Bill Dixon 1925-2010

On June 16, composer, musician, producer, visual artist, and educator Bill Dixon died during the night at his home in Bennington, VT. He was 84 years old.

Since his first release in 1962, the Archie Shepp-Bill Dixon Quartet, Dixon has ceaselessly produced challenging, unique, and creative jazz music.  Just like the Earth-shattering low-end blasts of his horn, his compositions and playing have had a massive impact on the trajectory of contemporary experimental music.  He worked with many first generation free jazz artists, including Cecil Taylor, Marzette Watts, Alan Silva, Jacques Coursil, and Jimmy Garrison, and in 1964 he organized the Jazz Composer's Guild and the October Revolution in Jazz, which hosted performances by Taylor, Shepp, Sun Ra Arkestra, Giuseppi Logan, Milford Graves, Rashied Ali, Paul Bley, Ornette Coleman, Andrew Cyrille, and many others.  In addition to his superb musical contributions, Dixon also played a relentless organizational role by bringing experimental jazz to new audiences.  Similarly, as the founder of Bennington College's Black Music Division, for which he was a professor and chair from 1969-1995, Dixon had an equal passion for enlightening students about the rich and frequently neglected musical traditions that were such a deep part of his life, and that he so greatly influenced.

In the past three years, Dixon created some of the most amazing music of his life.  In 2008, both his performance of compositions for large ensemble at the 2007 Vision Festival was released by Aum Fidelity, 17 Musicians In Search Of A Sound: Darfur, and Thrill Jockey released his collaboration with Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra, titled Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra.  Both of these recordings showed Dixon at the height of his talents and working with some of the best young musicians currently on the jazz scene.  Then in 2009 came Weight/Counterweight, featuring Dixon alongside Aaron Siegel and Ben Hall, and Tapestries For Small Orchestra.  The latter may very well be remembered as Dixon's greatest achievement as a composer and musician, and it is unfortunate that his death has come at a time when his musical imagination was so limitless.

Ars Nova Workshop is deeply saddened by the loss of Bill Dixon, who was such a monumental force in the world of jazz music.  We are, however, very glad and honored to have had the pleasure to host his first ever Philadelphia performance last December, when he played with Exploding Star Orchestra at International House.   That event will now be remembered as even more of a special occasion.  Our thoughts go out to Dixon's family and friends, and to the entire jazz community.