Sunday, December 05, 2010

In Search of a Sound: Remembering Bill Dixon

In Search of a Sound: Remembering Bill Dixon
Follow the Sound Festival
Antwerp, Belgium

Ingrid Karl Recalls Bill Dixon
Earlier this year, I was invited to participate in a musical remembrance of Bill Dixon.  Rob Luerentop, Artistic Director of the Follow the Sound Festival, had the notion to invite four artists, all of who had, at some point in their career, an association with Dixon. Franz Koglmann, Jacques Coursil and Barry Guy answered the call to collaboration, as did I.  It would be fair to say that this particular combination of musicians would never have come together but for the invitation of the festival.  The diversity of our approaches to the music guaranteed, at the very least, an unusual confluence.

We had several days to get to know each other through rehearsal, conversation and, my favorite, shared gourmet meals.  My deepest connection was with Franz Koglmann and his wife Ingrid Karl.  Franz and Ingrid were longtime friends of Bill Dixon, and presented his work in Vienna at the essential Weiner Musik Galerie many times. Bill was fond of the city and his time there.  There are plans afoot to honor Bill's memory in Vienna in the near future.

The music we created is best described as work in progress.  Over an aesthetically adhesive bed of sound provided by Barry Guy, each of us improvised alone, in pairs and, at times, as a trio of trumpets.  There were moments of great beauty.   Check out one of the concert reviews, by Guy Peters for

 images by Ingrid Karl, Stephen Haynes & Geert Vandepoele

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cultural Locavorism in Connecticut

Connecticut Improvising Composers Project
Firehouse 12
New Haven, CT

Work in progress: a day of recording at Firehouse 12.  Music developed, shared and documented close to home by four Connecticut resident improvising composers.  Think of this as cultural locavorism.

The CICP ensemble:

     David Darling/cello
     Peter McEachern/trombone
     Mario Pavone/bass
     Stephen Haynes/trumpet, cornet & flugelhorn
     Satoshi Takeishi/drums & percussion
     Harris Eisenstadt/drums & percussion

Mario, David, Peter and myself developed the work in partnership with Music for People with catalytic funding from the Special Initiative Grant program of the CT Commission on Culture and Tourism.  After over a year of workshopping the material and another year or more spent touring the state, we brought the new music into the studio at Firehouse 12 to record.

The music was/is strong, and the convergence of the two drummers (first time together) a steady delight to the heart and mind.  Stay tuned for details...

images of CICP by Stephen Haynes

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Following the Sound of Bill Dixon

  Searching For a Sound: Remembering Bill Dixon
Follow the Sound Festival
Antwerp, Belgium

Next week, eight days after Bill Dixon's eighty-fifth birthday, I will fly to Antwerp and join Franz Koglmann, Jacques Coursil and Barry Guy to create new music in Bill's memory.  Each musician in this grouping worked with Dixon at some point over the past forty five years.  Rob Leurentop, Artistic Director of the Follow the Sound Festival, was inspired to knit the four of us together.  I am happy that he had the notion.
image of Stephen Haynes by Maurice Robertson
image of Franz Koglmann by Elfie Semotan
image of Jacques Coursil by Juliette Robert

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dancing With the Young Lions

 Taylor Ho Bynum's Acoustic Bike Tour
Real Art Ways
Hartford, CT

I recently had the sublime pleasure of meeting and playing with a wonderful young artist, Tyshawn Sorey.  We worked together in an ad hoc improvisational trio put together by my old friend and trickster confrere, Taylor Ho Bynum.

We set up camp in front of Elaine Gan's Considering Rice photographic installation in the Loading Dock Gallery at Real Art Ways.  Something about the deceptively horizontal and deeply rhythmic quality of this work helped set the table for an intimate afternoon of music full of space and simple beauty.

And beauty is what we brought, received and shared: in the music and through/with the audience of friends and neighbors.  Repeat after me: "there's no place like home, there's no place like home."

 images of the trio at RAW by Brigid Kennedy

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Taylor Ho Bynum's Acoustic Bicycle Tour

Taylor Ho Bynum rode his bicycle up from New Haven today.  Why the bike and not his lovely fuel efficient automobile?  He is training for an upcoming five-state New England Tour, riding from state to state on his bicycle carrying along his vintage Holton pocket cornet, making stops along the way to perform with friends. Starting in a few weeks time at Firehouse 12 with his exciting new sextet, and ending up at the Magic Triangle series with Anthony Braxton, along the way Taylor will join me and Tyshawn Sorey for an evening of trio music at Real Art Ways on September 12.  What a treat!

I cooked up a meal of gluten-free corn pasta (carb loading seemed appropriate) topped with mushroom tempeh tomato sauce, a garden fresh three tomato salad and black currant spritzers.  It was great to catch up with Taylor as he is always in motion these days and I rarely see him.  After lunch, we headed out to the sun porch to work on notes for Bill Dixon's next recording, a concert document of new music composed especially for the 2010 Festival International de Musique Actuel de Victoriaville.  The music is a companion piece for Tapestries for Small Orchestra and is scheduled for release later this year on the VICTO label.

image of Stephen and Taylor by Brigid Kennedy

Friday, August 20, 2010

In Search of a Sound: Remembering Bill Dixon

Shortly after Bill Dixon's death, I received a note from the American Music Center's New Music Box, asking that I write a remembrance of Bill and his work. They have a lovely tradition of not printing obituaries but, rather, creating remembrances drawn from a colleague.  I have taken the liberty of re-posting my thoughts here.

I may always be identified (and I am in my mid-fifties) as a student of Bill Dixon.  Fair enough.  One did not spend any significant time with Bill without receiving some sort of instruction: shared stories, advice, or a lesson.  Bill embraced teaching, as he did so many other things in life, fully and with great passion.  He never stopped working either.  As my friend and musical colleague Taylor Ho Bynum put it last week, "Let me continue to play the trumpet until I am eighty-four years old, perform my final concert and make a new record three weeks before I die."

Bill had a wonderful, brusque way of drawing you into his creative orbit.  I still remember my first trumpet lesson with him.  I had hitchhiked up to Bennington College in 1975 and was hanging out making music and chasing co-eds.  Bill called me up to his studio (how did he know where I was?) for a lesson - "Bring your horn!"  He soon had me leaning my abdomen into his fist to illustrate proper use of the diaphragm, all the while speaking to me in an excited voice, urging me onward.  The last lesson we had together was just a few months ago.  I had driven Bill to a performance in Philadelphia, the first and last time he ever worked there.  After the long drive home, Bill Said, "Get your horn out!"  He proceeded to show me what he was working on, using incredible control to articulate small elements of sound, stuff that other players would cast away, to develop yet another strand of language on the trumpet.  There has been a lot of talk about "extended technique" in some quarters of late. Let's note here that Dixon was the next technical extension of the trumpet after Dizzy Gillespie.  His controlled use of multiphonics limned new territories for trumpet that a legion of younger artists are just beginning to connect with.  Not to mention his singular sound and attack on the instrument.  All of this was firmly rooted in "the tradition," and you could often hear Bill speak about little known players like Tony Fruscella alongside the more obvious referents like Miles Davis.

Dixon's influence extends beyond the trumpet into notation/ composition, labor organization and pedagogy, not to mention his career as a visual artist.  (His work is in the permanent collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France at the Louvre.)  His interests were far ranging, and Bill is an archetype for the artist as a multi-dimensional creative spirit.

I recently asked Bill what the difference was in his approach to notation between the recording of Intents and Purposes in 1963 and the work for orchestra that he was now engaged in.  He had through-composed most of the work on that album (I know - I have seen the scores and parts).  "That was the only way that I knew, at the time, to ensure that I could get what I wanted from the musicians, " he explained.  "If I knew then what I know now, I would have written a lot less." During the residency at Firehouse 12 in 2008 that resulted in his Tapestries for Small Orchestra, there was considerably less paper. Bill spent hours verbally jarring the sensibility/awareness of the musicians, working relentlessly to get everyone "in the room" and present for the music.  He dictated and modeled parts and ways of playing them.  He did not want you to play like you played with everyone else, to traffic in cliché, to employ well-worn and comfortable solutions to musical problems.  Dixon embodied Whitney Balliett's definition of the music as 'the sound of surprise.'

During the drive up to Victoriaville for the FIMAV concert in late May, Bill once again spoke of his longtime dream, "You buy a big building, fill it with musicians and artists, and produce your own concerts and shows.  That's the best you can hope for." Bill never lost sight of his goals for sustained independence as an artist.  He crafted and carried the design for a nascent Black Music Institute for years.  Taliesen (the idea) and the work/teaching of Frank Lloyd Wright was one model for this notion.  A new generation of young scholars is now beginning to turn its attention to Bill and the Jazz Composers Guild.  Will they get it right as they assess the history wrapped up in that story?  Early indications show a revisionist bent.  The essential message of artistic independence set in a collegial modality is still right on time. 

Dixon was also notable for telling the truth about the music, both in terms of the sixties and what did or did not transpire, and in his inclination to reveal the technical and aesthetic foundations of the art.  Understand that the early curve of his work teaching took place before the current phase of institutionalization that the music is in now.  At the time that I met Bill, there were few places, and even fewer individuals, that one could go to to learn about the "new thing" and so-called avant-garde jazz.  And finding a modern teaching artist on the trumpet?  No matter what level of development a student was on, Bill shared deep and significant information and methodology at all times openly.  This is still a rarity today.  He believed in teaching as a high art.

-June 21, 2010

image of early 1970s Dixon in his studio at Bennington College, photograher unknown
image of Bill in rehearsal at FIMAV 2010 by Stephen Haynes

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Remembering Abbey Lincoln

Real Art Ways ParkArt Program
Day Park/Parkville
Hartford, CT

We learned Saturday of the passing of Abbey Lincoln. 

I will leave the work of assessing Ms. Lincoln's ouevre and impact to others.  It is worth noting that Abbey was an essential link in a singular strand in the music: Billie Holiday - Abbey Lincoln - Jeanne Lee.  Do take a moment to reflect on the time period/scene/community that spawned Ms. Lincoln and another recent loss, Bill Dixon, and a host of others who (trans)formed (a distinctive wave in the) music that has nourished many of us, listeners and artists alike. 

The recent passing of my mentor/colleague/friend Bill Dixon has brought home the lesson that work is often the best way to encounter and move through grief.  And so,  I am keeping very busy these days.  

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon in Hartford's Day Park, making recycled drums and teaching neighborhood children one of Abbey Lincoln's songs, The Music is the Magic.  They loved her music and I believe Abbey would have loved to hear the children singing her words.  Tomorrow, Rick Rozie and Billy Arnold will join us to perform this work for family and friends at Real Art Ways

"the music is the magic
of a secret world,
a secret world, 
a secret world.
the music is the magic 
of a secret world.
it's a world 
that is always within."

-Abbey Lincoln

images by Meghan F. Quinn for Real Art Ways

Monday, July 05, 2010


Engine Records
Joe Morris/electric guitar
Stephen Haynes/trumpet, cornet & flugelhorn
Warren Smith/drums, percussion, marimba & voice

Last spring, Steve Walcott called to ask if I would consider recording with his singular young record label, Engine Records.  I had met Steve when Taylor Ho Bynum and I recorded our Double Trio in concert at the Festival for New Trumpet Music during the fall of 2006.  I had been following the label since I first heard the recordings that Warren Smith made with tenor saxophonist Andrew Lamb on the label.  Walcott just recently recorded and released Warren Smith's orchestra (Old News, Borrowed Blues).

Steve and I discussed a number of projects that I had been working on, or wanted to spark, settling on Parrhesia.  The trio began in 2005 during my year-long residency at Hartford's Real Art Ways.  The last time we worked together was at La Paloma Sabanera in 2007.  Music needs a place to grow and develop. Here in Hartford Will Wilkins (RAW) and Luis Cotto (La Paloma) welcomed us,  consistently supporting the creative work in a wonderful community-centered manner.  There's no place like home!

In early January of this year, after a week's delay due to snow, Joe and I drove down to Metrosonic Studios in Brooklyn.  The weather was cold and raw in a way that is amplified by the concrete and asphalt of the city.  Ever intrepid, Steve rode his bicycle to work.  Warren arrived with his assistant, and we set up camp in a small room equipped with a bevy of vintage ribbon microphones.  We recorded all the music in single takes.  After listening to an initial playback, we knew that something special was afoot. 

I will leave it to others (and to you, dear listener) to unravel and describe the music that we created.  Buy locally when you purchase the disc.  If you do not have a local record store, I suggest that you to order the disc from Downtown Music Gallery in New York.  DMG is a stalwart supporter of the music, and one of our few remaining record stores (in the classic sense), the type of place that many of us learned (and still do) so much about music and those who create it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bill Dixon and the Way Ahead

These images were taken during the fall of 1981.  I was twenty-six years old at the time, working as an Artist in Residence in the Black Music Division at Bennington College. Bill was fifty-five, the age I am now.  By the summer of 1982, I left Vermont for New York.  Bill and I stayed in touch for a while, but I soon found that I needed to burn the Buddha in order to begin the process of finding my own voice/identity. 

All of this, the searching/discipline, was something that Bill had taught, talked about at length and modeled on a daily basis.  When I finally managed to get back to my mentor I had something to share, something that I had found on my own.  At least that is what I have always thought.

What I missed at times, and what the grief and deep reflection of the past few days has solidly brought home, is that I have always been deeply connected with Bill since my student days, and still am.  Japanese Buddhists talk about the path, being a seeker, and how, once you are on the path, you never leave it.  You may wander off the well - worn road into the bushes but you are, in fact,  always moving ahead, whether the way ahead is clear or not. 

Bill got me started on something and I don't believe that I will truly ever be finished.  And that is a good thing.

Thanks, Bill.  I will always love you.

images of Bill Dixon & Stephen Haynes by Steven Albahari

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Pea Pod Trio Redux

Cityscapes 2010: Restoring and Preserving Hartford's Urban Forest
Knox Parks Foundation Annual Gala
Hartford, CT

I am always happy when the things that I love in most in music happen close to home.  Last night I spent several hours making music with my community garden-inspired ensemble The Pea Pod Trio. The last time we were together was at the Niles Street Community Garden at the invitation of Charmaine Craig, Knox Parks' tireless Community Network Builder.  Over the years, Charmaine has provided many wonderful opportunities to make music in support of our community garden(er)s.  Last night was more of the same and we had a ball together.

Bill Lowe drove down from Boston with his tuba, drummer Billy Arnold arrived from Springfield and our newest member, guitarist Kevin O'Neil drove up from the shoreline of Connecticut.  As Bill Lowe would likely label this assemblage, we are a 21st century territory band.  Take a moment to reflect on the elegant beauty of that notion and it's deep (re)connection to tradition in the music.  

The Pea Pod Trio is beginning to feel like a band, and likely the next step will be adding one more instrument and seriously workshopping some material.  And, though we had rehearsed some material, we scrapped it and ended up improvising in a deep groove for the entire evening. 

Images of Stephen Haynes and The Pea Pod Trio by Andy Hart

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Bill Dixon at FIMAV, Day II

Festival Internationale de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville
Victoriaville, Québec, Canada
May 22, 2010

Festivals can, when at their best, take on the character of community gatherings.   This season, FIMAV has felt like this at times.  Besides the consistent and clear camaraderie of the ensemble, we have encountered Barre Phillips and his son.  Bill had a long chat with Barre and our bassist, Ken Filiano, stuck to him like glue.  Last night, I heard my name called in the parking lot.  This turned out to be  Bruce Gallanter, the owner of Downtown Music Gallery in Manhattan.  Bruce had driven up with a carload of friends and expressed excitement about the music ahead.

This morning Taylor and I met with Bill in his room.  Bill completely re-blocked the component sections of the music.  "I can't have musicians shuffling through pages of music and not paying attention."  We created a new score for the ensemble and set an order for the sections of the new suite.  Bill was quick to remind us that any rule/order exists to be broken/changed.  He has also chosen to attempt something that he has never done, at least in recent years:  rather than play the trumpet, Bill will focus on conducting the ensemble and, at a point, a pre-recorded solo trumpet piece, Shrike, will be inserted in the middle of the performance.

The ensemble gathered for a short meeting.  We distributed the new score, discussed the order and ran through some of the material.  I also conducted a playing 'situation' to make some points regarding what we should all be prepared to do later in the day.  We then scattered for the afternoon.  Some of us had lunch together, went for walks, visited other musicians.  I heard at least one hotel room filled with the sound of ardent practice of the new material.

We opted to move the time for soundcheck up to allow us all to make only one trip to the performance venue.  We met with Bill on stage, setting sound levels, running aspects of the materials.  Bill then launched into his signature story telling mode.  For those of us who study the art of leadership, this is something worth attending to.  Through these rambling, humorous stories, Bill sets tone, simultaneously knitting all the players together and pulling them into deeply-focused listening as a group.  Laughter becomes chorus and we are all in tune with the composer's intent, essence and purpose.  And, not for nothing, we are all a bit more relaxed.

As we wait to work, Michel Levasseur, Artistic Director of the festival, stops by to wish us well.  It is at this point that we learn of a possible power outage.  "If the lights go out, you can just begin again."  Yikes!  We assure Michel that there will be no 'beginning again' and that, if the power fails, the recording of the concert will be lost. 

An hour later we mount the stage.  The house is full, and we feel cradled by deep listening from the first notes of the music.  Bill cues a duet between Taylor Ho Bynum and Warren Smith on tympani. Spirits enter the room and the music slowly unfolds over the course of an hour.  All of us have entered transformed time, and feel as if we have only been busy for twenty minutes when Bill finally draws the music down to silence.  The audience breathes for a moment, then rises to their feet in affirmation.

Michel (and, for that matter, all of us!) is excited by the music and vows to bring the recording to market before Christmas.

Images of Bill Dixon & the ensemble by Isabelle Moisan

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bill Dixon at FIMAV, Day I

Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville
Victoriaville, Québec, Canada
May 21, 2010

We spent yesterday driving to Victoriaville.  This was not as simple as it sounds.  In reconvening the ensemble that recorded Tapestries for Small Orchestra, we gathered musicians from New England, Quebec and Chicago.  And, as is often the case in travel, unexpected events occurred that delayed the arrival of some folks.  I drove Bill and Rob up and arrived at the festival hotel by 6:00 PM.  We were able to settle in and check on the arrangements for our in-house rehearsal space.  We ate a light supper followed by an hour of rehearsal with Bill, Rob and myself.

Bill wrote all new music for this performance, drawing only one piece of thematic material from the Firehouse 12 recording.  "I've been writing for months, and I keep feeling that there is something missing.  What that is I have not been able to determine, " Bill told us.  After the rehearsal, I spent time copying parts and organizing material for distribution to the ensemble.  All in all, we had about ten pages of material to master.  I love copying Bill's music.  His calligraphy is always beautiful to behold and I learn so much from his way of organizing the music. Working with Bill Dixon provides a master class in orchestration and arrangement for those who have eyes for the knowledge.

We began rehearsal late this morning, as the majority of the players arrived after midnight last night.  Bill's focus, initially and throughout, was on (re-) orientation, pulling everyone into the room, the moment and the music, deeply fine-tuning the ensemble focus and identity.  Embracing this and internalizing the music will be a lot to accomplish in a short span of time!  We spent three hours going through the material and absorbing Bill's concept for the music and met again during the evening to continue the work without Bill, rehearsing as a full group and in sectionals.  All of this activity was archivally recorded by Ben Young from WKCR at Columbia University.

I would be remiss if I did not note that an essential element in the success of the music is relational.  Each of has known Bill Dixon for years (37 years for me).  All of us are also connected through years of work in other ensembles and projects over time.  All of that as well as the time spent traveling to the venue, sharing meals and long conversations together blend to create a primary warp and weft for Bill to weave his sonic sensibility through.

Images of Bill Dixon, Stephen Haynes & the ensemble by Isabelle Moisan
Images of Taylor Ho Bynum, Graham Haynes & Rob Mazurek by Stephen Haynes

Sunday, May 09, 2010

New Language Collaborative

Outpost 186
Cambridge, MA

A week ago, I had the pleasure of returning to Boston for an evening of music with The New Language Collaborative.  I have known the members of this trio for some time.  Glynis Loman and Syd Smart I met during the mid-seventies at Bennington College.  Eric Zinman was a later Bennington-related connection, as he arrived there after I departed for Manhattan.  All four of us connect with the creative and pedagogical orbit of Bill Dixon.

The notion for this collaboration sprang from a large ensemble event that Eric put together with Jason Zappa.  Citizens Orchestra was offered as a tip of the hat to Bill Dixon and took place at Outpost 186.  I ended up contributing some music for the chamber orchestra and conducting.  While you would not imagine that one could fit a small chamber orchestra in Outpost 186 we did, and the intimacy of the space along with the mix of local/regional players made for a memorable evening.

As is often the case, we wondered aloud how to continue the work in a manner that made sense.  While Eric has subsequently re-convened the orchestra and aims to make it a going concern, I suggested a return in a smaller context, focused on pure improvisation.

What a delight to be enfolded by the energy of this ensemble!  Reconnecting with Syd and Glynis was wonderful (some things really do improve with time!) and Eric made me want to reconsider my stance regarding working with the piano.

images by Emile S Tobenfeld, PhD

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bill Dixon in Burning Ambulance Magazine

 Burning Ambulance
 Winter 2010

You may remember Phillip Freeman as the writer who interviewed Bill Dixon for Wire magazine.  Phil recently got a notion to create a new magazine, Burning Ambulance, available on demand as either a print product or down-loadable PDF.  He asked me to write a piece on Tapestries for Small Orchestra for the first issue.  I have expanded the original project journal from the Bill Dixon Recording Residency Project at Firehouse 12, adding new commentary and some voice from project participants.

I urge you to support this wonderful project by ordering a print copy.  Tell your friends to do the same.   Follow this link for excerpts from the inaugural issue and to order a copy.  A tip of the hat to the LEF Foundation for supporting the recording and filming of Bill Dixon's work at Firehouse 12.

Image of Bill Dixon by Mark Mahaney for Wire magazine

Friday, January 08, 2010

New Trio Music Recording

 Metrosonic Studios
Brooklyn, NY

I spent last Sunday in the studio with my trio, Parrhesia, recording for Engine Records. You may remember the label as the home of the Double Trio recording I made a few years ago with Taylor Ho Bynum.  I was tickled to get a call from Steve Walcott, inviting me to record again.

Joe Morris played electric guitar and Warren Smith played drums, percussion and marimba.  The last time that the three of us played together was here in Hartford at the transcendent coffee house cum social condenser La Paloma Sabanera at the invitation of the wonderful Luis Cotto.

Suffice it to say that the spirits were in the room.  I do not yet have words to describe the beauty of the music that we created together.  We hope to bring the work to market by June of this year.  Stay tuned for details...

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Bill Dixon in Philadelphia

Rob Mazurek and the Exploding Star Orchestra
Ars Nova Workshop
Philadelphia, PA

Last month, I drove down to Philadelphia with Bill for a concert with Rob Mazurek and Exploding Star Orchestra.  Rob has tried to fold me into the group several times over the past year, so I was excited to be able to join in the activities.

Rob led the ensemble though over an hour and a half of music, mostly joined/linked in a suite-like fashion.  He continues to grow and evolve in his conception as orchestra leader.  Rob has woven a wonderful intentional community centered on his music.  Bill played beautifully, though there were frustrating technical problems with the miking of his trumpet.
  Photos by Ken Weiss