May 18, 2024

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Morgan Powell and Peter Dickinson, who relished jazz as well as ‘serious’ music: Videos, Photos

Morgan Powell Obituary – Morgan E. Powell, b. Jan. 7, 1938, to Lytle and W.O., caring listener, mischief maker, joke-teller, quip-slinger, ditty-singer, hug-aholic, gentle lover of people, home and guerrilla gardener, once called a combonist tromposer, light handed teacher, charismatic band-leader, as comfortable talking to his audience as playing his horn (and boy, did he play that horn), died after a year of valiantly fighting metastatic pancreatic cancer.

He was surrounded by his family and is survived by his wife, Patricia Hruby Powell; two daughters, Lisa (with Tom Bender) and Adriane Powell, and their children, Ryan (Danielle), Chelsea and Chloe Bender; Dean and Madison Oakley; and three great-grandchildren, Carter, Molly and George.

Born and bred as a cowboy in West Texas, he was something of a trombone and music composition prodigy. Graduate of North Texas State University, he taught summer jazz clinics for Stan Kenton and turned down the lead trombone position in Glenn Miller’s band, because he’d tried and didn’t like life on the road. He played in the famed One O’Clock Band at North Texas State University led by Leon Breeden. Breeden would not accept Black band members because they would not be welcomed in 1960 rural Texas performance sites.

Morgan led the Two O’Clock Band, welcoming in all the Black players, who were the better players (mostly). He taught at Berklee College of Music in Boston, then came to Champaign-Urbana to become a professor in the Music Theory and Composition Division at the University of Illinois. He arranged, composed and improvised music for all his bands, including Tone Road Ramblers, Jazz Quintet (JQ), Traditional Jazz Orchestra and One Plus One Quartet, among others. You might know him as the youngest original member of Dan Perrino’s Medicare 7, 8 or 9.

Getting Personal: Morgan Powell | News | news-gazette.com

Peter Dickinson happily mixed serial techniques with blues and ragtime. One critic wrote: ‘Not many composers are equally at home on Radios 2, 3 and 4’

Peter Dickinson, the composer and pianist, who has died aged 88, produced entertaining and informative books on musical subjects ranging from Lennox Berkeley and Lord Berners to Samuel Barber and Billy Mayerl; his own music, influenced by studies in the US in the late 1950s, ranged from high art to the vernacular, allowing jazz and popular song to sit unobtrusively among the “serious” symphonic tradition.

Peter Dickinson obituary | Music | The Guardian

As the first professor of music at the University of Keele from 1974, he devised a programme dedicated to the study of American music. Over the next decade many of that country’s leading composers visited Staffordshire including Aaron Copland, Eliott Carter, Philip Glass and Steve Reich.

At the heart of Dickinson’s own output lay three concertos: the Organ Concerto (1971), written for Simon Preston and the Three Choirs Festival; the Piano Concerto (1984) for Howard Shelley that was first heard at the Cheltenham Festival; and the Violin Concerto (1987), which was written in memory of Ralph Holmes and premiered by Ernst Kovacic with the BBC Philharmonic. All three were released together on CD in 2014.

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His other works include The Judas Tree (1965), a 75-minute musical drama for student forces built around a text by the poet Thomas Blackburn; Satie Transformations (1969-70), a homage to the French composer; and Larkin’s Jazz (1989), an affectionate tribute to his friend, the poet Philip Larkin.

Softly spoken and somewhat academic in presentation, Dickinson was, noted Tom Sutcliffe in The Guardian, neither revolutionary nor tearaway. Citing precedents by Bartók, Stravinsky and Tippett, he happily mixed serial techniques with blues and ragtime in a model that he christened “style modulation”. As Sutcliffe added: “Not many composers are equally at home on Radios 2, 3 and 4.”

Peter Dickinson was born at Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, on November 15 1934, the son of Frank Dickinson, a church organist and a pioneer in the use of contact lenses, and his wife Muriel (née Porter). His younger sister Meriel was a fine mezzo soprano whom he accompanied in recital and for whom he wrote several works including Four Auden Songs (1956), one of several settings of poetry.

The music of his childhood centred on competitive festivals, and on one occasion David Willcocks awarded him first prize for his performance of Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso at the Fleetwood Festival. His piano teacher, a Miss Constance Haslam, berated him with admonitions such as: “F stands for forte, not feeble.”

He was educated at The Leys School, Cambridge, though his studies were interrupted by a year in South Africa with his parents. On the voyage out he performed Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C sharp minor in public. He disliked the acrid incense of the high-church chapel at St John’s College, Johannesburg, and was relieved to return to the comfortable Methodism of The Leys.

Having graduated from piano to organ he eschewed plans to study law and was instead awarded an organ scholarship at Queens’ College, Cambridge. There he received advice and encouragement from Berkeley, who dedicated his Chinese Songs (1971) to Dickinson and his sister.

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However, inquiries to Patrick Hadley, the professor of music, about matters outside the English tradition were met with disdain. Twelve-tone music was dismissed as “balls” and an innocent question about early-music performance style was met with: “F— baroque”.

Meanwhile, a couple of his works were heard at the Wigmore Hall in concerts organised by the Society for the Promotion of New Music. “My father came to one of them,” he wrote in Peter Dickinson: Words and Music (2016), a collection of his writings and others’ tributes to his work. “Critics included a tramp who went to sleep at the back snoring loudly.”

After a year teaching at a minor public school, Dickinson resumed his education at the Juilliard School, New York, where he encountered the music of Charles Ives, met John Cage and was introduced to jazz. While there he composed a lively Violin Sonata and worked as a pianist for George Balanchine at New York City Ballet.

Back in Britain he spent another year as a school teacher, this time at Hurstpierpoint College, where he was chastised by the headmaster for playing an explosive piece of Messiaen in chapel. Thereafter he improvised in the style of Strauss and Puccini, to the amusement of the music students.

Happy to move on, he taught classes in improvisation and experimental music at the College of St Mark and St John, Chelsea, and then lectured at the University of Birmingham before joining Keele. In 1991 he was appointed professor at Goldsmiths, University of London, and from 1997 until 2004 was head of music of the Institute of United States Studies.

Dickinson was a frequent contributor to Radio 3 and to Gramophone, where his music also featured regularly on the magazine’s pages. In 1988 he was the subject of an hour-long episode of The South Bank Show. The first of his two books on Berkeley was published in 1988.

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It was followed by Marigold: the Music of Billy Mayerl (1999) and Lord Berners: Composer, Writer, Painter (2003) about the early 20th-century dilettante, which was described by Damian Thompson in The Daily Telegraph as “a delicious mess of a book”.

In the 1990s he worked with the musicologist Bernarr Rainbow to establish the Rainbow Dickinson Trust, which supports orchestras, choirs, festivals and community groups. His final project was Lockdown Blues (2021), a collection of appealing miniatures that he composed and performed as a swing-inspired escape from the pandemic.

In 1964 Dickinson married Bridget Tomkinson, a pianist-turned-bookbinder; for the past 30 years they lived at Aldeburgh in Suffolk. She survives him with their two sons.

Peter Dickinson

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