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In the Artist's Own Words

Bill Dixon: Excerpts from Vade Mecum

By Published: January 29, 2010
Harnette Notes



The following is an excerpt from Bill Dixon's notes to Michael Heller's MA thesis So we did it ourselves: A Social and Musical History of Musician-organized Jazz Festivals from 1960 to 1973 (Rutgers, 2005). The following provides as detailed an account of the Hartnette School of Music in New York as one is likely to find anywhere. —CA

Bill Dixon



The Hartnette School of Music (The Hartnette Conservatory, Hartnette Studios; known at various times by all of those titles) was a professional school located in the basement, when I went there from late 1946 to 1951, of the Strand Theatre Building. It was on Broadway between 48th and 49th street, across the street from Lou Walters" Latin Quarter and the Royal Roost. The students that went there were largely professional and working musicians taking advantage of the GI Bill and all subjects relating to the teaching of music at the conservatory level were taught there.

The faculty was made up of professional musicians; some, like Paige Brook, the flutist and saxophonist, were doing other things in their own professional work. Brook was playing with Thomas Scherman's Little Orchestra Society and waiting to be called, which happened later, to join the NY Philharmonic. I took arranging with him. Charlie Byrd

Charlie Byrd
Charlie Byrd
1925 - 1999
guitar
, the guitarist, taught that instrument there; Benny Ventura, the brother of Charlie Ventura, taught baritone saxophone. Pat Crusco taught the double-bass. Leon Addeo and Lee Hedden also taught arranging. Hal Bourne taught arranging and harmony and theory, as did Hedden. Jimmie Blake, a former Dorsey player, taught the trumpet. Steven Gitto also taught the trumpet. I had some lessons with Blake but preferred Gitto and spent most of my time on the instrument, while there, with him. Tony Fruscella also taught at Hartnette. I didn't study with him, but his friends, altoist Chic Maures and drummer Chick Foster, would take me on sessions with them. Tony wrote out some exercises for the instrument that I use to this day.

The studies at Hartnette concerned themselves with harmony, theory, counterpoint, sight-singing, arranging, composition, instrumental instruction, small and large band performance and the Schillinger System of Musical Composition. So while it was not Julliard, Manhattan School of Music or Mannes, it taught things that those other places did not and with a faculty that was experienced in the practical applications of those things that they taught, at an ongoing level.

Sy Oliver and Dick Jacobs also had a course in arranging. I was at first primarily interested in arranging, not composition, which they taught in the Brill Building. I had some sessions with Dick Jacobs as the same time that I was a student.

I don't remember how I met Carl B. Bowman; I think that I requested studies in composition and the school got him to come in, first to teach me and then he became a faculty member. He played the euphonium, taught at CW Post College, played in the Babylon Symphony Orchestra and had written some works for them that he and I studied when I was more able to benefit from that kind of analysis. When I finished my work at Harnette in 1951 I continued studying with Bowman until about 1953. We became friends. I had him as a panelist on the panel discussion held at the UN when I was working there. Later on he appeared on the Africa Brass recording with John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy
Eric Dolphy
Eric Dolphy
1928 - 1964
reeds
(Impulse!, 1961).

Jimmie Brokenshire was a saxophonist and arranger. He also did work with the band that was at the Latin Quarter. He was also an authorized teacher of the Schillinger System of Musical Composition. I studied Schillinger quite extensively with him. Alex Grassberg, the drummer, taught rhythmic dictation. He was very good and very patient. Sam Donahue, the saxophonist-arranger, conducted one of the bands there. Steve Gitto did one of the bands; I played in his, but I never played in the Donahue bands.

Charlie Parker had an arrangement with the school to periodically come in and give what we would call today a master class. The more advanced students would play with him; usually disc recordings (acetates) of that event would be made. I recall two or three occasions when Parker came and played. He didn't teach there. Generally if he needed an instrument he would come in and give a master class. These were very special occasions and all classes would be permitted to go into the large band room and watch and listen. A lot of working musicians were always at the school. There was also another school in the building; I think Kenny Dorham
Kenny Dorham
Kenny Dorham
1924 - 1972
trumpet
did some teaching at that school.

Dizzy and Walter Gil Fuller did some rehearsing at the school, as did some other band leaders. I was at the initial rehearsals of the Benny Goodman band [Goodman wasn't there but Ake (Stan) Hasselgaard was] when Chico O'Farrill
Chico O'Farrill
Chico O'Farrill
1921 - 2001
composer/conductor
was rehearsing his chart "Undercurrent Blues." Those rehearsals were peopled by some of the more significant players of the day: Red Rodney
Red Rodney
Red Rodney
1927 - 1994
trumpet
, Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
1927 - 1996
sax, baritone
; I believe Doug Mettome was there. It was great for us students.

Some of the other students included pianist Gill Coggins; George Barrow; Sam Scavone, who was with Xavier Cugat at the time; Buster Cooper and his brother, a bassist, were there. Peck Morrison and Jimmie Corbett also studied bass there. Sol Moore, the baritone saxophonist, was there. There was a marvelous guitarist named Wally Richardson. I used to hang out with George Kelley, whose brother Ted was with the Gillespie band. Linton Garner was also a student there, as was the saxophonist Danny Quebec West. Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
used to rehearse a larger version of what would become his Jazz Workshop there; that was how I met George Barrow, who was then living in Staten Island. I'm not certain but I think Louis Mucci, who played in John LaPorta's experimental band, might have taught trumpet there occasionally.

Then there was Booker Foster, a tenor saxophonist; Ike Bradley, piano (who was also a remarkable writer and who also became Leslie Uggams' first teacher, I believe), and double-bassist Harold Perkins, who auditioned for one of Mercer Ellington's rehearsal job even though he was only playing in one or two positions on the bass at the time. There was also a trumpet player named Larris Browner, and Larry Ace Townsend, who took his trumpet lesson with Gitto before mine. He got Prestige Records to record one of his pieces which we used to play in one of the bands.

Ernie and Wally Williams used to be there a lot; Ernie, who was occasionally playing with either Joe or Marlowe Morris, was a significant trumpeter [in the shadow of Fats Navarro, as I remember it]. He was always giving me corrections as to embouchure placement, contact pressure, pivoting the instrument, etc.

Steve Gitto, as I mentioned before, played with the Goldman Band and played the music out of that repertoire. Our studies were primarily out of Arban ("the trumpeter's bible"), although we did look at some of the Colin Lip Flexibilities and I worked very hard on the Schlossberg book, my favorite.

I worked hard, went everywhere to sessions and did a lot of writing. When I left Hartnette in 1951, sometime after that they moved to 42nd Street. In 1954 I toured Alaska with a band and I returned in 1955. In 1956 I became an International Civil Servant at the UN Headquarters in New York. I was at the Secretariat from 1956 until 1962. I would, for my music studies, have liked to have gone to either Manhattan or Julliard; I applied to Julliard but was turned down. I had an apprenticeship in art and had to have that reevaluated when I decided that I wanted to study music. I couldn't waste time trying to find one of the "better" schools to accept me. I found Hartnette; they had an ad in Metronome Magazine and they accepted me. I did my initial music studies there only.

The ambience that New York provided at the time for music study was good. All of the players that you heard on recordings that were doing anything you found interesting were there. The music was live; there were theatres, clubs, sessions, rehearsals, music stores, 48th St. (where the practice studios were and one could listen for hours to the more established players practicing). There was Mannie's, under the clock, for sessions on Wednesdays. One was also permitted to try out trumpets in most of the music stores. But it wasn't until 1962 that I made my first recording, for Savoy.

That was the gestation period; one had to learn, one had to study, one had to practice, one had to listen, one had to work, one had to find the work, owe had to encourage oneself, one had to believe that what one was doing counted for something and, more importantly, one had to know that one was doing what one did because that was what one could do and that was what one wanted to do.

And for no one else, for you it was important.

27 April 2005

Photo Credits

Page 1: Courtesy of Bill Dixon

Page 2: Mark Ladenson

Page 3: Frank Rubolino

Page 4: Courtesy of Inconstant Sol

Page 5: Courtesy of Destinaton-Out



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