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.


  1. Irving Enteman

    Excellent post … time to remember. Thx & Greets from New Jersey, Irv

  2. Vic is my all-time favorite trombonist. At the time of Odetta’s death, I burned the Riverside and RCA albums to CD, not having heard them for many years. Wellstood did the arrangements and Vic is on both albums. He is especially great on the Riverside. Any fan of his should check this album out.

  3. “Odetta Sings the Blues” is indeed a great recording; and has a wiki entry all its own:

    Also, the Vanguard “Vic Dickenson Showcase” albums from the ’50’s are treasures.

    Vic often looked grumpy when I saw him on gigs in the 70’s; probably having to play “dixieland” tunes night after night got to him: but his playing always raised grump to a high artistic and comical plateau.

    He looks delighted here though! He obviously loved to sing.

  4. I remember those gigs well, too, and I think Vic’s surface grumpiness was perhaps a mixture of tiredness and having to work with some particularly untalented sidemen and leaders (you know the ones I mean!) — when he was with people like Mike Burgevin, he looked positively cheerful and even giggled a good deal. What we see in this clip is not only a man who loved to sing, but, like Louis, a natural comic actor, harking back to vaudeville. Catch the floppy hand gestures and the intricate necessary ballet he performs with the microphone wire — he was far too much of a professional to stop singing in order to untangle it. Weren’t we lucky to have seen him at such close range? And I know several moarvelous jazz trombonists, but they would tell anyone that Vic has not and won’t be replaced.


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