Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Dixon, Ben (Harold)
Dixon, Ben (Harold), drummer, composer, arranger, teacher, clinician; b. Gaffney, SC, 25 December 1934. As an infant, Ben was brought from South Carolina to Washington D.C. by his mother (born Evelyn Singleton, 1918) and began elementary school there. His parents divorced while he was very young. Ben was the only surviving child from their marriage.
n 1944 Ben was sent to live with his father (born O.C. Marcus Dixon, 1915-1998) in Buffalo N.Y. While there, Ben was taught the game of basketball which later afforded him a scholarship to college. Also, his father bought Ben his first set of drums when he was in the fourth grade. Being a paper set, the drums soon had holes in them. Ben never had drum lessons and is self-taught. His earliest inspiration was his father. His father played a three-string guitar, harmonica and he sang in gospel quartets. But, it was the rhythms that his father popped out of his shoe-shine rag that intrigued Ben the most. This led to a steady beating on pots and pans in Ben's grandmother's (Agnes Lockhart) kitchen.
In 1947, at the age of twelve Ben moved back to Washington, D.C. and became totally absorbed in Jazz. When in the seventh grade at Banneker Junior High school, Ben would always leave school and catch the Friday afternoon matinees at the Howard Theater. This was where Ben began to receive his music lessons. It was here that Ben saw and heard some of the greatest Jazz musicians and Jazz bands. He saw and heard the big bands of Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, Charlie Barnet, Chubby Jackson, Lucky Millinder, Harry James, The Dorsey Brothers, Buddy Johnson, Cat Anderson, Paul Williams and many more. Also, the smaller groups of Louis Jordan, Earl Bostic, Charlie Ventura, George Shearing, James Moody, Bullmoose Jackson, Tiny Bradshaw, Tiny Grimes, Jay McShan, Harold "Cornbread" Singer, Lester Young, Tab Smith and Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) which was a virtual who's who in Jazz. Washington was a Jazz Mecca where Ben got a very well rounded conceptual education of the jazz idiom. In addition, Ben felt very blessed to have heard Charlie Parker's Quintet and Charlie Parker with Strings.
In 1949 Ben entered Armstrong Technical High School where he became a member of his first Jazz band. It was a quartet composed of alto, trumpet, bass and drums. The group was mentored and coached by Rob Harley, a Bud Powell influenced pianist from New York. The band did a few gigs, but most of their performing was done in Rob's apartment. In 1953, besides graduating from high school, many honors were bestowed upon Ben. He was President of his graduating class, captain of his schools basketball team which he led to the city championship by defeating the great Elgin Baylor and his team, he received All-High first string honors and was awarded a full basketball scholarship to Central State University where he matriculated for 1 and a half years. It was at Central State that he met Leo Corbie, Phil Wright, Shannon Bell, Tom Gryce and Cecil McBee. There Ben performed some gigs on and off the campus and received his first music reading lesson from the university's band director. In February of 1955, Ben left Central State and went back to D.C. to begin to pursue a career as a Jazz musician. Ben went to work in the post office to buy himself a set of drums. Meanwhile, he worked on borrowed sets with Shirley Horn and Buck Hill. After purchasing a set he began working with Webster Young (trumpet) who became his mentor, Teddy Smith (bass), Buck Hill and Gene Ammons, Leon Robinson, Nat Turner, Ruben Brown and many of the notable musicians in the D.C. area. It was during this period that Ben got his first big band experience with the Jacques Taylor Orchestra.
In the summer of 1956, Ben and Webster Young came to New York. Ben worked in Brooklyn jazz venues with Sonny Rollins, Al Doctor, Rector Bailey, Lucky Ennett and others. He worked as well in the old Five Spot with Dave Amram; and with Herbie Nichols and Wilbur Ware. Also, he worked up in Harlem. In January 1958, Ben went on the road with the Lloyd Price Orchestra for three years. During this time Ben performed on many shows with the top commercial artists of the day. With Lloyd Price Ben recorded eight gold records and a gold album. In 1961, Ben joined Jack McDuff's original trio with Harold Vick. Grant Green joined later. Ben's recording relationship with Blue Note Records began in 1961 and lasted until 1967 when Ben left the music scene for a thirty-year hiatus.
In the spring of 1962, Ben went on a cross-country tour from Brooklyn, N.Y. to Hollywood, CA with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. Later in 1962 until 1965, Ben performed and recorded with the Lou Donaldson Quartet with John Patton and Tommy Turrentine who was replaced later by Bill Hardman. In 1965 Ben joined the Grant Green Trio with John Patton. Also, it was during the 60's that Ben performed with the big bands of Frank Foster, Howard McGhee and Maynard Ferguson as well as the small groups of Sahib Shihab, Jerome Richardson, Hank Crawford, Kenny Dorham, Sonny Stitt, Harold Vick, Stanley Turrentine & Shirley Scott, Kenny Burrell, Charles Davis, George Braith and Sonny Phillips. This was the time when Ben worked and/or recorded with some of the great jazz organists: Wild Bill Davis, Jack McDuff, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Shirley Scott, John Patton, Larry Young, Sonny Phillips, Johnny "Hammond" Smith, Don Patterson, Lonnie Smith, Dayton Selby and Gloria Coleman. Ben also worked with great jazz vocalists Gloria Lynne, Della Reese, Irene Reid, Big Maybelle, Jean DuShon, Earl Coleman, Johnny Hartman, Austin Cromer and Jimmy McPhail.
In 1967 Ben left the music scene to raise his family. He came out again in 1997 and presently performs in the New York area and public schools with his Real Jazz Sextet. Ben has five children: Dawnelle, Benee', Velori, Qadir and Kameelah and a wife of thirty years Olivia Priester, now Dixon.
Say Yes To Your Best (2000)
Ray Draper: Tuba sounds (1957); Baby Face Willette: Face to Face, Stop And
Listen (1961); Jack McDuff: Honeydripper (1961); Grant Green: Grant's First
Stand, Sunday Morning, Best of Grant Green Vol. 1 (all 1961), Am I blue (1963),
His Majesty King Funk (1965), Iron City (1967); Lou Donaldson: Natural
Soul (1962), Signifyin' (1963), Good Gracious (1963), Musty Rusty (1965); Big John
Patton: Along Came John, Blue John, Way I Feel (all1963), Oh Baby (1965);
Richard "Groove" Holmes: Soul Power (1967); Harold Vick: Steppin' Out (1963);
Don Wilkerson: Shoutin' (1963); George Braith: Laughin' Soul (1966),
Musart (1966);"Boogaloo" Joe Jones: Introd. The Psychedelic Soul Jazz (1967),
Mindbender/My Fire (1993); Sonny Phillips: BlackMagic (1970), My Black Flower (1970)
Lou Donaldson: Best of Lou Donaldson Vol. 1 (1998), Blue Break Beats (1998), Man
With a Horn (1999); Grant Green: Blues for Lou, (1999) Have Guitar will Travel (1999);
Sonny Phillips: Sure "Nuff/Black Magic (1995); 2 By 5 Guitar Jazz (1998); 32
Gems from 32 Jazz (1999); Party Jazz (1999); Groove Jammy, Vol,2 (1999); Lost
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