching quality, whether one understands it as such or not, is what makes Dixon's music as vital as it ever was and immediately shocking. Hearing the master recording of a group Dixon assembled with drummers J.R. Mitchell and Gary Sojkowski, one is faced with music that's like a scream manifesting itself entirely physically and materially, elevating the temperature in a room, altering the feeling in one's bones and internal organs. In this day and age, it's uncommon to hear music with that much sheer power. Rarely do we get the opportunity to feel changed by music, and even more rarely do we hear something that alters our musical landscape in a lasting way. Bill Dixon's work has done both of those things, and now is not too late for the recognition that is due.


1. Dixon was apparently in talks with Fontana producer Alan Bates to issue some of his sextet's music on a two LP set. Due to monetary issues, this was not undertaken, though Fontana did issue recordings by the New York Contemporary Five, New York Art Quartet, Paul and Carla Bley, and the Jazz Composers' Orchestra. See Young, Ben. Dixonia: A Bio-Discography of Bill Dixon. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998. p. 77.
2. Dixonia presents nearly every performance, recording or rehearsal that Dixon was a part of from 1951 until 1997. These are documented with detailed discographical information as well as reminiscences, interview text and reprints from letters and manuscripts to support the context of each instance that Dixon worked or recorded music. Not only is it proof that there was never a period in which Dixon wasn't working—or making work—despite what some critics or discographers might believe, it is also a biographical tome of massive and unique proportions. Also see Dixon, Bill. L'Opera Volume One: A Collection of Letters, Writings, Musical Scores and Drawings 1967-1986. Bennington, VT: Metamorphosis Music, 1986.
3. Dixon played me these recordings at his home. They were taped at the Ecole Nationale de Musique in Villeurbanne, France in late June 1992 during a tour that also included a stop in Verona, Italy.
4. Introduced to one another by Aldo Tambolini in 1966, Dunn and Dixon worked together until the early 1970s (in both classroom and purely creative settings), including in a trio with Alan Silva as well as other configurations. The first piece they collaborated on was Dunn's "Groundspeed," and "Pomegranate" and "Index" were also Dunn-Dixon manifestations. Though uncredited on the jacket, Dunn also wrote the liner notes to Dixon's RCA-Victor LP, which was greatly informed by their collaboration.
5. I viewed rehearsal video of Dixon conducting Tony Oxley's Celebration Orchestra in Cologne in 2003. This was not long after viewing archival video of one of his classes at Bennington. Uncannily, the historical anecdotes Dixon provided the orchestra and his professorial tone were almost identical in each.

Selected Discography

Bill Dixon, Tapestries for Small Orchestra (Firehouse 12, 2009)
Bill Dixon, 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur (AUM Fidelity, 2008)
Bill Dixon, Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra (Thrill Jockey, 2008)
Cecil Taylor/Bill Dixon/Tony Oxley, Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, Tony Oxley (Victo, 2002)
Bill Dixon, Odyssey (Archive Edition, 2001)
Bill Dixon/Tony Oxley, Papyrus vol. 1 & 2 (Soul Note, 1998)
Bill Dixon, Vade Mecum vol. 1 & 2 (Soul Note, 1993)
Bill Dixon, November 1981 (Soul Note, 1981)
Bill Dixon, In Italy vol. 1 & 2 (Soul Note, 1980)
Bill Dixon, Considerations 1 & 2 (Fore, 1976)
Cecil Taylor, Conquistador (Blue Note, 1966)
Bill Dixon, Intents and Purposes: The Bill Dixon Orchestra (RCA-Victor, 1966)
Bill Dixon and Archie Shepp, Quartet (Savoy, 1962)

Photo Credits

All Photos and Paintings, Courtesy the archives of Bill Dixon

comments powered by Disqus