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Akua Dixon mixes classical with jazz

| Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Akua Dixon is more than a little familiar with attempts to blend cultures.

The cellist-singer-composer at one point in her career added jazz to the classical music on which she was trained when studying her instrument. Later, she formed a string quartet that brought jazz to that classical format.

Saturday's show in East Liberty will not be as big a challenge, but will mix several elements as she performs in a jazz-oriented setting also featuring readings by a poet.

"To play jazz as a black woman cellist has been very interesting, you might say," she says.

In the show here, she will be joined by Ronald Jackson on guitar, Dwayne Burno on bass, Darrell Green on drums and Hill District poet LaKeisha Wolf.

Dixon grew up in New York City and says she fell in love with the cello when she was in fourth grade. But she learned one thing as she began studying it.

"When you study cello, you study European classical music," she says. "But that wasn't the music of my culture."

When she was 25, she managed to land a gig with Duke Ellington and he showed jazz could fit into the cello quite well, she says. That engagement began to turn her in the direction she has followed.

"I made my commitment to it," she says.

Cello still is a bit unusual in jazz, even if performers such as Ray Brown have performed on it. She believes, though, most bassists on the cello tend to play pizzicato, using the bass style with which they are familiar.

She concentrates on bowing to create what she calls a "stroking of sound."

But she has had to work hard at jazz phrasing, an element that was not part of her classical training. She says her work with drummer Max Roach was a great help in that regard.

The string quartet she formed in 1973, Quartette Indigo, was put together as a way of bringing jazz to a more-classical format. That group was put on hold two years ago when her sister Gayle, the group's violinist, died. The new foursome gave its first performance Sunday.

"You can't just put anyone in someone else's place," she says. "It took a long time for put together the new Quartette Indigo, but we have it now."

Additional Information:

Akua Dixon

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Admission: $25, $20 in advance

Where: Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, East Liberty

Details: 412- 322-0292

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