Thursday, June 14, 2007

In Full #1: Walt Dickerson

hello, hello...

long time, no post, but i've been cooking up this new feature, "In Full."

basically "In Full" will consist of unedited interview transcripts. over the years, i've spoken with many musicians for various outlets (Time Out New York, Signal to Noise, Jazz Times, WKCR, etc.). one thing i've always regretted is how much of these conversations i have to abandon when the story in question finally goes to press.

i realized that i had a ton of these transcripts archived and that it might be fun/informative to publish them in full on this blog. so here we are. the archive includes talks with everyone from Rashied Ali to Zach Hill of Hella, Steve Lacy to Mick Barr of Orthrelm. so please stay tuned for future installments.

for this kick-off edition of "In Full," the choice was a no-brainer. four years ago, in June of '03, i spent an afternoon with the vibraphonist Walt Dickerson, who is quite simply one of the most intense people i've ever conversed with. if you're not familiar with Dickerson, he made a few straight-ahead hard-boppish discs in the early '60s, and then a fairly out-there one called "To My Queen" (which featured early appearances from Andrew Hill and Andrew Cyrille). years of silence followed, and then in the late '70s, Dickerson re-emerged playing some extremely ethereal and gorgeous free jazz, released on an incredible series of Steeplechase LPs. after that, there was one record for Soul Note in '82 and then nothing since.

in 2003, i did a piece on Andrew Cyrille for All About Jazz and we got to talking about Walt. according to Cyrille, he was living in a suburb of Philly and was easily reachable by phone. i arranged to do a story on Dickerson for Jazz Times, called him up and then paid him a visit soon after. i had an incredible time and, as you'll read, came away thinking that i was actually going to be able to arrange some new recordings or performances for Dickerson. but it was not to be: he never returned any of my follow-up correspondence, and to my knowledge, he never even saw the piece that i published in Jazz Times. i've tried several times to get back in touch, but to no avail. at least i have this document of an incredible afternoon.

for more Walt info, please check Damon Short's database. there was an earlier interview with him in the webzine One Final Note, but it seems to have gone offline. as far as i know, my talk w/ Dickerson is the longest one currently on record. it goes without saying that if anyone knows Walt's whereabouts, please urge him to get in touch. as you'll read, he's truly an amazing thinker, both musically and philosophically. without further ado, here's part one of our talk. (i've done my best to comb the transcript for typos, but please let me know if i've overlooked anything...)


Walt Dickerson Interview
near Philadelphia, PA; 6/29/03

HS: So you’re from Philadelphia?

WD: Philadelphia, yes, place of birth.

HS: And you were born...

WD: Obviously [laughs]. I engage in a bit of levity from time to time; that makes it very wholesome. I don’t really adhere to dates. To get caught up in the chronological aspect of things over a period of time can have a detrimental effect on the mind and the body, thinking in such a restricted area as the chronological factor or that mode. Since yesterday and tomorrow are today on the space-timeline of infinity, that helps me to remain free and unfettered. So that’s my response to “When?”

I’ve seen some things happen to many people that were caught up in the chronological aspect of things: “This is supposed to happen at a certain point in your life. That is supposed to happen at a certain point in your life.” Part of what makes that happen is that belief that it should happen at that point in one’s life. There again one brings it on one’s self because of choice; the choice is believing in that chronological aspect of things. So I remain ageless; beautiful dynamic, vital and strong.

HS: You’ve said that two of your biggest influences were “The Two Johns,” Dennis and Coltrane. Can you tell me about your relationships with them?

WD: Well we came up in the same era, the same vicinity. We shared thoughts about life, which cannot be separated from our musical projections. What you hear in the musical projections are really our view and study of life, and we had tremendous interchange. The interchange was heaviest between John Dennis and myself; we were inseparable coming up, like the inseparable twins as such. He was allowed to create when he came to our house; he could not create the music that he desired to create in his house because of the restrictions leveled by his, quote [finger quotes], “religious” parents. My parents were religious also, but they loved music. My mother was a pianist; my father sang in a choir. And my mother always encouraged John and myself, and he would play for her and she enjoyed it tremendously. John also had a photographic mind, very capable of also doing three things simultaneously. As so often happens in America, his genius did not yield the fruits that it should have.

Trane, we discussed things a lot, and the discussions were very thought-provoking; they stayed mainly in the musical sphere: things we could do, superimpositions in particular. Because this was not embraced by the main cadre of musicians. They called it [finger quotes] “safe ground”; they’d rather be on safe ground. For some reason even early on, to me that was very restricting because I heard things outside of, quote, safe ground, beautiful things that were even against some of the things that were taught in the universities, as far as musical projections were concerned. So sometimes at first, you would venture and then you would withdraw from that area; when you were aware that you were there, you would withdraw. But while you were there, it was so enjoyable, and the only reason you withdrew was because the teachings, the Western teachings that we were exposed to in the university, conservatory, we realized later how restricting some of these tenets were. I had nothing but the greatest of admiration, love and respect for the genius of John and John. And I realized later that we were not part of the herd mentality—not abjugating [???] anyone, merely stating a position of choice. John and John.

HS: So Philly Joe Jones and Eric Dolphy were the ones who welcomed you to New York?

WD: Well, Philly Joe I knew from Philly [i.e., Philadelphia]. Eric I ran into when I went to the West Coast, and we had a nice relationship. When I performed in Los Angeles, Eric used to sit with my wife most of the time, just about nightly. So I knew Eric from Los Angeles, but Philly Joe was the one that told the people at Prestige about me, and that was the beginning of that relationship, Prestige and myself. That’s Eric and Philly.

HS: Can you tell me about “To My Queen”? It seems like that record was a real breakthrough for you.

WD: Well, there is a way to talk about a person that you find ineffable through music, and my queen [Dickerson’s wife, Liz], being that ineffable person, music was the way that I could express those very beautiful, poignant, intellectual, brilliant, beautiful sides of her. So therefore it couldn’t fall in the realm of most songs or most compositions in the genre but had to escape those restrictions in order to exemplify her. And it doing so, it did open up a new vista of explorations, followed later by several not-to-be-mentioned musicians. It was a very, very happy experience, and I go back to that periodically. I return to that periodically, restating that which is ongoing in our relationship, which is forever.

The individuals that I chose for that outing knew my queen, and their artistic projections spoke of that. Andrew Hill: beautiful projections. George Tucker [sighs]: a rock, sensitive. And of course Andrew [Cyrille]: flourishings, nuances, bracketing the different motifs; he was awesome, and remains to this day, as does Andrew Hill. Two awesome, creative musicians. I don’t consider them musicians; I consider them artists in the highest sense. They’ve surpassed that category, “musicians.” Periodically those are the individuals I miss because now I do more, just about exclusively, solo performances, which by the way that’s what John Dennis did after his stint in New York, after his stint with Max and Mingus. He didn’t care any more for the New York scene. And if you listen to that album which is now a CD, you will understand why. The album that he made with Max Roach and Charlie Mingus, it was originally on the label created by Max and Mingus called Debut, that was the label, and if you listen to that, you’ll understand more and share in his wizardry. After that, solo performances exclusively, John, which I enjoy, solo performances—free and unfettered, initiated by To My Queen; I think that was the subject; that was the premise of this particular theme.

HS: It seems like you and Sun Ra had a lot in common philosophically.

WD: Philosophically we had nothing in common [laughs], strangely enough; that’s why I enjoyed his company. No, we didn’t. I was the reason why he made certain changes in his surroundings at my suggestion, but I enjoyed what he was about, and therein was the camaraderie. Sun Ra was a teacher, and sometimes teachers need to be fed other than what they teach; that’s where I came in. That’s why I used Sun Ra on several of my recordings. He did a marvelous job; I wanted that difference; I wanted that uniqueness that he brought to the table.

The sad aspects of the journeys of the individuals that we speak about I don’t discuss because I negate that from the ether that surrounds me. That’s not compatible with my cosmic surroundings; therefore, it has no place in my mind or my speech patterns except to say that it did exist. I deal exclusively with the beauty of the person and the person’s artistic projections.

See these are themes; these are motifs that we’re talking about. This is all part of a performance. As we discuss things, these are themes; these are motifs. That’s what life is about. Let me share something: [reads] “Consider the seemingly infinite number of ordinary conscious beings wielding power throughout the rational civilizations, existing among the universes - plural. Most of those conscious beings have the power to create far beyond any imagined creations of a mystical god, and unlike the miracles of a made-up god, conscious beings’ creations are real, accomplished naturally within the laws of physics. Each such conscious being, for example, has the power to create an endless number of universes from an endless number of universe-containing black holes existing at every space-time point throughout eternity. Even so, most of those conscious beings have technologically and economically advanced so far that they have long ago in their illustrious forgotten histories abandoned the creation of universes as an inefficient, primitive activity.” Motif number three.

Now we’re beginning to see where our power lies. Now we understand why we’re not one of the mass. Now we better understand our inescapable uniqueness. Now we better understand the circuitous route we have chosen. Now we better understand the awesome powers that each person has. Some are consciously aware of that power while others are not, but all have that power; all are born with that power, but because of the system that they’re born under, that power is usurped, negated, and they are taken on another route. Many never access it- the power that is theirs, the creativity that is theirs, the beauty that is theirs, the geniuses that they are. Computer technology? Ten-thousand units of information density per inch. Human brain? One-hundred-thousand units of information density per inch. Central nervous system? Approximately one-hundred-billion cells, which means you have the capacity to store all of the information in the world today with space left over. Fact and honesty liberates you from the confines of the system. Oh, what a genius you are! That’s motif number ten.

HS: I think I lost count!

WD: They all intertwine, like the music; that’s what they are. That’s where the music that comes forth; that’s what it’s about. Some say, “In the beginning...”. That always stirs a bit of curiosity in me: “In the beginning....” That’s interesting. Existence. Well, existence is axiomatic; existence has always existed. Hmmm... Existence has always co-existed with human consciousness. Hmmm... But they said, “In the beginning...,” but what I just said... Non-linear, far-from-equilibrium situations bifurcate into potentially endless fractals in any finite space. This process self-organizes into patterns of near-perfect order, reaching over potentially limitless distances. Thus evolves not only the cosmos and life itself, but all productive work, creative thinking, and limitless knowledge. “Oh, there’s a tie-in to what you just said.” Of course they all dovetail; that’s a part of the infinite flow.

“Gee whiz, I haven’t heard you in New York lately; I really would like to hear you play, Walt.”
“Are you reading this interview?”
“Then you’re hearing me play. Take a listen.”
“Yeah, Walt, but I’d like to hear you play-play.”
“Just give a call; that can be arranged.”

HS: You mean you would play?

WD: Am I playing?

HS: I’m sure you’ve been asked to come to New York to play...

WD: Oh, I do have restrictions; you’re right. I do have restrictions; yes, I have. I’ve been asked. No clubs, no smoke environment. Concert hall? Fine. Simple. I’ve seen too many suffer from it- various maladies due to those environments- smoke-filled. It’s quite a workout performing. You do take in what is around you in great amounts, and it does have an effect. I care not to expose my body or mind to those things that are going to be detrimental to my body and mind- my being. A home can be very spartan. The people [are] who make it a beautiful affair; that’s all that’s necessary. And I’d be in New York to perform in a New York minute.

HS: So it could be a private environment?

WD: Private? Public? Like one of the theater complexes that used to be down around Houston. Yeah, they have many of them in New York, those venues. That is where I would perform. Yeah.

HS: I would love to arrange something. Would you perform on campus?

WD: Of course. I performed on campuses many times.

...[discussion of arranging a performance at some point]...

WD: Beautiful day. I just drink it in, just sit out here and drink it in. Usually my spot is right over there- Right over there I take that lounge chair, and I put it all the way back, and I take off everything off but my drawers, and I stretch out in the sun right there. Yeah. My wife says, "Now don't stay there too long," but I love the sun; it seems to pull out all the impurities.

HS: Why were there such long breaks between your recordings?

WD: You would have to ask the recording industry about that. I'm not one to go in search of because I am. Therefore, if you are knowledgable, intelligent, and about the progress of the music, and your position is that of a recording entity, then you should be ringing my phone, giving me a call, or knocking at my door. I mean individuals are put in that position to expose the public to the best. And I realize that they don't do that; they don't go in search of that. It's convenience factor, whatever it is, or a hunger factor that they look for. Whatever; only they would know, but it hasn't and will not ever inhibit my creative flow; that's ongoing. So if they care to give the public something that is life-giving because we must remember the creative flow is a life-giving flow, and those that are about creativity are projecting and injecting life into the recipients, which I think is most noble and wholesome. So, Walt is here, ready to record. Give me a call; let's sit down at the table and do what is best for mankind.

It's so revealing when you say, "Well, this is a wonderful, civilized society, so this should never be overlooked." But unfortunately, since it is overlooked in many instances, then we have to ask ourselves, "Is this a civilized society, or anti-civilization?" Hmmm. Ooohhh! [sarcastically] Now we realize that civilized societies do exist elsewhere, far more advanced than this society that we're exposed to, realizing that where I'm from- Maybe that's the fear. Maybe the creations of one not restricted by this society in one's artistic projections is speaking about a civilized society or a society other than the present that we exist in. Now does that bring about a fear in the upper room? In the glass chamber? ... and facts. Therefore those being exposed to those projections will be awakened. Now that's something to consider when you realize the concerted effort made to avoid sitting down talking to one of that ilk. One has to think about those things and then put it in its proper context, and this counters what the attempt is to suppress which causes stress, which takes one out of the picture, causing all types of maladies, resorting to irrational behavior. But it doesn't have that effect on the ones that we're talking about, that we've discussed because they're aware, they're much too aware of the overall structure of things to allow that to happen to them. Yes, they've seen it happen vicarously, and then they made a concerted effort: "No, not yet; no." So, in all the attempts to do that, to suppress it, it still rises up; periodically, it rises up: a recording over here, a recording over there... It still rises up, but you say, an American company to embrace this, to embrace these unique individuals and say, "Well, this would put America at the forefront, because that would take America forward." Why? Because they don't fall into the pattern of playing what is expected or what has come before? Yeah, I guess there obviously is fear of what it might do to the individuals who hear, really hear the music because all of it has an effect. They realize the detrimental effect that some music has. Well, it has a detrimental effect; it has a beneficial effect as well, and this being what it is, it would have to have a super-beneficial effect on those individuals whose ears behold the music.

So, we're about America progressing; we're about people all over the world progressing because we bring the civilization of the universe to a decadent anti-civilization. I don't have to point out to you, a very intelligent young man, the signs of decadence that abound, the destruction, carnage that abounds, the wars, the greed, man's inhumanity to man that abounds. That is the opposite of what the music is about, and most people are starved for the opposite of those things. Therein lies the power of the music: enlightenment, awareness, uplifting, inspiration, never be the same, clarity, vision, heightened, senses heightened; facts and honesty.

Statements made to me by people in general, by, quote, "classical performers" who comprise a good percentage of my audience in many places, one thing in common they say, this statement: "I never heard jazz like that," which denotes quite an obvious restriction in the projections that they have been exposed to. But you see, when it comes from beyond here [gestures to body], of course it wouldn't be what they're used to; it would be outside of those limitations, those unhealthy boundaries. I say, "No"; my reply would be, "It is music for your mind, not your derriere." "Oh, I see; good." And we end on a jovial note. They're happy with the explanation, and I'm happy that I could give them that explanation. Enlightenment. That's why I think discussions are very helpful concerning the music, not from the technical aspect of the music, but from what the music encompasses, what it consists of, what goes into it.

I think schizophrenia, what a segue, [reads from notes]—“Contrary to common belief, schizophrenia is not a split or a dual personality, which is just one of the many possible symptoms of schizophrenia. Rather, the disease of schizophrenia is the detachment of consciousness from objective reality, which is required to convert one's precious conscious life into a destructive parasite or into a humanoid.” Schizophrenia: Motif #12.

Where we live, where we live presently, not restricted by because one does have the choice. My choice? Not to be restricted.

HS: Why do the Steeplechase records sound so different from your earlier recordings?

WD: That's part of the continuous development of the artist. Segment, segment, segment comprising the infinite flow; that's part of the segment, yes. And for you to be aware of it means that you're at the top of your game in analyzing the segment, segment, segment. Yeah, that's part of the flow, that's part of the creative process, that's part of development, yeah; that's part of the growth patterns. And we're either part of the growth patterns or stagnation becomes the modus operandi. Yeah, that's what it is.

HS: So many musicians make the opposite movement, a creative regression.

WD: Well, anything that goes forward can go in reverse.

HS: Do you notice that pattern in other musicians?

WD: Um, no; no, I haven't noticed that pattern. And if I noticed it, I wouldn't say it. The beauty is in evolving. [to Liz] Hi beautiful! ... Yeah, that takes care of that.

HS: Could you discuss your unique use of vibrato?

WD: Because of the things that I hear, it requires more dexterity to play what I hear, and the overtones, or overlapping of sound is part of what I hear because that's part of the whole. See there's a lot of things going on, and I'm familiar with the speed of sound, or maybe with those things approaching, or maybe with those things equated to, and that's part of my overall persona. So what is done pianistically with ten fingers, I enjoy attempting to do it with two mallets because that's what I hear. So what you hear becomes you quest to produce, and in that quest to produce, you find a way to do it. Again, there's no format on it having been done before, which makes it a unique approach, an innovative approach to the instrument, which is where the intertwining, the overlapping of harmonies come into play because I hear outside of the, quote, "normal progression of things." And in order to do that, to perform that, there are various things that I have to do to access those things, and they come to you.

You see, it's already there, it's already there how to do; the "how-to-do" is already there; the book has already been written, how to do whatever it is you want to do which may sound strange to some people, but I told you previously, your powers that all of us have.
So, when you realize certain things, it opens up the door to other things. Knowledge begets knowlege, compounded; ways to do come to you. You don't have to go to the library; I never went to the library to find out, to the library of music or looked in any particular repertoire to find out. It's there; the book is already there! Open up the book! Written a long time ago. You would understand what I'm saying because of the previous things that we've discussed; you don't have to go outside of one's self for certain information; it's already there. Focus; focus on it! What is it you're looking for? Focus on it! It's there; the answer is there, but we've been taught, "Go over to that station, and pick up the information; go over to that station, and pick up this bit of information." I understand that! I too was a victim of that. That's how I know, from experience. That's how these things come about, the way that I play came about and continues to come about. Remember, creative flow is the infinite flow: limitless, unending, forever. What an awesome realization.

See, in our discussion, or rather, this interview, I'm really telling you about yourself: things for you to think about, meditate on, turn it over, inspect it, doubt it, prove it wrong, and in the process, in the final analysis, one day, I'll see you, and you'll come to me, and you'll give me a big hug, and you'll say, "Thanks, Walt." I'll say, "You're welcome, Hank." That's my purpose for being: disseminate that information which is beneficial to all. It takes one life, one's life and puts it on another level: comprehension, apprehension, not an evasion of, but an apprehension of reality qua reality.

I'm looking forward to my next release. It's already done, whenever they call me.

HS: You’ve recorded something?

WD: I said, "It's already done." It's completed already. I'm not playing everyday for naught; I'm producing; I'm creating everyday. That's why I said, "The next outing is already done." When the call comes, that'll complete it...

HS: Is the vibraphone integral to your concept?

WD: I feel as if the vibes are my natural instrument, yeah. It's just that the things that I hear are outside of the things that had ever been done on the instrument. And it's because of where I draw from, the source that I draw from. No precedent has been set in that area, no reference to that area, and I respect everyone that attempts to play any instrument, and in particular the vibes because I'm aware of the enormous difficulty involved. But because my pursuit has been one of not having been before, the area, and not what is expected, maybe that's the fascination I have with the instrument, with music per se, and in particular with the vibes because the area, the limitless area that I care to become involved in, therein lies my uniqueness, yes.

HS: Do you hear other musicians exploring that limitless idea?

WD: You know, Hank, I had models early on. Then, your quest becomes all-consuming, and you've accessed the unlimited area of creativity. So, occasionally, I'll listen to John and John, relax, in my relaxing moments, occasionally. Other than that, I'm listening to the sound waves, the music that's carried by the ether that surrounds us. See those sounds never leave that are put into the air; it doesn't matter the confines; there's always sounds around us. You hear the sounds now [motions upward to birds singing]. That evokes other sounds; that's audible. Hence, there's a sea of sound. We just don't consciously listen, open up, auditory perception, and hear that sea of sound that we're in consciously. So much to draw on! And that's twenty-four hours! It doesn't matter where you are; so much to draw on. We're so rich; our library is inexhaustible: sounds, infinite sounds.

When I do listen to John and John, I'm saying, "Thanks, buddy; thanks; thanks." Then I realize how much work I have to do. Inspiration point, back to work. Work is pleasure; pleasure is work. Playing is pleasure; pleasure is playing. There all one mass of pleasurable pursuits, so therefore, the hope is that it gives the listener, the listeners, pleasure because that's what it's embedded in; the projections are embedded in pleasure. Pleasurable pursuit. It's a pleasure to learn; it's a pleasure to grow; it's a pleasure to think; utilizing one's faculties to the utmost is a pleasure. Choose the pleasures in life. Whatever you do, make it pleasurable, and life becomes pleasurable. What a way to spend every day. It doesn't matter the task, doesn't matter. I choose happiness; I choose to be happy. This is a pleasure [sips water].

HS: I think your music demands to be heard on a very focused level, with undivided attention; so it cultivates the type of deep listening you’re speaking of.

WD: That's interesting, Hank; that's interesting. And you said it; in your statement you said it: It demands to be heard. That's it. You can think that you're not hearing it, ok. Sometimes, you know, you might have a young lady, you might go out to listen, you might have a date, say, "Let's go hear some music." Maybe she's not aware of the music. Maybe she's aware of the music per se, but she hadn't heard Walt, and heretofore, you go out, you have a cocktail or two, you listen; what you're doing while you're listening is you have your periods of conversation. Understandable; that's the usual. But, when you go out to hear Walt, something happens; there is no conversation, only periodical, only periods of making a statement, one to another, concerning music, what's happening with the individual concerning the music, how it is affecting the person with regards to the music. So, then the music is demanding, and it's also all-encompassing, so that after that performance the two of you have a lot to talk about, but it isn't usual, how you usually come away from a performance and what you usually speak about after a performance; yes. And that's the beauty in it, hopefully more stimulating, and maybe you remember some things, maybe you feel some things that you haven't felt. And it wasn't a meter thing—tick, tick, tick, tick, tick—it wasn't a meter thing; it wasn't a groove thing, but there was a stirring of the emotions on another level, and this hadn't been invoked before. It's what I've been able to gather from the remarks brought to me.

I know some things of a very personal nature have been told to my wife by women concerning what was happening to them while they were listening to the music, which I found very interesting. [laughs] But so be it; it was good, or wonderful. What an experience: the power of the music. I know it has allowed me to focus in a very positive area.

I understand the categorization of music. If you care to categorize a music, I could hear, irreversibly, but I really don't adhere to categories at all. I see things in their totality, not in their segmented manner that man has superimposed upon them. "Did you like the music?" "Fine." That's all that's necessary, but I understand why. But on another level, as you and I talk, again, it should be part of the educational process, but unfortunately, it isn't, which again falls into the category of limiting, limiting unfairly.

But then again, having lived in many countries, I don't even adhere to that; I don't subscribe to that: this country, that country. In our travels, my wife and myself—because I never travel alone; my wife is always with me—we found beautiful people everywhere, and we've been guests in the homes of many people. When our children were younger, this [backyard] used to look like a U.N., children from many nations in the summertime coming to visit and stay with us and our children; that's how they grew up. This enriches one's life oustide of the cubicle of their, quote, "country" or "community." I don't see lines: "these people, those people"; I don't see lines; I know better than that. Again, the superimposition by man, creating lines of differences where no differences in reality actually exist. These divisions don't exist in the civilization of the universe which periodically tries to come here and is here in the presence of some of us.

And we've been places, very posh restaurants, elsewhere (that's how I state it sometimes when we get outside of that context: "elsewhere"). When the beautiful people that we were guests of in their homes would say to us, "Walt, Liz, [let me] show you something," and we'd say, "What?" This happened several times, in various places. "We're going to show you; when an American walks through that door, we're going to show you the difference. See if you can pick them out when they come through that door; it's a game." And invariably, you could pick them out when they came through the door: attitude, pompous, too-grating mannerism, acrimonious tongue [sighs]. We never had a problem with anybody; anywhere in another country did we ever have a problem.

So there were times when it would be discussed, the mental attitude: attitude, attitude. Those that are in touch with the civilization of the universe are cognizant of this. And there have been artists—artists, not musicians; artists—that have been in touch with the civilization of the universe, and we know by their projections that they have been in touch and are in touch. Better stated, one of their kind, we're aware of the institutions and the disservice that they have done to mankind on this planet, and coming to rectify the situation is a tremendous task; but then that is our duty, and we perform it with grace and honor in the face of constant opposition which does nothing but crystallize what we're about.

These are the things that in my discussions with students in particular I talk about, I discuss with them. That's why there's always such a variance in an audience that will come to hear me perform, a variance in all areas, they would say; a variance. I remember a concert at a church in New York where the promoters said, "I never saw this before in my life." There were over fifty bikers there, leather-wearing bikers. After which, they asked for a meeting with me; I obliged. They procured a room outside of the auditorium for us to meet; it was one of the most interesting meetings I've ever had. I didn't know I had fans that were bikers; you see, I didn't see them any differently than anybody else; they were people just to me. So therefore, "Let's talk; let's communicate; let's exchange views; let's get into each others' heads; let's enjoy each others' company." And that we did, the wife and myself; we had a ball. Unusual? Yes. Different? Yes. A ball? Yes. [laughter].

Life's experiences are something else, things of beauty that you never forget, forever. And it goes on and on with, as they say, "different groups" again; "You were with these people?" "You were with those people?" This is how others view meeting. Or, "You were with those people?!," "You were with those-?" Ahhh, please, please, please; people are people; let's get together, c'mon! [laughs] When will the madness cease? "Ok, we're doing our best, we're doing all we can to eradicate the madness" because that's all it is: madness. Irrationality; irrationality. Oooh; aaahhh: perceiving that group as that group as that... Irrationality, a prime example. Let me see; let me see; let, me, see. Aaahhh.

Motif number twenty: [reads] “What does it do? Irrationality. Today in our young, earth-bound civilizations, the eventually fatal disease of irrationality is eradicating the future of all human beings.” Hmmm... "Would you clarify that a bit Walt?" "Sure." Irrationality reduces and eventually stops the accumulation of new knowledge needed to prosper and ultimately to survive. Hmmm... Irrationality does that and more. Irrationally damages and eventually destroys the conscious mechanism for processing and accumulating knowledge. Motif number twenty.

I have no part in it. Honesty and facts are what we're steeped in. I have no part of irrationality or any of its neighbors; I'm aware of the lethal effect that it has upon one. Knowing that, we cast it aside; if someone cares to project it into our space, we just as quickly eject it, rendering it harmless to us, of non-effect. Not a part of the civilization of the universe, not akin to in any way. The awareness of it is quite a beautiful motif; it brings forth a beautiful motif: the awareness of the irrationality, yeah.

And they build upon each other; one beautiful motif yields another beautiful motif; that motif in turn yields another beautiful motif, ad infinitum.

[to be continued...]


John said...

serious VIBES! lolz

no seriously, intriguing stuff, would it be asking too much to get MP3s of dude's later work?

Harris Eisenstadt said...

wow man, thanks for posting. shame he's never returned your calls after the fact. talk about "talent deserving wider recognition!"

Dan said...

Incredible interview...thanks for posting!

Cary said...

Walt Dickerson : The OFN Interview
by Dmitry Zhukov

Walt Dickerson is an enigma. His LPs are desired by collectors, his music is universally praised by fans. He hasn’t released a record in twenty years, reviews of his concerts do not appear in jazz publications or on the internet bulletin boards, he did not become a professor, retire or otherwise give up. Where is he, then? He is HERE. Read on.

On the way here I was listening to one of your CDs that was recently reissued in Japan, Walt Dickerson 1976, on the WhyNot label.

I see. WhyNot was a big label in Japan, the equivalent of Columbia here.

I was lucky to buy this disc, the only time I saw it was in Los Angeles this summer, and I haven’t seen it since. They surely sent you some copies.

No…no. WhyNot? I did two things for WhyNot and also one for the Soul Note. Who’s on this one?

Jamaaladeen Tacuma is on it and Leon Bateman. And Wilbur Ware on one track.

Yes, Wilbur Ware, a great bass player.

They haven’t sent you a copy? I’m surprised. Soul Note, yes, the Life Rays disc. Sirone and Andrew Cyrille are on it [This 1982 session is the last Walt Dickerson record to be released…so far]. Yesterday night I was listening to one of your records with Richard Davis, a beautiful duet record.

Divine Gemini, it was for my wife’s mother. She was like a mother to me. She treated me like I was her son. It is rare when you meet a young lady and her mother treats you like you’re her son. I never referred to her as my mother-in-law, she was always mom to me, and my wife’s father was an exceptional man, before we were married he reminded my wife as to my true calling, what I was really about. He was the man who really loved music, Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday were his favorites, so he reminded my wife that I was first and foremost a musician. He was a very wise man, so I was fortunate to meet a young lady and in the process gain a father and a mother.

Your kids also became musicians?

No, none of them. My son could’ve very easily become a musician, he had a lot of raw natural talent, played tuba, trumpet and bass, everything was too easy for him, he was a natural, he could’ve played anything he wanted to play. He had the dexterity of both hands on the bass, but he didn’t want it, no. He would always say, ”I just want them to treat my father right.”

How did you start on the vibes? It’s such an uncommon instrument.

It was a natural progression for me. Music was always all around me. My mother played a piano, my oldest brother was a concert violinist, my next brother was a concert pianist and tenor. He won numerous awards, all in the classical vein, so that’s all I heard coming up, various arias, operas, Puccini, Scarlatti, Brahms, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Ravel, I was introduced to them all very early in life, before I knew what I was listening to, so I grew up on both the music from the church and classical music. In junior high school I picked up saxophone, as a matter of fact this was my first instrument, and then clarinet, and then drums in senior high school, and then vibes. I was experimenting with various instruments until I landed on the vibes and that was my senior year in high school, and that’s the instrument I fell in love with. That was the beginning.

When did you decide you wanted to become a professional musician? There must have been so many things you could’ve done. Why not classical music?

I was really leaning towards philosophy as a major. Philosophy came very easy for me. I had a knack and love for it. That became my second major. Early on I was going to teach it, get my doctorate and teach, but I found myself spending more hours playing, and every weekend I went to a club to perform, while still going to school. I played with various combinations and offers came and I became more deeply involved in the music, so I was leaning away from going into the teaching profession rather than performing, so that’s basically what happened. I found myself performing more and more till it became THE thing that I wanted to do the most.

At that time, being in Philadelphia, you met many musicians, people who would become famous, influential…Coltrane, many others.

Well, John and I, we played in a big band together, the Jimmy Heath Big Band. It was a fantastic band, with the likes of Benny Golson; as a matter of fact when I was in high school he used to come and get permission from my parents so that I could make the gigs. Nelson Boyd was on bass, fantastic bassist, Bird wrote a tune for him called "Half Nelson." Specs Wright was in the band. That’s where I first met John, in the big band. We always had good relationship conversing idea-wise, we found certain mutual interests, we were leaning similar ways musically, which was a deviation at the time. Later, in the sixties he would come to the Five Spot where I was performing, and he was playing around the corner, so he and Eric [Dolphy] would come, because when we were on, they were off. I loved John and I loved his music, he became very spiritual, you could hear that in his music. My spirituality…I was really groping to find the base spiritually, I couldn’t find my niche, I was uncomfortable, I heard this, I heard that, but I was uncomfortable, I was still probing, doing my homework and you could hear that in my music.

What about Ornette Coleman, in the early sixties you played the same clubs.

I became familiar with Ornette earlier, on the West Coast. When we first got married, we took a honeymoon there for two years, we drove cross country and stayed there, away from everybody so that we could get to know each other, my wife and I. It was a beautiful experience. We wound up in LA, as a matter of fact we opened a club there, called The House of Vibes, where musicians could come, and they all came through the club, Charles Lloyd, Ornette, many and all of them, Nancy Wilson, Cannonball [Adderley]. It was the meeting place. We had that club for two years, and then for recording purposes I moved to New York. In the process we came through Indianapolis and met the Montgomery brothers and Freddie [Hubbard]. As a matter of fact I told Freddie to come to New York, likewise some people from LA followed us here.

You were a couple of years older that Lee Morgan, another Philly musician that you knew personally, no doubt. Such an unfortunate story.

Yes, I knew him well, and Hank Mobley, another unfortunate story. Drugs. You see, that’s why I wasn’t one of the boys. If you didn’t indulge, you weren’t part of the circle. I was outside of it, I was the guy that…I wasn’t cool.

A lot of people were doing it then…

Most. You were IN if you were a part of that, if you weren’t a part of that you were viewed as rather strange. So I was rather strange, respected, but strange. I’m happy today because of the self-discipline I displayed at the time, I wasn’t one of the guys, but happily so.

It took some sense to stand up to that, because of people all around and temptation was probably severe?

There was a recording company that…if you didn’t [do drugs], you didn’t record. It shall remain nameless.

So many people passed away or finished their lives in obscurity because of that…many musicians, and also people who listened to the music too, the fans.

There were individuals who wanted to play so much like Bird, that they would sponsor a party where they would procure the drugs, invite Bird and in the process there would be Bird’s blood in the syringe, so they would inject his blood into their veins. My thinking was that the music was from the Source, and connecting to that Source was the key to how you would project the music as opposed to shooting up. I would see individuals nodding, falling off while playing. So I thought that’s not what the creative process was about, and I said to myself, "No, something is wrong here, I’m not going to travel that route.” I saw the damage it did and I knew that I would have no part of that, so I became Walt the Outsider. I had wonderful conversations with those individuals, and they would say, "I’d love to be like you, man. I don’t have…I just can’t do it, Walt.”
I would say, "Sure you can do it. It’s about you, it’s not about that”. So I would let them know it was them and not drugs making the music. Actually, they were much more creative if drugs weren’t involved. They would say, "Yes, I know I did it, but I’m into it now.” Then I would say, "Same person can pull you out of it.” I never put the blame elsewhere, but sometimes they would, see, but I wouldn’t allow them to, I would make them reconcile with themselves. I said, "You don’t need it, you can do it, it’s all about you, it’s not about the drugs.” They’d say, "Boy, you’re strong, man!” I wasn’t stronger than they were, I just made a decision that I didn’t need it, I used to say, "I love me too much to do that to me.” They would agree, say they loved themselves too and then they would say, "I see you, I have to go now.” I did what I could do, but it didn’t matter. I was under the same pressure they were, I was trying to raise the family, I needed the money, but I couldn’t get a record date every other week, like them. See, that’s why certain companies had so many recordings, oh, just pumping them out because in the studio would be for them only a bowl off in the back with the goodies in it.

That’s not a widely publicized fact…

Of course not! A bowl…all day, run them, run them, pumping them out. If you weren’t in it, you didn’t bring anything to the table, they’d rather replace you with someone who was doing it too, and would bring something to the table. In other words when they all got paid, it was party time, the man would be right there on the premises.

What’s your opinion on race relations in jazz music?

On my first album I had a white bassist, Bob Lewis, on some albums I did for SteepleChase I had Andy McKee. Strange, I never thought of it that way. If I heard a person and liked what they were doing, it’s all that mattered. It’s here [pointing to the heart], not here [pointing to the eyes]. It’s an auditory art, this has nothing to do with it, but strangely enough, the producer came to me and said, "You know, there’re a lot of black players, bassists, that would love to record with you and I personally think they’d do a better job.” And I asked, "Why do you say that?” He said, "White bassists don’t play with the rhythm that black bassists play with.” I said, "You realize that’s your opinion. I don’t deal in opinions. Your opinion means nothing to me, bring me a fact and I’ll entertain it. I only deal in facts and honesty. Opinions, assumptions, keep them to yourself. That’s not asking for too much.” He never approached me from this standpoint again. I tell you who I loved, Al Haig, the things he did with Bird. I thought a lot of the things that Bill Evans did were very great. Again, tragic.

Same things can be said about you and your instrument as are said about him. He influenced so many pianists…

He set the stage for many of those explorations of Miles. He laid it out, you couldn’t help, but dance to it. Certain things, certain cushions he laid, like clouds, and you can dance on those clouds that he laid out.

McKee was on To My Queen Revisited and To My Son and on I Hear You John, all SteepleChase records. Which one is your favorite from that label?

You should also get the Shades of Love, it’s a direct-cut record. I’m proud of that one.

I know, but I couldn’t find it anywhere [since then I found it and it is indeed a disc I’m proud to own and listen to often.] They added an alternate take of one of the compositions to it, that I know. I wish it was easy to find. Another direct-cut record I have is by one of your fellow Philadelphians, Marvin Hannibal Peterson. Excellent disc. Which brings my next question, why haven’t you recorded with any trumpeters or sax players? Was it a conscious choice or just they way it happened?

I had several offers to record with the individuals I highly respected, but the moneys were never what I thought they should’ve been. That was the reason I turned them down. There was the thing, "If you do this, some other good things will follow,” it was that type of hook that was always presented, that was the type of exploitation that was present in that particular time, so that’s the reason I didn’t do it at the time, with individuals that I would like to have recorded with.

Who, for example?


It could’ve been an amazing record…

Most say that. He did record with Milt Jackson, but that wasn’t the pure John. He was holding back because of the surroundings. I found that to be an albatross sometimes one surrounds himself with other individuals. I found that out in Norway, sidemen were having a wonderful time there, so after about the fifth concert [we were doing them almost every night in different towns] they became physically drained, because they were busy partying after concerts, and I would go to a hotel with my wife, and she saw to it that I would rest, so we could get ready for the next town and the next concert. So I would be up, full of energy, I had my tablespoon full of honey, and I remember one night I was carrying the weight on my shoulders, and it was weighing down on me, I dropped out, and I let the pianist play, and then when I wanted to enter I had everybody drop out when I played. It was the most beautiful excursion of the entire trip. I remembered that it stood out, I was not weighed down, I could explore, I could go into areas that in all probability some of the others couldn’t follow me comfortably; you could always detect when your sideman isn’t comfortable where you go, and that has a restricting effect, 'cause you feel it too, and then you come back to the “familiar ground,” so as to put them all together again. So, during that solo excursion it was so unrestricted until it was like flying and moving about with ease, in and out of different situations, in and out of chordal progressions, uninhibited, so I began to introduce it again and again. So, the more I did it the more I realized I was liking it, solo. And I incorporated it more and more into the concerts, so when the time came for me to record, I did the whole album solo. The producer said, ”It has never been done, and you’re taking a formidable task, solo record and direct cut, we can’t have any retakes.” I never thought of retakes, because I always thought it was like concerts, I never perceived any difficulties, as such, so I put that direct-cut out of my mind, and treated it as if it were a solo concert, and I’ve done many of them, so I incorporated that mindset into the record. Two sets of vibes, and I came to really love the solo aspect of performing.

Speaking of your instrument, it sounds different from many other vibes players. Why?

Tonality, tonality, that’s what you’re referring to. That’s a conscious thing on my part, because I never really liked the harsh approach to the instrument, I wanted a certain plushness when a note was struck as opposed to a very percussive approach. I worked on that consciously, even adapting my mallets so I could arrive at that as close as possible. And I found that the approach, the adjustment of the mallets, the softness of the mallets allowed me to arrive near the plushness that I mentally sought. Those were the things that went into my approach to the instrument.

The mallets that I saw downstairs, they’re usually woolly and much longer than what you have.

I cut them down for a control factor. I don’t care to reach out and get groups of notes with multi-mallets, that’s not in my scheme of things. I’d rather get a cluster of notes with two mallets, which means very accurate speed and I formulate that cluster in such a manner where you think you’re hearing more than two mallets. My objective was to play and to be just as prolific with two mallets as a pianist with ten fingers. I think of Billie Holiday and the words to the song that she sings so magnificently, “The difficult I’ll do right now, the impossible will take a little while.” That always spurred me on, when someone else might say, "That’s impossible.” These are the areas I like to operate in, the areas considered impossible. People creatively fearless go into those areas, as opposed to staying on safe ground.

That is actually part of an answer to the question I was going to ask you. How did you arrive to the way you were going to play in the context of the music played in the late fifties and early sixties? Your albums for New Jazz are different from the styles and techniques of other vibe players who recorded at the time.

In many conversations we had with John Coltrane over the telephone we would share notes, ideas…
There was a pianist, a genius whose name was John Dennis, who had photographic memory, we were like inseparable brothers, we always shared notes. I think if there were any kinship to my approach it would be John and John, pianist and saxophonist. Of course I loved the master himself, Charlie Parker, so that’s where my head was, centered around these three individuals, communicating with them. John Dennis did one album with Max and Mingus. Everyone that came through Philly, they were fearful of him, he was just that awesome. After he did that album, he came back, we talked, he wasn’t thrilled with the scene at all, because he knew artistically he was far in advance of that which was going on. John Dennis was the kind of individual…picture this if you will - when he would hear a piano concerto, he’d talk with you while it was being played, and then he would play the entire concerto, nuance for nuance.
His record was on the Debut label that Max and Mingus ran. When they heard John, they had to record with him. There were those of us who came from parents who were, in today’s lingo, fundamentalists, in other words, the music that we played was not acceptable to them. It was considered devil’s music. Strange. These were the people who considered themselves devout, religious people, his mother and father both were clergy people, they both were ministers, and he couldn’t play the music at home. They had a piano in the living room, and he could play what they considered sacred music, and he played with the choir, it was wonderful, but he couldn’t play "Cherokee" at home. So he used to come over to my house, my parents were very religious also, my father was a deacon, my mother was a deaconess, but they were not fundamentalists, in other words, music was acceptable. My mother would inspire us to play. John would come over and play the music, and she would tell him how beautiful it was. At the time I had a set of drums and we would play a duo. My mother was the inspiration, the music was beautiful to her. Whenever John wasn’t home his mother always knew where he was, and she would call my mother and my mother would say, "Yes, John is here and I’m fixing dinner for them now.” “It’s all right, Mrs. Dickerson, as long as he is in your house.” So he continued to grow, playing the piano at our house. Later on he started doing singles in different places, different bars, and he fell out of favor with his mom and pop. You know, when you have parents like that, they can afflict the child, and they had him thinking that what he was doing was evil and that’s the kind of pressure he was under, and that caused us to search into religion even more so, and he could understand why I was very respectful of my elders, manners, yes madam, no madam, yes sir, no sir. John’s parents loved my manners, and they asked me periodically what kind of music I played. I learned a long time ago about honesty. I would say-
-The greatest music I know of…
-What kind is that?
-I think you call it jazz.
One time his mom asked me if my mother knew that I played that kind of music.
And I said, "You know, Mrs. Dennis, my mother is the most intelligent woman I know. She’s my first friend. And she says it’s all right, so it doesn’t matter what everybody else says, because she’s my friend.” She never approached me after that, concerning the music, but that’s because I spoke honestly. Of course John became weaker as we began to explore different areas, and then I went off to the university, and he succumbed under that constant pressure, so much that when I was ready to record I called John, and then came home to Philly to seek him out, and I found him in desperate physical condition. You see, it has a physical effect when an artist cannot continue to search and develop his artistry, something happens to that person both physically and mentally. There seems to be a conscious desire of wanting to go, to leave that level of existence, to be elsewhere, out of it. I’ve seen it happen too many times, and that’s what happened to my brother John Dennis. I learned that many people die from a broken heart, nothing wrong with them physically, they’re brokenhearted and just give up. They want to go, and when certain things happen to the artist, he falls into that mental framework, whereby he actually wills himself to go. And that’s what happened to John, and contrary to popular opinion, that’s what happened to John Coltrane, although there was a physical affliction that set in later, but you see, those who clambered and spoke of John in glowing terms came much later, when John was turning the most beautiful artistic corners, scaling the highest heights and going into unlimited forays, those musicians around him found him very unnerving. There was one individual who said to my wife when we came to a performance at a club…at the time John was with Miles and we had just gotten married, when we walked in the club John started playing "Here Comes The Bride," of course Miles was otherwise, "I hope you lock her up,” [imitates Miles Davis’ raspy voice], when we came back to the East Coast, and she said to one of the sidemen, "How is it going?”, he said, "Oh, my days are wonderful, but my nights are kind of weird,” as a matter of fact he was looking forward to going to the West Coast to join someone who played very hackneyed type of stuff, up top superficial, so that’s who John was surrounded by in his latter days. He was still reaching, but not understood by his sidemen. Remember, they left, one by one.
I remember when I was performing in Baltimore, and he was performing in Newark, I think, just the two of them, Rashied Ali and John, he called me and said, ”Walt, you know, I’m playing these things, and the audience, I don’t know, they hear what I’m doing, but the owner expresses dissatisfaction.” I was experiencing the opposite, place was packed to capacity every night, but I was doing a lot of solo work, heavy into that, some sets I would play just by myself and I would say to the sidemen, "I have this set,” but the audience was glued, they loved it. Maybe it was the instrument, I don’t know. So I said, ”John, you have to play you and I have to play me. We never prostituted our hearts, so we’re just that type of people, we play what we hear. I guess I’m really not concerned that much by the audience, but my wife is always in the audience, and she’s my barometer.” John said, ”That’s beautiful, Walt, but I don’t have that. I know, Liz is always there for you, but I don’t have that.” So the owner cut him short, he paid him, but he cut him short. That was heartbreaking for him. You’re giving it all, you know that artistically it’s beautiful. That can have a very disheartening effect on some people, and I’m sure that’s what happened to him after I talked to him that time.
Many people were affected by what was going through in his latter years, and then…some were making fun of him, they couldn’t do it, so they made fun. And then when a person dies, they’re the first ones to say how great he was. Come on! The hypocrites. At that time they became his friends, but before he died they were not…
So, if at the time you have a physical condition, it begins to feed on that negativity, on what’s going on musically, and it makes it worse. Whereas some of us have learned to express a desire from day to day on what that day is going to constitute, to bring happiness, good health, wealth; they realize they have the power and will it to be. Big difference! So, the things that don’t set YOU back will set back others, send them in a tail-spin. But it doesn’t happen to me, because I know I’m in control, so I turn the adversity around. Every day becomes a joyous occasion. I’m thankful and grateful, but not in the traditional sense…

Mr.Dickerson, you recorded with some marvelous people, all throughout your life, one of them is also out of the spotlight, he disappeared after your first albums. I’m talking about Austin Crowe.

Excellent pianist! Last I heard, Austin was in New York, playing classical music. Again, the scene, as it was then…Austin came from a very religious background also, so the scene did a lot to drive many great musicians away. He had a couple of things with Philly Joe Jones, and he came back and told me, "Never again, never again.” He was stranded in the Midwest, played two weeks of engagement and no way to get home. Some people can’t take those kinds of experiences, so I heard he was playing classical piano. I understood. He would say, "Any time you call me, I’ll be there.” As a matter of fact, years later, when he heard Shades Of Love, he told me, "I remember, Walt, how you used to turn your instrument in reverse and practice for hours.” It’s a challenge, something different. Yes, Austin, a wonderful pianist, a wonderful person… Some of the youngsters got turned away by the scene. It happened to my son, he saw his pop go through things which he thought were totally uncalled for, and even though my son was a natural on many instruments, he didn’t want anything to do with it.

You were one of the first few vibes players who played something other than what came before them. After you many others followed. Bobby Hutcherson is perhaps the most well-known player of the last three decades. When I hear his sixties records, his best work in my opinion, I hear a lot of things that you were playing, steps you took in uncharted waters. Then came the others, but I don’t see much acknowledgment of that. All you have to do is listen.

I’ve heard that it is quite a compliment when you hear yourself. Some say, “Pinching some of his music...” is a much more acceptable way of saying that someone has reached over into your repertoire. I’ve also heard it stated that nothing adventurous happens on vibes until I record. Then you hear some other things from some other people. It seems as though they wait to hear what’s next and on that note I’ll read something that came to me, and I put my pen to it. Here it is, "I desire that my music serves up enticing side dishes to many succulent entrees, bringing in history and a recipe or two, and for dessert disseminates wise guidance in usage, allusions, and other lexicographic matters for the enlightenment, health and enjoyment of ALL.” Signed, The Harbinger.
I think that this takes into account what we were just talking about. I know who I am, I know the role I played in the progression of the music, and I made sacrifices accordingly. That’s why every day for me is a halcyon day. See, I see it in the wholesome way, and when you can drink the wholesomeness it keeps your creative juices flowing. Many times when I go over to my instrument, things come, sometimes in a flurry, epiphany. And you become ecstatic that you become a vehicle for these outpourings, so regardless of what happens, it does not have a detrimental effect upon me, only the wholesome effect. That’s the only way I’ll allow it to enter into my domain, otherwise I’d suffer like so many others.

I apologize if that struck a nerve.

No, it doesn’t bother me when you speak of any of the fellows who play vibraphone, the reason being that I respect anyone who approaches this instrument, because of the amount of difficulty in mastering it. I respect those, all of them!

What did you do from mid-sixties to mid-seventies, when you didn’t record at all?

I performed in clubs, in colleges, universities, did seminars, enjoyed my life, my wife, my family.

The two Impressions albums, how did they come about? It’s a rather unusual concept in a way that they were not commercial albums of film music.

Well, both were telling a story, a story of the times, Patch of Blue was definitely telling the story, dealing with sensitivity, with the race issue, dealing with a handicap, all of which I could relate to. Lawrence… today would be right in step, wouldn’t it?! Same at the time of its release. I received complementary letters from both composers, which I found amusing, because they loved what I did, my impressions of their music. I could’ve followed through, if I were interested in commercial music, and did other things with movie scores, and I was invited to do so, but I didn’t. Those two scores were the ones I enjoyed. They were brought to me, so I had to find out the whole story first before being committed, but I enjoyed the challenge.

Did you write all the parts?

Always sketches, and hopefully they [the sidemen] have the artistry to fill in. A very fine bassist on Lawrence, Henry Grimes, he had a brother who played tenor sax very well.

Which people that came before you, aside from Bird, were an influence?

Big bands, I liked Dizzy’s band, Billy Eckstine’s big band I liked very much, a lot of great musicians came from that band. Those were the two big bands that captivated me a lot. Then there were show bands, Tiny Bradshaw, Erskine Hawkins, gee whiz, Chick Webb, I looked at them as show bands, Gene Krupa with Roy Eldridge, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, you could go and see them in a theater, but I was mostly affected by smaller combinations, Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy, Louis Jordan, the fun bands.

Did you watch Ken Burns' Jazz?

I only saw a short segment of it.

Do you listen to the music being played today?

Very seldom. Not consciously, but I felt that if there was something extraordinary, it would be brought to my attention, but since it hasn’t…I don’t yearn for listening.

Who do you listen to at home?

I’ll tell you what I will do occasionally, after I’m finishing practice at four o’clock in the morning, quiet, everybody’s asleep, that’s when it seems as though creativity abounds, in the early morning hours, it’s not stifled, it seems to flow, uninhibited, I found that to be, afterwards, when I’m ready to unwind, ‘cause I can’t just go to sleep, I will put on Bird or Bud, or Tatum, sometimes John, but purposely I don’t play John for another reason [taps his chest], I don’t like sadness sometimes when I hear certain tunes and compositions before going to sleep, but that’s about it. I might also put on Billie or Sarah [Vaughan], or Johnny Hartman. That’s about it.

[October 2001]

I’d like to express my gratitude to Mrs.Dickerson for accepting a stranger into her home and to Mr.Dickerson for being sincere. A gigantic thank you goes to Mr.Alan Lankin!

To contact Walt Dickerson about future concerts and festivals, please email him at or fax at 215.659.3429.

peter breslin said...

Hi- Thanks for part one of a remarkable interview. I have not heard nearly enough Walt Dickerson, so thanks also for posting Shades of Love above.


Daniel said...

Thank you so much. Walt's music has meant a ton to me,he was my first live jazz experience when my father took me to see him and Cyrille at the Village Vanguard, about 17 years ago while I was still in high school.
Since then, I can thank him, Odean Pope and Max Roach for helping inspire me into my own studies of this music. R.I.P. Walt, with much love and "Good Earth"
Daniel Peterson, Philly, Pa.

crownpropeller said...

Thanks for this great interview (incidentally i read part 2 first). I found a circa 1954 AFN broadcast by the Walt Dickerson Quintet from germany. You can find all of the information I have about this (including two soundfiles) on my blog: