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