I never thought I would see this performance again.
I first saw it perhaps twenty years ago on a blurry videocassette copy sent to me by my generous friend John L. Fell, a film scholar and scholarly collector of the best jazz. John and I shared a deep affection for the poetic improvisers — Billy Butterfield, Pee Wee Russell, Lester, and Vic Dickenson, among a hundred others.
This song was captured on November 26, 1983 at the Manassas Jazz Festival, in a program called ” Remembering the Roosevelt Grill,” in honor of the peerless small band that Vic and Bobby Hackett led there (with Cliff Leeman, Jack Lesberg, and Dave McKenna). Hackett-disciple Larry Weiss played cornet, Dill Jones, piano; Steve Jordan, guitar; Bob Decker, bass, and Ernie Hackett, Bobby’s son, was on drums.
I don’t need to anatomize Vic’s instrumental style for anyone — he got more vocal sounds, deeply felt and human, out of that recalcitrant instrument than almost anyone. (Ironically, Vic talked less than most musicians: it all came out of the horn.) He loved to sing, and was earnest and whimsical at the same time. I referred to this performance in a posting about Humphrey Lyttelton and Henri Chaix some time back, because it moved me so in memory. It’s a great surprise to find it sitting quietly on YouTube. Thank you, unknown benefactor!
Vic was seriously ill when he made the trip to Manassas and knew it. Although he played intermittently after this festival, I think this is the last glimpse of him in action. His feeling and humor come out in every note, as well as the joke of holding up two fingers. Other men might do all they wanted to do in one hour; he would need double the time.
I saw Vic as often as I could between 1971 and 1981, but I wish he had been able to move and enlighten us just a little bit longer. He died on November 16, 1984. I miss his sound and his presence. If only he could be with us still.
For those who want to know more about Vic’s life, the extraordinarily dedicated jazz writer / researcher Manfred Selchow’s book DING! DING! A BIO-DISCOGRAPHICAL SCRAPBOOK ON VIC DICKENSON is irreplaceable.