Bill Dixon

By: Brian Berger
October 5, 2014


One of the jazz tradition’s most singular figures, the accomplishments of trumpeter, composer, and educator BILL DIXON (1925–2010) have often been misapprehended. Born in Nantucket, by 1934 Dixon’s family was in Harlem and while Louis Armstrong was revelatory, Dixon’s education focused on literature and drama, his talent evinced in an elementary school recitation prize. The author he read was Frederick Douglass, and though the text is unidentified, Douglass’ 1859 lecture “Self-Made Man” strongly predicts Dixon’s unswerving ethos of self-improvement and self-determination. Thus, in 1946, Dixon using the GI Bill to study at Harnett Music Studios in Manhattan (“I was a fanatic… Dizzy and Bird were electrifying”) and thus in 1954, Dixon interviewing at Time magazine, which hadn’t realized its prospective pre-editor was black: “I was very uncool in those days so I went out; I cursed everybody out and stormed out of the building.” Dixon eventually found work at the United Nations and in 1959 co-founded a Jazz Society there, a notice of which identified him as “President… platter-spinner, musicologist and organizer.” The 1960s was Dixon’s decade of prominence: recordings with Archie Shepp; his own group; and Cecil Taylor; organizing concerts and promoting economic equity for avant-garde musicians; a transformative partnership with dancer/choreographer Judith Dunn that would bring both to Bennington College. Though his greatest works were yet forthcoming, student composer/writer Elizabeth Swados was there, enraptured, in 1970: “I spent the last weeks of the term dropping mescaline and listening to Bill Dixon play long, luminous tones on his trumpet.”

“Nightfall Pieces I & II” (1967)

“Masques” (c. 1975-76)

“Thoughts” (1985)

“Phrygian II”  (2008)


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Edward P. Jones, Flann O’Brien.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).


HiLo Heroes, Jazz, Music

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