Mister Ben’s Tempo

BEN DIXON (1934-2018) –

Drummer Ben Dixon sadly passed away on November 8. Flophouse reached out to Pete “Doodlin’ Lounge’ Fallico, who posted a RIP on Facebook. Through the grapevine, Fallico heard about someone who attended the funeral: ‘Apparently muslims bury or cremate a body the next day after death. Ben was a quiet person who did not have a web presence, hence the lack of information.’

Dixon was one of the great organ jazz specialists. He was born in Gaffney, South Carolina and grew up in Washington D.C. and Buffalo, NY. Early in his career, Dixon played with Buck Hill, Shirley Horn and Webster Young. During Dixon’s three-year stint with the popular r&b singer Lloyd Price, Dixon met John Patton, whom he persuaded to take up the Hammond. Introduced by Lou Donaldson to Blue Note’s Alfred Lion, Dixon and Patton (plus guitarist Grant Green) went on to form a prolific tandem on many of the label’s now-classic soul jazz albums of the early and mid-sixties. He quit the music business in 1967 but resurfaced in 1997 with The Real Jazz Quartet. His only album as a leader, Say Yes To Your Best including organist Adam Scone was released in 2000. Dixon’s discography as a sideman includes a series of albums with Lou Donaldson, Grant Green and John Patton, George Braith’s Laughing Soul, Ray Draper’s Tuba Sounds, Stanley Turrentine’s A Chip Off The Old Block and Baby Face Willette’s Face To Face.

The work of Ben Dixon is textbook material for aspiring soul jazz drummers. Playing in an organ group requires some adjustments and a whole lotta groove. Ben Dixon’s meaty hi-hat on the 2 and 4 constituted a tight pocket. His bass and ride cymbal locked tight with the organist’s bass lines. He accented changes, turnarounds, bridges and shout choruses with press rolls, but not excessively, so as not to disturb the flow and uses lively snare and tom figures to inspire the soloists. This way his accompaniment is an arc of tension, more tension, heat, release… Throughout, Dixon swings, grooves, makes sure those toes keep-a-tappin’. His shuffle was rock-solid. Dixon also wrote a number of catchy tunes like Cantaloupe Woman, Pig Foot and Fat Judy.

Check out Ben Dixon’s style on Brother Jack McDuff’s Whap!, Grant Green’s Miss Ann’s Tempo and Lou Donaldson’s Funky Mama.

Harold Vick’s Our Miss Brooks and John Patton’s Fat Judy. Picture of Ben Dixon.

Ben Dixon was 84 years old.

(Thanks Pete Fallico of The Doodlin’ Lounge and Jazz Organ Fellowship)

Don Wilkerson - Shoutin'

Don Wilkerson Shoutin’ (Blue Note 1963)

For his third and final release on Blue Note, tenor saxophonist Don Wilkerson teamed up with a cookin’ crew that suits his style to a T. His debut on Riverside in 1960, The Texas Twister, hadn’t quite fulfilled his potential. His Blue Note-sessions were elevating and more successful. Shoutin’ maintains the enamouring blend of r&b and jazz of his previous Blue Note recordings, Elder Don and Preach Brother!. Not in the possession of a big sound, Wilkerson instead relies on a lilting tone and uplifting, bouncy phrases.

Don Wilkerson - Shoutin'

Personnel

Don Wilkerson (tenor saxophone), John Patton (organ), Grant Green (guitar), Ben Dixon (drums)

Recorded

on July 29, 1963 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4145 in 1963

Track listing

Side A:
Movin’ Out
Cookin’ With Clarence
Easy Living
Side B:
Happy Johnny
Blues For J
Sweet Cake


Wilkerson was born in Louisiana and had spent a big part of his life in Texas. He played with rhythm and blues artists Amos Milburn and Charles Brown, as well as jazz luminaries Sonny Clark, Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray. He was part of the early Ray Charles band and functioned as featured soloist on classic hits such as I Got A Woman and Halleluja I Love Her So. So Wilkerson gained a bag of priceless experience.

It isn’t hard to imagine what those men presumably liked in Wilkerson. His alluring tone and candid delivery are at the heart of the medium-tempo Movin’ Out. Coincidentally, it has the structure and bounce of the early Ray Charles tunes; and their fresh elan as well. Wilkerson also displays subtle swing, which he employs to great effect in the ‘breathy’ ballad Easy Living. In it, the influence on Wilkerson’s style that shines through most prominently is that of Paul Gonsalves.

Cookin’ With Clarence is an example of this group’s solid interplay. These men share a lot of r&b experience. John Patton and Ben Dixon both had been part of Lloyd Price’s popular rhythm & blues orchestra. Grant Green played r&b and blues during the early part of his career in St. Louis, notably with Jimmy Forrest. The tune is an uptempo showcase for all involved, stimulated considerably by the climactic sections at the end of the ensemble choruses, that catapult the soloists into action. Don Wilkerson is swift as a rattlesnake. Grant Green is a spirited presence. His phrasing is fluent and his strumming confident and aggressive. John Patton’s lines are crunchy and fiery, inspired by the unisono background figures of Wilkerson and Green. Meanwhile, Ben Dixon’s probing rolls and cymbal crashes stoke up the fire. Both Movin’ Out and Cookin’ With Clarence are Wilkerson originals.

The modal-type tune Happy Johnny is also a Wilkerson composition. The variation in Wilkerson’s solo is more on the rhythmic than melodic side. Blues For J is a slow blues of the afterhours-kind, relaxed but driving. Sweet Cake, a tune from Wilkerson’s Louisiana friend Edward Frank, is a shuffle that strolls along nicely and includes a dynamic John Patton solo.

Wilkerson would continue to perform in the r&b field in the sixties and seventies. There are few, if any, players like Wilkerson today. The type of musician in the mixed zone of r&b and jazz, that matured after traveling the route of the chitlin’ circuit: the black neighbourhood music scene of local bars and small clubs. Nowadays those kind of musical breeding grounds are largely non-existent. Hence the virtual absence of contemporary saxophonists in the straighforward but sophisticated vein. Therefore, Shoutin’, is an example of a bygone era. It may be history, but it sounds lively as hell.

Harold Vick - Steppin' Out

Harold Vick Steppin’ Out (Blue Note 1963)

I hear a lot of Dexter Gordon in tenorist Harold Vick: a similar way of blowing forcefully, of bending notes and freewheeling easily between the lower and middle register. Beside the Dex comparison, there’s the blues, the core of Vick’s style. It’s the prime reason why Vick blended so well with organist Jack McDuff, whose group he was a part of during the recording of Steppin’ Out!. Steppin’ Out!, indeed, sounds very much like the output of his boss from that period: an r&b and gospel-tinged repertoire and a beguiling atmosphere close to that of a live club date.

Harold Vick - Steppin' Out

Personnel

Harold Vick (tenor sax), Grant Green (guitar), John Patton (organ), Ben Dixon (drums)

Recorded

on May 27, 1963 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4138 in 1963

Track listing

Side A:
Our Miss Brooks
Trimmed In Blue
Laura
Side B:
Dotty’s Dream
Vicksville
Steppin’ Out


The musicians in question benefit from being acquainted to one another. Vick knew Grant Green from the guitarist’s stints with McDuff. Moreover, at the start of their professional careers, Vick, organist John Patton and drummer Ben Dixon played in r&b-singer Lloyd Price’s band and later on joined forces (along with Grant Green) for John Patton’s album Along Came John in the spring of 1963, recorded a mere six weeks before Steppin’ Out!. Finally, about that time Patton, Green and Dixon were becoming a remarkably tight soul jazz team, recording together on Lou Donaldson’ The Natural Soul and Good Gracious, Don Wilkerson’s Shoutin’ and Grant Green’s Am I Blue.

Drummer Ben Dixon deserves special mention. Dixon spurs his colleagues on, displaying flamboyant press rolls and ‘crash cymbalism’, accentuating the blues-based changes meticulously. Dixon’s share in the album’s succes is immediately apparent once the opening track, Our Miss Brooks, has been kicked off. It’s a Vick original that was also in the book of McDuff’s group and as such recorded as opening statement on Somethin’ Slick. Even if Dixon’s style is tough, it’s more polished and less in possession of a rock&roll edge as that of Joe Dukes, his fellow drummer, who was in McDuff’s group at that time.

It’s easy to understand why Our Miss Brooks was a McDuff favourite. It’s a delicious, medium-tempo blues, containing the kind of changes that give you the feeling they’re exactly where they supposed to be. The group performs it with apparent joy. The soloists, Green, Patton and Vick, inject into their tales an extra bit of energy. Vick’s part is a down-home treat from start to finish.

Besides showing unadultered emotion and a charming nonchalance that instead of being confused with lack of technique signifies maturity, Harold Vick also proofs to be a writer of compelling soul jazz tunes. Trimmed In Blue is a McDuff-style cooker including a standout Patton solo; Dotty’s Dream contains a carefully crafted tale by premier hard bop trumpet player Blue Mitchell and Steppin’ Out! is a joyful shuffle that more or less functions like one of those typical live ‘farewell’ tunes usually called The Theme and such. You’d expect to hear Vick incite applause from the audience by introducing the musicians on the bandstand any minute.

However, Steppin’ Out! is not a live show but one of the principal organ-sax combo studio releases from the early sixties.

Grassella Oliphant - The Grass Is Greener

Grassella Oliphant The Grass Is Greener (Atlantic 1967)

It gets to you. That slow draggin’ beat of Get Out My Life, Woman that makes you think you’re listening to an alternative backing track of the Allen Touissant tune as performed by Lee Dorsey with Clark Terry ‘singing’ through his pocket trumpet, flavored with the lazy horns that state the well-known theme and the added bonus of John Patton’s greasy organ. A surprising start to a hip record by obscure drummer Grassella Oliphant.

Grassella Oliphant - The Grass Is Greener

Personnel

Grassella Oliphant (drums), Grant Green (guitar), John Patton (organ), Harold Ousley (tenor saxophone A1, A2, A4, B1, B3, B4), Clark Terry (trumpet, fluegelhorn, pocket trumpet A1, A2, A4, B1, B3, B4), Major Holley (bass)

Recorded

in 1965 in NYC

Released

as SD 1494 in 1967

Track listing

Side A:
Get Out My Life, Woman
Ain’t That Peculiar
Soul Woman
Peaches Are Better Down The Road
Side B:
The Yodel
Cantaloupe Woman
The Latter Days
Rapid Shave


Well, not that obscure. A number of hip hop artists have plundered The Grass Is Greener for beats, as well as Lee Dorsey’s funky recording of Allen Touissant’s composition. Think what you like about these methods – whether it’s pure theft or a mature artistic effort – at least they had good taste.

I wouldn’t call The Grass Is Greener an all-out smash, though. One’s search for a bit of flair in Oliphant’s drumming in the two jazzier bits will remain fruitless. And from the soul and funk-jazz tunes that luckily comprise the main part of the album, Ain’t That Peculiar (the 1965 hit for Marvin Gaye that was written by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles and was a very popular cover among soul jazz artists of that period) doesn’t really pick up steam and is redeemed largely by the sharp-as-a-tack presence of guitarist Grant Green. The rest, however, and especially organist John Patton’s compositions Soul Woman and The Yodel are on the ball from start to finish.

Both tunes receive an unconventional snare treatment by Oliphant, a continuous, rollicking roll that is continued throughout. It’s powerful and stimulating for the other musicians. The Yodel is a particularly heavy cooker in which Patton and Green trade red hot solo’s. With such hard bop giants in tow, it’s hard to go wrong, and Oliphant doesn’t.

A comparison with John Patton’s album Got A Good Thing Goin’ (recorded April 29, 1966), that also has got Grant Green aboard, is justified. An uncommon figure of three tunes overlap with The Grass Is Greener: The Yodel, Soul Woman and Ain’t That Peculiar. It includes a version of the latter that runs smoother than Oliphant’s take. John Patton’s originals are cookin’ and faster executed, including outstanding Green and Patton solo’s. Nevertheless, I prefer the earlier 1965 versions of The Yodel and Soul Woman, that possess the added tenor sax of Harold Ousley on The Yodel and a more ‘southern’ feel. Both fine albums, I dutifully stipulate, deserve a place in your shopping bag.

Grassella Oliphant (nicknamed “Grass”) dropped out of the business in 1970, only to return professionally after a 40-year hiatus in 2010 in the New Jersey area. He won’t make the cover of Downbeat Magazine, but will undoubtly serve the citizens of New Jersey a tasty and spicy meal.

John Patton - Accent On The Blues

John Patton Accent On The Blues (Blue Note 1969)

Accent On The Blues, John Patton’s ninth release on Blue Note delivers on the promise of the title. John Patton’s association with the blues on this 1969 session is of a deeply groovy kind. It’s a good record but would’ve been better if Patton’s sidemen were either in finer form or more experienced.

John Patton - Accent On The Blues

Personnel

John Patton (organ), Marvin Cabell (tenor sax, saxello, flute), James “Blood” Ulmer (guitar), Leroy Williams (drums)

Recorded

on August 15, 1969 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BST 84340 in 1969

Track listing

Side A:
Rakin’ And Scrapin’
Freedom Jazz Dance
Captain Nasty
Side B:
Village Lee
Lite Hite
Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream


What strikes the listener at first hearing is the freeflowing, easygoing quality of Accent Of The Blues. John Patton and multi-reedman Marvin Cabell utilize a question and answer-method thematically, which playfully gets things going on Village Lee and Captain Nasty. Those tunes are exemplary of the way John Patton is able to create an atmosphere that pushes the sidemen forward, both by his rich sound and inventive phrasing, which should prompt anybody familiar with organ music to state that if ever there was a dervish of focused energy, it’s Big John Patton.

Village Lee is the track in which the comping of guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer, a relative newcomer in jazz, most succesfully comes across. His ‘twangy’ sound gives a nice ring to the proceedings. He is a bit lazy on most tracks, particularly behind John Patton’s solo in Rakin’ And Scrapin’. Nevertheless, Ulmer’s idiosyncratic style of soloing suits the atmosphere of Accent On The Blues.

It seems Patton feels most comfortable with drummer Leroy Williams, who, far from being an expert master, lays down contagious, slow boogaloo rhythms for Patton to grab hold of with soulful, intense runs. It’s evident that in songs such as their dynamic take on Eddie Harris’ Freedom Jazz Dance, Patton is the star of the show. A groovy star of a bluesy show that might not be the best introduction to the organist’s work but is well worth digging for.