Vic Dickenson, trombonist, singer, composer. Photograph by Robert Parent (circa 1951). Inscribed to drummer Walt Gifford. From Gifford’s scrapbook, courtesy of Duncan Schiedt.
I dream of a jazz-world where everyone gets the credit they deserve, where Vic is as celebrated — and as listened to — as his contemporaries and friends Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Benny Carter, Bobby Hackett, Teddy Wilson, Buck Clayton, Sidney Bechet, Mary Lou Williams, Frank Newton, and many more.
I’d like writers to pay attention to his delicate lyricism, his melodic improvisations, his way of illuminating a song from within. This would require new language and new hearing: no longer putting Vic into the familiar compartments of “sly,” “witty,” “naughty,” and so on.
It would also require some writers and listeners to put aside their barely-concealed disdain for jazz as it was played before Charlie Parker came to town. No disrespect to Bird, mind you, who jammed happily with Vic and Doc Cheatham and knew that they were masters. But Vic was more than a “Dixieland” trombonist, more than someone chained to TIN ROOF BLUES and SLOW BOAT TO CHINA.
Would Vic have been taken more seriously had he played trumpet? The trombone blends so well, so often, that it (like the string bass) is taken for granted. And Vic was one of the more reticent of jazz players: someone who wanted to play rather than chat or announce. But the musicians knew how special he was, and is. (Some people celebrated Vic during his lifetime and still do: I think of Dan Morgenstern, George Wein, John Hammond, Dan Barrett, Mal Sharpe, Manfred Selchow, and others.)
We could begin to truly hear Vic, I think. Perhaps the beginning of the campaign would be if we asked everyone we knew to listen — and listen with all their perception and love — to music like this:
It is indeed true that having Shad Collins, Ed Hall, Sir Charles Thompson, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, and Jo Jones along — in gorgeous sound — did no one any harm. But I ask my listeners to do the difficult task of putting Vic first: his sonority, open and muted. His time, his phrasing, the vocal quality of his sounds (plural). His love for the melody and for the melodies that the original suggested. His delicate concise force: what he could say in four quarter notes, or eight bars. There was and is no one like him.
May your happiness increase!