Remembering Bill Dixon

A Brief Reflection on the Modern Jazz Giant's Swan Song

by John Garratt

17 June 2010


Bill Dixon, jazz trumpeter, composer, and educator, died in his Vermont home on Wednesday, June 16. He was 84.

For about half a century, Dixon’s name has been peppered all around the fringes of modern jazz. His works with Archie Shepp and Cecil Taylor in the 1960s placed him on the map, and all over that map he would eventually sprawl himself. He utilized his composition skills as a bandleader and exercised his chops as an occasional sideman. But Dixon was almost always fostering the very genre he was helping to create. He was a professor of music at Bennington College, helped set up appropriate live music venues in Greenwich Village, and organized the October Revolution in jazz concert series. Even though he retired from teaching in the mid-‘90s, he still stayed active with recording and gigging. He even lent a hand to his genre protégé Rob Mazurek on Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra, which received a positive review from PopMatters, no less.

Before Bill Dixon left us, he created a strange, nebulous double album called Tapestries for Small Orchestra. Eight musicians, including the aforementioned Mazurek, bring to life the deep, impressionistic harmonies that Dixon seemingly plucked from the air and transposed to paper. As “Adagio - Slow Mauve Scribblings” slowly burns down like a stick of incense, you sadly realize that this type of album is almost peerless nowadays, earning it a place in’s favorites of 2009.

The trumpet just lost its Anthony Braxton.


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