Friday, July 16, 2010

Honoring Bill and Fred

The jazz world lost two of its most distinctive artists this June. Bill Dixon and Fred Anderson were both uncompromising horn players who played important roles in the development of the jazz avant-garde in the '60s and enjoyed major career resurgences late in life. To celebrate Dixon and Anderson, we are featuring an extra-large dose of their music on the Avant-Garde channel, which listeners will find right at the top of

Bill Dixon was a trumpet player who busied himself more with exploring sound through his horn than playing melodies or hitting changes. While his music is undeniably intellectual, his trumpet playing always betrayed deep emotion behind every note.

An active member of the New York avant-garde jazz scene in the '60s alongside bigger-name artists like Cecil Taylor and Archie Shepp, Dixon spent decades in relative obscurity teaching at Bennington college in Vermont and recording only sporadically. In the first decade of the 20th Century, however, Dixon's name started popping up on the jazz world's radar much more frequently. He released 3 albums in the last 3 years, all of which saw Dixon collaborating with much younger musicians.

My first exposure to Dixon was his appearance on Exploding Star Orchestra's 2008 CD. It was actually one of the first CDs I added to AccuJazz playlists after getting this job -- I started working here about a week after its release. I remember being floored by the otherworldly sounds Dixon coaxed from his horn. At that point in my musical education, I had literally never heard anything like it. I hope you're also floored by all of Dixon's music that we're playing on the Avant-Garde channel.

Fred Anderson, like Bill Dixon, came up during the avant-garde revolution of the '60s, and, also like Dixon, experienced that late-in-the-game spike in popularity. His story is quite different, though. While Dixon enjoyed the stability of an east-coast liberal arts university gig, Anderson led a blue-collar life in Chicago his whole life, supporting his family and his music by installing carpet and tending bar. From the '80s on, Anderson ran his own club, the still-standing Velvet Lounge. In his role as club proprietor, Anderson mentored scores of young musicians and provided a place to play for artists and groups that wouldn't fit in anywhere else.

As a saxophonist, Anderson played with a wholly individual tone that was somehow smooth and gruff at the same time. Citing Charlie Parker as his greatest influence, Anderson didn't play in the bebop style, instead choosing to express himself in a freely-improvised style that alluded to everything from bop to funk to African rhythms. Anderson was on the more melodic side of free jazz improvisers, exploring seemingly infinite avenues of melody rather than pushing at the sonic limits of his instrument, as many working in the world of free improvisation are wont to do. His music is truly visceral and undeniably beautiful.

I personally am extremely grateful for Anderson's dedication to running the Velvet: I have frequented the club's longstanding Sunday night jam sessions for years, and my band played our debut gig there in April. Fred presided all night, and even agreed to show up 2 hours early so we could sneak in a last-minute rehearsal before the gig. At the end of the night, after everyone had cleared out, it was just me and Fred left as I was packing up my drums. He told me a story about how Lester Young used to be a drummer, but decided to switch to sax when he got tired of missing opportunities to go home with girls because he was busy tearing down his drums. Clearly, he felt for me. He was always so kind and gracious, and never seemed outwardly phased by the daunting economic realities of running an avant-garde jazz club in a run-down neighborhood.

1 comment:

  1. The image of Bill Dixon is by Isabelle Moisan and was taken three weeks before he passed away at FIMAV in Victoriaville, Quebec.

    To follow Bill's ongoing work (the FIMAV concert will see release by year's end, and there is more on the way) visit Bill Dixon's Facebook page.