Sunday, July 24, 2011

JAZZ ROOTS

Thaddeus Dixon (Photo by W. Kim  Heron)
I met drummer Thaddeus Dixon when he was a teenager. Dixon was a mentor in the Civic Jazz program sponsored by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. I watched Dixon grow up on the Detroit’s jazz scene. At Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, I attended his debut as a bandleader. Dixon was 18-year-old, organized, and profession. Dixon’s quartet played proficiently many jazz classics.

Shortly after Dixon graduated from the Michigan State University, he toured with some big R&B and hip hop acts. I was happy and concerned. I felt once Dixon got a taste of that R&B and hip hop money he’d quit jazz.

I saw that happen to one of Teddy Harris’s students, Charles Wilson. Harris was an acclaimed jazz piano player, and educator. Many Detroit area jazz musicians grew up in Harris’s big band the New Breed Be Bop Society. Wilson was a promising jazz piano player.

Wilson stopped playing jazz. I heard Wilson was pulling in $5,000 per night touring with pop megastar Timberlake. I was concerned Detroit’s jazz community would also lose Dixon.

I was wrong. At the jazz club Cliff Bell’s, last night, I caught Dixon’s set. He performed with his quartet bass player Josef Deas, piano player Mike Jellick and saxophone player Daniel Bennett. They kick started the set with Invitation, moved smoothly into All the Things You Are, followed by Bye Bye Blackbird and Footprints.

Right now, Mike Jellick is the most exciting jazz piano player on Detroit’s jazz scene. That’s a big deal. Detroit has a bunch of good jazz piano players. I sat near the piano with Christopher Harrington of the Detroit Jazz Festival. Jellick had us worked up like sport geeks after he soloed on Invitation and Footprints. Jellick's fingers zipped and somersaulted across the piano keys all set long. I wondered if Jellick has to soak his fingers between sets.

Daniel Bennett is a mean sax player. After the first set, Dixon told me Bennett was a substitute for sax player Marcus Miller. Bennett clicked with Dixon’s regulars. Bennett’s tone was big and wide like snow tires.

Surprisingly, Dixon didn’t have a sit list prepared. He called the tunes on the spot, and his band mates played as if they rehearsed each tunes for weeks. It never appeared the quartet was winging it.

Dixon’s drumming is stronger than ever. His solos were explosive and short. He amused the crowd  dedicating  the oldie Bye Bye Blackbird to his ex-girlfriend. They broke up recently.

Before Dixon closed the set with Sonny Rollin’s Oleo, he talked about the story in the music section of the Metrotimes. The article detailed Dixon's career path. Dixon had about 30 copies of the newspaper on hand, and he jokingly said he was selling copies for $5.00 each after the set.

I left Cliff Bell’s confident no matter how many hip hop and R&B acts Dixon tours with, he will never stop playing jazz.
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