Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hommage à Bill Dixon

We Speak: Honoring Bill Dixon
The Festival of New Trumpet Music &
Jazz in the Himilayas
The Rubin Museum of Art
New York, NY

Stanton Davis, Stephen Haynes, Taylor Ho Bynum &
Wadada Leo Smith/trumpets and cornets 
William Parker/contrabass
Warren/drums and percussion

Early in June, we gathered in Manhattan to celebrate the spirit and work of Bill Dixon.  The work took place at the The Rubin Museum of Art.  Taylor and I arrived early and toured the large collection of Buddhist art.  The museum asks performing artists to connect with the collection and the raison d'être of the museum, linking it to the work they plan to present  Artists choose images from the permanent collection to be projected during their concerts.   As is true of Bill Dixon, the museum and it's work is singular.  Housed in a wonderful art deco brownstone, the original home of Barneys clothing store, the museum has a small, acoustically perfect theater with one caveat: no amplification.  I kept finding myself imagining Bill there with us.  He would have loved the place!

Stanton, Taylor and I brought music in for the ensemble.  We began the evening with the four brass players improvising collectively.  This was a sound particular to Bill's language for many years.  The night before, I had felt what is best described as a tugging feeling.  I filed the music I had written for the concert and pulled material from my folio of  Dixon music.  I selected a portion of a larger, through-composed work from the early seventies that Bill had shared with me at Bennington College.  Long, modal lines, narrative in quality. 

I arranged the music as a series of slow repeated readings of the lines, adding horns with each repetition, something I had often watched Bill do.  During the performance, things did not go as planned.  I restructured the music in process, pulling Wadada to the fore for an unplanned solo.  Leo rose to this, soon joined by Stanton and we stoked the fires underneath them.  William Parker ended the piece with an arco solo over a brass chorale drawn from the lines.  William played pure love, singing his heart out to Bill.  Remarkable.

In the end, I felt Bill had been there, pushing my shoulder and admonishing me to loosen up and trust what I know, what he taught me: to allow the work to unfold in the moment. 

images for The National Jazz Museum in Harlem by Richard Conde

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