“Chameleon” from the album Get Real
“I love my boys in the band at Porgy’s,” says saxophonist Louis Dixson, a longtime Charlestonian and veteran side man. He currently hosts the increasingly popular jam session every Tuesday night at the downtown venue. “Every week, there’s always a good crowd and a bunch of great players on hand. Sometimes, in addition to the drums, keyboards, and bass, we’ll have four horn players at once! Great guitar players show up, too. They all show a lot of love.”
Porgy’s Other Place couldn’t be cozier. Located in a small, narrow space across the street from Marion Square (where Lite Affair used be), Porgy’s opened last summer and gradually established itself as a loungy, intimate hotspot for live jazz, blues, neo-soul, and reggae. The club books a variety of solo performers and combos five or six nights a week.
For a supposedly off night, the Tuesday jams are kickin’ — at the bar and in the small back corner stage area. Over the recent months, Dixson has played with a cool crew — a rotation of core musicians, including keyboardist Whitt Algar, drummer Brian Widlowski, and bassist Jesse Anderson. Several regular guest jazz, rock, and funk cats swing by from week to week.
“It’s been a real pleasure working with all these guys,” says Dixson. “They have great attitudes. We understand where we’re all coming from. A lot of the guys do work day jobs, so I have to respect that sometimes they can’t practice or whatever. We just do our homework, listen to new tunes, learn new stuff and play. In a way, you could call the Porgy’s jam sessions a slight practice, because we’re trying new things out each week.
“If you come to my show, you ain’t even going to want to talk; you’re gonna listen to the music,” he adds. “You’ll tell your friends to shut up so you can hear the music. There’ll be no conversatin’. People are at attention and watching the stage to see and hear what’s going on. That’s when I know I got a good project, when I can lock the people in and entertain them!”
Dixson’s assertive playing style has been compared to some of the saxophone greats — Clarence Clemons (of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band), David Sanborne, Maceo Parker. He recently released a 10-song indie collection titled Get Real as well as a demo DVD titled Live at Porgy’s Place. Digging into the tracks, it’s striking how flexible Dixson and the band sound together on their original material and standards. There’s a bit more funk mixed in with the smooth jazz folks might expect.
While much of the material has sensibilities of jazz, most of the rhythms are firmly planted in funk, soul, and R&B. More vintage than modern, there’s a bit of everything in the genre-bending jams. From such standards as the swingin’ “New York, New York” and the funky “Chameleon” to more rasta-tinged groove experiments, Dixson’s Tuesday night sessions explore plenty of musical territory.
“The more shows we do, the more familiar we get with the material and with each other,” the sax man says of the crew at Porgy’s. “It’s all coming up to snuff. I play smooth jazz, funk, reggae … but I play with a lot of bands around here who do the classic rock. I’ll eat some Clarence Clemons. Me and Clarence are alright [laughs]. I sing a hellacious ‘Let’s Get it On’ … Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, and others, too. I’ve been getting away from that stuff lately, now that I have some time to do my own material.”
Dixson recently signed on for another weekly gig at Social with the Kevin West Band, a flexible, rock ‘n’ funk-based combo equally as enthusiastic about mashing a wild variety of musical styles.
“Lately, Kevin has been coming in on guitar at Porgy’s,” says Dixson. “He brings in some rock feel for the mix, and his brother O.C. sometimes swings by with his hip-hop stuff. It’s all over the place. Jesse might play four or five tunes, then let a guest bassist sit in on a few while he sits down for a drink. It’s all pretty wide open.”
A 13-year veteran of the Navy, Dixson grew up in Niagara Falls, N.Y. He started kicking up grooves when he was six or so and joined the school band at 12. When he was 16, he formed his first R&B, soul, and jazz band, Hydro Funk. Louis was offered several scholarships upon high school graduation, but needed to help support his family so he enlisted in the Armed Forces.
In recent years, Dixson toured up and down the East Coast as a jazz sideman, and spent years playing the circuit in front of big crowds with a popular Dave Matthews tribute band called Trippin’ Billies. Now at “an age undetermined” (“I’m a lot older than I look!”), Dixson is determined to get his own music recorded and distributed.
“I’ve been trying to work with some local agents and network,” he says. “When I get out around town, I play with good musicians. Everyone can step up, most definitely. I love this scene, man, but sometimes I feel a little trapped. I want to try and get out, tour, record, jam … just hit some other spots and see what happens.”