Iain Dixon directs RNCM Big Band with guest Percy Pursglove (RNCM Theatre, Manchester, 16 Dec 2022)

Saxophonist Iain Dixon is a major figure in jazz and jazz education in the North-West. As a significant presence in Steve Berry’s team on the jazz faculty at RNCM, he is helping develop and build the jazz provision within the college. As part of that process, Dixon will direct the college big band in a performance of his music on 16 December. And yet his profile is perhaps a fraction of what it could or should be, and this will in fact be the very first time any audience will have heard Dixon’s own music in a large-ensemble setting. Preview by Charles Rees

Iain Dixon (© Pete Woodman) & Percy Pursglove (© Tom Robbins)

To most musicians in the UK, Iain Dixon is an obscure legend. Jazz educators across the conservatoires often remark that his former pupils are a joy to teach because they arrive for lessons with such an in-depth knowledge of scales and harmony; indeed, Dixon is something of a guru in this area, having penned an entire book on the subject (link below). In addition to his remarkable teaching credentials, Dixon is a noted master of the saxophone and clarinet. In this capacity, he has toured the world as a member of the Michael Brecker Quindectet, is a founding member of the Creative Jazz Orchestra, and has recorded with the likes of Joni Mitchell and Mike Gibbs.

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These many commitments could explain why Dixon has never recorded anything as a leader and rarely performs his own music. Luckily, since taking up a position on the RNCM faculty last year, the college has entrusted him with several opportunities to present his own music to audiences, including a quartet concert as part of the annual ‘sax day’ last year (previewed by LondonJazz). And this year, on 16 December, Dixon will again have the opportunity to share his music when he directs the RNCM student big band in a performance of his own compositions, written specially for this concert.

“I am beyond excited (and terrified)”, says Dixon of the upcoming performance. “We have some amazing improvisers in the band, like saxophonist Jasmine Brown, who has jazz in her blood, as drummer Steve Brown’s daughter.” Also performing will be trumpet virtuoso Percy Pursglove, who is no stranger to big bands, having recently become a chair-holder with the NDR Big Band in Hamburg. Dixon explained; “I have had a long association with Percy, who embodies everything you would want in a music education situation. He’s a lovely person, endlessly positive, who also happens to be a world-class musician. I am delighted to have him with us, to both hear his playing and witness the inspiration he will undoubtedly bring to the situation”.

As Iain Dixon’s music is so rarely performed, little can be known about the set. He did however share that one of the tunes is entitled “Percy, Percy, Percy”, a reference to Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” …Dixon’s understated wit is legendary. “I’m praying for a jazz audience!”, he said in reference to that particular chart, adding, “One thing I’m sure of is that I have reached the zenith of my titling skills”. The evening will no doubt be entertaining and, going by Dixon’s track record, is sure to feature some brilliant charts. In his own words; “The music, I hope, will be exciting. This whole experience will be joyous, I have no doubt”.

Any concert that features Iain Dixon’s music is a rare occurrence, and this one in particular represents what will – quite literally – be a revelation. Not to be missed.

LINKS: Booking link

Buy Iain Dixon’s book: Scales for Obsessives

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