Ben Dixon played on many of the most influential and enduring sessions in the soul-jazz canon, including landmark dates alongside Grant Green, Lou Donaldson, and Big John Patton. Born in Gaffney, SC, on Christmas Day, 1934, Dixon spent the majority of his adolescence in Washington, D.C. An avowed disciple of jazz giants Charlie Parker and Art Tatum, he was most profoundly influenced by Max Roach and began playing drums while living with his father in Buffalo, NY. A much-touted basketball prospect, Dixon attended Central State University on a full athletic scholarship but nevertheless chose music over sports, and began gigging professionally in 1955 in support of Buck Hill and Shirley Horn. From there, he collaborated with trumpeter Webster Young before settling in New York City in 1956. A year later Dixon made his recorded debut on Ray Draper's Prestige date Tuba Sounds. In early 1958, he signed on with R&B great Lloyd Price, spending the next three years on tour. Price's band also featured pianist Big John Patton, whom Dixon encouraged to adopt the Hammond organ, at the time emerging as one of the premier instruments in the jazz lexicon. In 1961, Dixon joined organist Jack McDuff's trio alongside saxophonist Harold Vick, later expanding to a quartet with the addition of the brilliant guitarist Grant Green. Dixon, Green, and Patton were together introduced to Blue Note via saxophonist Lou Donaldson, and in the months to follow the three men emerged as the label's preeminent rhythm section during the halcyon days of soul-jazz. Dixon's roll call of credits is nothing short of remarkable, including now-classic albums like Donaldson's The Natural Soul, Patton's Along Came John, Green's Sunday Mornin', Vick's Steppin' Out!, and Baby Face Willette's Face to Face. He was also a composer of some renown, authoring the oft-covered "Cantaloupe Woman" as well as "Pig Foots" and "Fat Judy." However, the grind of session work and touring wore on Dixon and in 1967 he virtually retired from music to concentrate on raising a family. For three decades he rarely performed professionally, but in 1997 he returned to music, forming the Real Jazz Quartet and launching a music education program dubbed "Live at Lunch." In 2000, Dixon founded his own American Classical Jazz label to cut his first-ever session as a leader, Say Yes to Your Best.
Share this page