Bill Dixon: The Benefits of the Struggle

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By Bill Dixon

I appreciate your interest in having me say some things that you can present in your paper to interested readers, readers that may be interested in my work, how I go about it, how I have existed, what my work means, how that work is arrived at and my general feelings as they relate to music and art and all of those things [everything in toto, if one really wants to look at it definitively] that relate to them.

I thought things over and it had occurred to me that there weren't really that many people who claim an interest in this music and its non-commercial events, if they can be called that, that would even consider what I said as even being relevant. And if I am in error with regard to that then where are these people?

The genesis of feelings experienced, put together and cemented into ideas after 50 or so many years of experiences all seemingly designed and aimed at the justification of the above...

However and at the risk of being or appearing maudlin, I am coming to New York this month. Yes I am coming to NY to do the Vision Festival. I will be coming from Montreal where I will have participated in a conference sponsored by McGill University that will have focused on the relationships that exist [if they do] between the visual arts and the musical arts, the art of this music, especially. I will have shown drawings, paintings, etchings, lithographs of my work that span 30 or more so years and my "paper , more oral than written, will have concerned itself with how I have approached both of these art forms in terms of aesthetic and philosophy and methodology. I will have performed a small portion of the piece of music that I will be doing in total at the Vision Festival. While I will be doing that section in solo form there in Montreal I will be doing it situated for a quartet in NY.

In the last year I have been philosophically and methodologically engaging in an even more deeper penetration into areas of solo trumpet performance that at present, from the standpoint of being a full time endeavour, have, for most of the players, seemed only useful as an adjunct to the other areas of their performance on the instrument. And, of course the reasons for this is obvious, audiences want to hear you play the things that they want you to play that indicate to them that you can play effectively and coercively in manners that get their attention in the ways that they want their attention gotten.

In August of last year I was able, in performance at the Baha'i Center (with the quartet of double bassist Dominic Duval; vibraphonist/drummer Warren Smith and piano/synthesizer player Tony Widoff), to focus on those things that, at this particular point in time, are of principal interest to me with respect to the instrument and with music, composition and improvisation naturally being considered.

In October, I went to Baden Baden, the Donaueschingen Event, at the invitation of Cecil Taylor, as one third of three established musicians in this music that had Cecil Taylor, Tony Oxley and myself poised to do music that would serve to reflect our collective and individual places, achievements and contributions in this area of music.

The performance format utilized for the realization of such music that might ensue out of this instrumentation, which after Donaueschingen included Portugal and London in November, was such that it permitted my continuance of the work on my areas of interest without sacrifice or dereliction of my obligation as a member of the trio.

The format for the performances had, for analytical purposes of discussion the following layout: three solos that preceded a short break that then led into a tutti performance by the trio. Oxley always took the first solo orchestrated to permit him maximum leverage and continuity to reveal the focus of his musical interests and concerns.

I took the second solo which let me, knowing what had preceded my entrance and what was to follow it, work with maximum freedom, regarding material, approach to that material and the handling of that material without concern with trying to establish any idea of an [for me] "artificial relationship to the other two players long established and comfortable with the norms of their years of performance as a duo, to the extent that when I felt that I had established my point(s) of view [musical] and reference, paved the way for the next solo which was that of Taylor.

The short period of silence that followed permitted the dynamic of the totality of the trio to come to terms with all that had existed [musically] previously. A fitting way, in my opinion when one is able to understand and appreciate both the freedoms and responsibilities that are resolutely attached to this kind of performance that the uninformed prefer to label, erroneously as "free .

Because it is virtually impossible for people like myself to manage to keep a group together I have to work especially hard to maintain both the ideas that I want to express more fully and directly, by intense practice on the instrument [I continue to put in about five or six hours a day irrespective of whatever else I am doing], knowing at the same time that that is not enough for the recognition, solidification and presentation of those ideas through performance via the public arena.

For a while I was driving from my house in North Bennington, down to Hudson, NY to do some "tightening up work, concerning the duo format, with the young musician-composer Tony Widoff. It was about a four hour drive, round trip, but was well worth it since it could concern itself with the music on a pure basis: how was what it was thought "worthy to be considered for performance to be dealt with and done to the aesthetic satisfaction of the two of us.

I am trying to, as I've said at other times, in my work on the instrument to pierce the outer "shell of creative music so that the "inner shell will be more "kind , in terms of an extension of the vocabulary, to that kind of "probing around. Some may just hear it as noise and I don't have the time, inclination and am also not afforded any kind of forum to debate them [at this point], but I find it, when all of the things that need to be working [with the help of the ever present Sages, as the late and much missed pianist-composer John Benson Brooks, was wont to say on many an occasion], the most exciting time for me musically.

Trumpeter, composer, bandleader, visual artist Bill Dixon was the organizer and producer of the now legendary October Revolution in Jazz, a concert series devoted to the then "new music in 1964 - the same year he was the prime architect of the ever-significant Jazz Composers' Guild, a group whose place in the history of this music is a philosophical model and progenitor for groups that have followed such as Chicago's Advancement for the Association of Creative Musicians (AACM) and St. Louis' Black Artists Group (BAG). He joined the faculty at Bennington College in 1968, where he was a professor for nearly 30 years before retiring. Dixon has recorded some hard-to-find jazz classics including Intents and Purposes (1966) and has recorded for Soul Note since 1980, releasing nearly a dozen gems for the label such as the two-volume Vade Mecum and Papyrus series.

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