Dixon, Bill (actually, William Robert)

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Dixon, Bill (actually, William Robert)

Dixon, Bill (actually, William Robert) , jazz trumpeter, composer; b. Nantucket, Mass., Oct. 5,1925. He studied painting at Boston Univ. In 1959, while leading his own band in N.Y.C., he met Cecil Taylor and the two worked together for a few months. In 1960 he started to restrict himself to performing his own compositions; he worked intermittently with Archie Shepp in 1962–63. He formed the New York Contemporary Five with Shepp, John Tchicai, D. Moore, and J. C. Moses; Don Cherry later took Dixon’s place. He became the artistic director in charge of the jazz catalogue for Savoy and gave opportunities to many younger artists. In 1964 Dixon promoted and presented a series of concerts at the Cellar Cafe in N.Y. that gave forums to then largely unknown players such as Roswell Rudd, Milford Graves, Paul Bley, and his own group, and to those who were always in need of exposure like Sun Ra. He formed the Jazz Composers Guild in late 1964 or 1965, which was a collective that intended to support musicians independently of clubs and booking agents.

Though the idea had widespread support and members including Taylor, Mike Mantler, Rudd, Tchicai, Sun Ra, and both Carla and Paul Bley, it didn’t last. Dixon began a ten-year collaboration with dancer Judith Dunn in 1965; they presented multi-media events including free jazz and dance concerts at the 1966 Newport Jazz Festival. In 1967 while teaching art history elsewhere, he started a music education program at N.Y’s “University of the Streets", the first neighborhood project of its kind. He has been a full-time teacher since 1968, at Univ. of Wise, at Madison, then Bennington Coll., Vt., where Dixon helped found a department of black music. He left Bennington in 1996, and has since taught as a guest professor at various universities. He went to Paris in 1976 for a week of concerts. In 1984, he was the recipient of a BMI “Jazz Pioneer” award. His compositions have since been presented at jazz festivals internationally. He has also continued to paint, with his artworks gracing many of his album covers, while he has also completed commissioned works and been an artist-in-residence worldwide.


Bill Dixon’s 7-Tette (1962); Archie Shepp- Bill Dixon Quartet (1962); Jazz Artistry of Bill Dixon (1966); Collection (1970); In Italy, Vol. 1, 2 (1980); November 1981 (1982); Thoughts (1985); Sons of Sisyphus (1988); Vade Mecum (1994).


Bill Dixon, L’opéra: A Collection of Letters, Writings, Musical Scores, Drawings, and Photographs 1967–1986 (North Bennington, Vt., 1986); Ben Young, Dixonia: A Bio-discography of Bill Dixon (Westport, Conn., 1998).

—Lewis Porter