WALT DICKERSON (16 April 1928 - 15 May 2008)

- vibraphone

photo: Nils Winther

Dickerson made a fairly 'big splash' when his first recordings appeared in the early 60s (Down Beat Critics Poll "New Star", 1962), but he remained an enigmatic figure for most of his career. His early sides demonstrated a sure grasp of the Hampton/Jackson continuum in blazing through standards, but his original compositions on those dates reflected a spiritual, even mystical flavor that was expanded on in recordings into the early 80s.

Dickerson's distinctive melodic and rhythmic approach is complemented by his unique timbre on what is often a cold-sounding and unwieldly instrument - his use of rubber mallets specially-treated to produce a plush and very warm yet crisp sound, immediately recognizable. Of all his recordings, most are in the trio format, none larger than a quintet (with two drummers!), and no horn players appear. There is an underlying current of turbulence yet an overall air of serenity to his work.

Also curious (and frustrating to his small but devoted group of followers) are Dickerson's long periods of inactivity; no recordings exist between 1966 and 1975, and his last released LP was in 1982. Since then he had performed sporadically around his native Philadelphia, even more rarely in New York and the west coast, possibly Europe. His passing in May of 2008 went practically unnoticed, although he did make the New Yorker... (the author only learned of WD's passing in February 2009...)

Among his more noted collaborators are Sun Ra (both in the 60s and 70s) and Andrew Cyrille, who appeared on nearly half of Dickerson's group recordings from 1961 (possibly Cyrille's first major recording?) through 1982.




[(the author is indebted to Messrs. Bill Hery and Terry Martin for 'filling the holes' in his WD collection,and also to Mr. Hery for providing excerpts from the WD section of
W. Bruyninckx' Discography: Modern Jazz Be-Bop/Hard Bop West Coast
(which does not, however, include the 1975 Ware/Cyrille session
or the 1980 45-rpm release)]

Dickerson's discography with individual track information can be found on Peter Losin's website.

An essay on the Prestige/New Jazz recordings by Derek Taylor can be found at the One Final Note site.

An INTERVIEW with Dickerson (the first in many many years!) by Dmitry Zhukov appeared in the Winter 2002 edition of One Final Note. OFN is defunct but some of the articles are still retrievable. This one doesn't appear to be, but it's copied into Hank Shteamer's blog, which is also an interview he did himself! (Thanks Hank!)


This Is Walt Dickerson! (3/7/61) Prestige/NewJazz 8254 (OJC CD 1817-2) Austin Crowe, p; Bob Lewis,b; Andrew Cyrille,d

A Sense of Direction (5/5/61) Prestige New Jazz 8268 Crowe, p; Edgar Bateman, b (sic); Eustis Guillemet Jr. d (sic) [the instruments are listed in reverse; Bateman's the drummer...]

Relativity (1/16/62) Prestige New Jazz 8275 (OJC CD 1867-2) Crowe, p; Ahmed Abdul-Malik,b; Cyrille

To My Queen (9/21/62) New Jazz NJ8283 Andrew Hill, p; George Tucker, b; Cyrille, d [CD reissue, 10/96, OJC CD-1880-2]

Vibes in Motion ( "Impressions of Lawrence of Arabia") (1963) Audio Fidelity 6217 Crowe, p; Henry Grimes, b; Cyrille, d (Bruyninkcx lists this as recorded 1963, The label on my copy gives the date as 6/66, but I suspect that this is the release date of the reissue).

Unity (3/6/64), Audio Fidelity AFSD 6131 (reissued Chiaroscuro CR 2011, 1978) Walter Davis, Jr. p; Tucker, b; Bateman & Cyrille, d

[Bruyninkcx lists two unissued tracks with Bob Green, p; Mike Taylor, b; Edgar Bateman, d, Hilversum, 1/12/65]

Impressions of A Patch of Blue (1965) MGM E/SE-4358 Sun Ra, p & 'celeste' (sic; it's actually hpschd), Bob Cunningham, b; Roger Blank, d

Tell Us Only the Beautiful Things (7/21/75) Whynot (Trio) PA-7118 Wilbur Ware, b; Cyrille,d

Peace (11/75) SteepleChase (Inner City 2042) - reissued on CD (SC 31042) with an extra 5-min track (the CD also erroneously changed the recording date to 11/76) - Lysle Atkinson, b; Cyrille, d

Walt Dickerson 1976 (?/76) Trio/Whynot MTCJ-2009 Rudy McDaniel (Jamaladeen Tacuma), e bs; (one track); Ware, bs (3,4,5) Bateman, d (one track solo vibes)

Serendipity (8/11/76) SteepleChase SCS-1070 (reissued with an extra material on CD -SC 31070) Live recording; Rudy McDaniel (Jamaladeen Tacuma), e bs; Bateman, d (bassist listed as Tacuma on CD...)

Divine Gemini (2/9/77) SteepleChase SCS-1089 (CD SC 31089) Richard Davis, b

Tenderness (2/9/77) SteepleChase SCS-1213 (CD SC 31213) Richard Davis, b

Shades of Love (11/6/77) SteepleChase Direct Cutting SCD-17002 Dickerson solo (CD reissue 1998)

To My Queen Revisited (7/6/78) SteepleChase SCS-1112 (one alt. take on CD SC 31112) Albert Dailey, p; Andy McKee, b; Jimmi Johnsun, d

Visions (7/11/78) SteepleChase SCS-1126 (about 25 min extra material on CD) Sun Ra, p

To My Son (9/29/78) SteepleChase SCS-1130 Live recording; Andy McKee, b; Jimmi Johnsun, d

Landscape With Open Door (9/30/78) SteepleChase SCS-1115 Pierre Dorge, g

Warm-Up I / Warm-Up II (9/30/78) SteepleChase SCS-1980/81: A 45-rpm single of solo vibes - possibly a promo only - two c. 5 minute tracks subtitled "The 1980 SteepleChase Artist"

I Hear You John (10/2/78) SteepleChase SCS-1146 Live recording; Jimmi Johnsun, d - CD reissue, 1995, SCCD31146, with additional track including Andy McKee, b

Life Rays (2/82) Soul Note SN 1028 Sirone, b; Cyrille, d

[there are also a number of (probably unauthorized) live recordings, including a 57-minute solo set from 1979 and a duo with Sun Ra from 1980]

.........and since then, apparently, silence.

compilation/comments by Damon Short -- corrections and additions welcome (last updated 20 Feb 2009)

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