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Walt Dickerson

Dickerson made a fairly 'big splash' when his first recordings appeared in the early 60s (Down Beat Critics Poll “New Star”, 1962), but he's remained an enigmatic figure ever since. 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 devotees) are Dickerson's long periods of inactivity; no recordings exist between 1966 and 1975, and his last released LP was in 1982. Word has it that he still performs sporadically around his native Philadelphia, even more rarely in New York and the west coast. (Anyone with more information is implored to contact the author!)

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

Source: Damon Short


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