Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

710

Ben Dixon

Russ Musto By

Sign in to view read count
Playing the dances you would learn how to hold a beat.
Back in the ‘60s Ben Dixon was one of the busiest musicians on the soul jazz scene as house drummer in the legendary Blue Note Records’ rhythm section, with Big John Patton and Grant Green, that recorded with many of the decade’s funkiest players. Dixon performed on dozens of sessions led by the organist and guitarist and with saxophonists like George Braith, Lou Donaldson, Joe Henderson, Stanley Turrentine, Harold Vick and Don Wilkerson. He earned a reputation as the B-3 band drummer, making dates with Wild Bill Davis, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Brother Jack McDuff, Sonny Phillips, Shirley Scott, Baby Face Willette and Larry Young, while working with everybody from Sonny Rollins to Lloyd Price.

“I was out a lot because I worked all the time,” Dixon remembers. “Whenever I was in the city we would speak to Alfred Lion at Blue Note and tell him we had put something together and if he agreed to it he would give us the okay to go ahead and rehearse the music.” The drummer not only helped organize sessions for the label, he wrote tunes for the dates. He began composing years before, inspired by a song Milt Jackson wrote for his mother. “It was so beautiful it inspired me to write a song for my mother.” Born in Gaffney, S.C. and growing up in Washington, D.C., Dixon remembers, “Always in my mother’s house I heard jazz. Swing and jazz and R & B.” The musicians who impressed him the most were Charlie Parker and Art Tatum. When he started playing drums he would slow down their records to examine the rhythmic intricacies of their playing and emulate them in the development of his own style.

The first drummer who impressed Dixon was Buddy Rich, whenever Jazz At The Philharmonic played D.C.’s Uline Arena. “I liked Buddy, but then when I heard Max it was all over. My main influences are Max, Art and Philly Joe. Those three kind of placed their imprint on me.” Dixon got his first paper set of drums when he moved to Buffalo, to live with his father, who played three string guitar and sang. After returning to D.C. he would practice on friends’ kits and began making some local gigs until he went to college on a basketball scholarship. In ‘55 Dixon came back to D.C., working in the post office for a while and gigging with Buck Hill and Shirley Horn using borrowed drums. Finally, he bought some drums and went to work with trumpeter Webster Young.

In the summer of 1956 Dixon moved to New York to become part of the city’s burgeoning bebop scene. The following year he made his recording debut on Ray Draper’s Tuba Sounds for Prestige, with Jackie McLean, Mal Waldron, Spanky Debrest and Young. He was working regularly around New York and then in January of ‘58 he went out on the road with Lloyd Price, spending three years with the R&B legend. “It helped me become a better drummer, because we played mostly dances,” he says. “Playing the dances you would learn how to hold a beat. You would hold that beat and the rhythm that the people would be dancing to would get all into you, the imprint of the fabric of what you were doing. It helped me with my reading, it helped me with my arranging, it helped me with my composing. It just helped me all the way around musically.”

John Patton was the pianist in Price’s band. When Dixon left Price, the organ was beginning to become popular in jazz and he encouraged Big John to take it up. Eventually the two would join forces in Lou Donaldson’s group and the rest is Blue Note history. Throughout the ‘60s the drummer was busy recording regularly and touring periodically with Lionel Hampton. When his second daughter was born in July of 1962, Dixon didn’t get back home to see her until Christmas. That was enough for him. Gradually weaning himself from the jazz scene to raise his family, for 30 years he rarely played in public.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Shop

Start your shopping here and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles

Profiles
The Complete Jan Akkerman: Focusing on a Life's Work
By John Kelman
November 24, 2018
Profiles
Istanbul’s İKSV: An Intensity Beyond Cool
By Arthur R George
October 17, 2018
Profiles
Don Suhor: From Dixieland to Bopsieland
By Charles Suhor
September 2, 2018
Profiles
Aretha Franklin, The Lady Soul: 1942 - 2018
By C. Michael Bailey
August 17, 2018
Profiles
Remembering Tomasz Stanko
By AAJ Staff
July 29, 2018
Profiles
SFJAZZ: Decades After, Five Years In
By Arthur R George
July 19, 2018
Profiles
Kuumbwa And The Magic of Monday Night
By Arthur R George
July 2, 2018