(a) Viewing takes place on Tuesday, April 19, at Benta Funeral Home, 630 St. Nicholas Avenue [corner of 141st St], in Harlem [212.281.8850], from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and,
(b) The Funeral Service takes place on Wednesday April 20, 2011, at Mount Olivet Baptist Church, 201 Malcolm X Boulevard [corner of West 119 St.], in
For your edification, I've included in this announcement the following items:
(a) A Personal Note from me about Billy;
(b) an interview he did with Fred Jung and published in All About Jazz; and,
(c) an article assessing his work.
If you wish to catch some Internet footage on Billy Bang's life and work, paste this (http://www.jazzonthetube.com/page/857.html) in your search engine.
(a) Louis Reyes Rivera: A Personal Note
I first met Billy in 1998, in The Hague, Netherlands, where we were both part of the Sun Ra All-Stars Project organized and conducted by trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah – Billy, Ahmed, Eddie Gayle, Robert Rutledge, Roger Blank, Radu, Alex Harding, et al, were among those in the ensemble who had played with Sun Ra, along with several who hadn't, i.e., Cody Moffett, Roland Alexander, and myself.
At the time, Billy was living in
Since then, and up until like last year, we'd hit that stage together at least four times a year as part of Ahmed Adbullah's Diaspora (Dispersions of the Spirit of Ra) – including hits at Sistas' Place in Brooklyn, Cecil's in the Oranges, Sweet Rhythms in Manhattan – in Milan, Sicily, Helsinki, D.C., and Detroit – like so. And always there'd be moments when we'd exchange personal notes. Come to find out, among poetry circles, we knew a good number of the same people (back in the 1970s, he told me, he played at the Nuyorican Poets Café, with Pietri, Algarin, Piñero), which gave us initial grounds through which to strike up cigarettes, private jokes and solid conversation.
More importantly, from the onset, it was clear to me that we genuinely respected one another as artists and sincerely enjoyed each other's company. That was Billy – and, were it not for Ahmed, I would not have known such memorable moments on the same stage.
Speaking of which – though much has been written about Billy's lasting associations with many a stalwart musician, his relationships with folks like Ahmed Abdullah and Craig Harris have yet to be included. And it was with Ahmed's Diaspora that I got an up-close look at how much Billy and Craig genuinely admire one another.
Believe me, whenever Ahmed conducts that band, and with the likes of Billy and Craig (or, for that matter, Billy and D.D. Jackson or Billy and Salim Washington, or Billy and Alex Harding), the work that emanates from that stage is truly a Music of the Spirit, so chock full of what comes from deep inside every one of them. By the time the concert ends, you can't help but to leave the given venue amazed, inspired, and cleansed – almost like church, temple, prayer and meditation. It wasn't the joint that was jumpin' – it was what came out of the respective instruments of musicians who care about their work.
Moreover, the Ahmed/Billy connection has its own long history, beginning with the 1970s Loft Movement in which they met and collaborated, the time they shared together with the Sun Ra Arkestra, and, especially, in the several ensembles organized and led by Ahmed – The Group (with Marion Brown, Andrew Cyrille and Sirone right beside Billy and Ahmed); the Solomonic Unit (which featured drummer Charles Moffett and Ahmed with Billy, Carlos Ward, Fred Hopkins &/or John Ore on bass); Diaspora (with reed men Carlos Ward, Alex Harding, Salim Washington, trombonist Craig Harris, pianist D.D. Jackson, guitarists Masujaa and/or Ryan Tucker, bass man Radu and/or drummers Cody Moffett, Reggie Nicholson, Brandon Lewis, along with vocalists Miles Griffin, Monique Ngozi Nri and poet me); and via Ebonic Tones (Ahmed, Billy, Alex Blake, Alex Harding, and Andrei Strobert). In each instance, the LPs or CDs released were well received, to say the least.
But here's the kicker – last December (
Yes, many of us will miss him and what he gifted us all, but especially the people he worked with, as folks who share that art together are equitably a person's closest family.
(b) Interview by Fred Jung (All About Jazz)
Billy Bang hasn't had an easy life, but neither is the music he plays. Bang's improvisations require advanced citizenship. Concentration in an age where the average attention span rivals the box office presence of Gigli (Martin Brest/Bennifer film apparently seen by two people, who told two other people). But to his credit, through difficult times, he outlines below, Bang has continued on. Continued playing his unique brand of jazz and we're all better for it, even if we don't have dedication to realize it now. Like all good things, I'm sure the appreciation for Bang (unedited and in his own words) will come in due time.
FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
BILLY BANG: I was born in
This is something that I am not creating, my parents aren't creating, but it is the system. I was in this orchestra. It was classical for two full years. I don't remember doing math or English, but I remember this violin orchestra music. In my ninth year, I should have been in this orchestra class and gone on to Juilliard or some other school of music. But I received a scholarship to go to a school with no music department, so I was very, very happy. It was purely academic. I was rubbing shoulders with all the wealthy people's children in
FJ: And how soon did you begin your tour in
BB: Six months later. You do six months of basic training. AIT, they called it, which is advanced infantry training, and then I had an extra two weeks in what they call assimilated
FJ: You received minimal training that was geared specifically for the region, when you were in country, did any of it help?
BB: I would like to think it did because the people that didn't get it and they were still sent to
FJ: The vast majority of musicians I have spoken with served in the military, but most were in the band.
BB: Yeah, a lot of guys were in the band and a lot of guys were in what they called special forces, not the fighting kind, but doing different things. Frank Lowe, my good buddy, was an MP. Butch Morris was a medic. The guys had different jobs. I think I am one of the few guys that actually humped the boonies and lived in the jungle.
FJ: How many tours did you do?
BB: I did one. One too many. I did one year, the required time. Most people have ideas about
FJ: When you are in the midst of a war, how far away was music?
BB: Oh, music wasn't even near me. The only thing I heard of music was once in a while, I heard a Vietnamese song in the background. I just heard the music of automatic weapon fire and the syncopation of mortars being hit and things like that.
FJ: Upon your return from
BB: Well, I was extremely disappointed with myself and with civilization. I didn't think I could cope and I didn't feel like I fit in anymore. There was so much anti-Vietnam fervor around that I didn't talk much about it, except to close people that knew me. And although I am a gregarious type person and like to speak, I was fairly quiet for a few years. I was withdrawn and just maybe scared in not knowing how to deal with life. I went back to my job and my original job was not there. They told me to come back in a few weeks and I never went back. Theoretically, my job was guaranteed through the army, but I didn't make a stink. I just left it alone. As a matter of fact, I thought they did me a favor just to walk away. I was kind of a misfit. Also, the two years I was away, it seemed like things had changed.
FJ: How so?
BB: Well, physically, they definitely changed up in the
FJ: When did you interest in the music begin to return?
BB: That came soon after I got out of the army because I felt like I couldn't do anything else. I felt like a lost person. I will try to make this as clear as I can without incriminating myself. When I came home, I was recruited by some underground group in the
FJ: What was the inspiration for your creative outlet?
BB: I could be very, very honest with you, Fred. At the time, I was attending
FJ: Why free jazz?
BB: I did hear violins all my life. I bought the Delmark records and heard Leroy Jenkins. Then I started hearing all the Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell. I loved the AACM. I loved Delmark for putting them out, Muhal Richard Abrams. This music really turned me on. It seemed very political, very conscious for me at the time and also very free, but with structure. So when Leroy Jenkins came to
FJ: You spoke of the loft scene, which to the music was a pivotal, but unrecognized period in the music.
BB: It was a very big thing. I think that catapulted my name internationally along with the David Murrays, the Henry Threadgills, the Frank Lowes, the Lester Bowies, the Joe Bowies. A lot of us wrote our own compositions. We weren't playing standards. The bebop guys had to play standards to be legitimate. We were able to create our own music, direction, and compositions that also helped to lend a more directional input into the music. The loft jazz's impact of it came when the Newport Jazz Festival came to
FJ: These days, that kind of self-determination and integrity become liabilities.
BB: That is true. I don't see it anymore. Cats are trying to be technical. You can exercise all your technical prowess and you sound like what's been out already. I hear more guys sound like Clifford Brown or Freddie Hubbard then I heard them do. That was not the thing. We were always going for individual voices and individual sound. That is the only thing that almost made me stop. I didn't sound like anybody. I thought I sounded so horrible that one particular day, I was ready to smash up my violin and I remember James Jackson from the Sun Ra band came in and tried to recruit me and he had a long talk with me. He told me that I had my own sound and that I had a Billy Bang sound. I took that to heart and started working from that perspective and saying that I needed to keep working at it and developing my sound.
FJ: Judging my solely your Soul Note discography, different ensembles, various setting, you are always searching.
BB: Yes, that is true. I actually tried to outdo the last one too and trying to see what else is there. I was just trying to supercede what I did last and trying to tighten it up and really find exactly what I am trying to say musically. Yes, you are right, you can follow the trail of the albums or the CDs and see the development of Bang.
FJ: You had a close association with the late Dennis Charles.
BB: Oh, God. I couldn't hardly play without Dennis during some periods. This man knew. He could anticipate what I was about to do and he just fit so well. We were like two peas in a pod. First of all, Fred, he played melodic. He was a very supportive drummer. He didn't try to outstage you or outdistance you. He was always trying to do his part to make the music better. He was just a wonderful drummer and an extraordinary human being. On the road, Dennis had super drug problems. We all had some, but Dennis was a lot heavier. Just to watch him go through
FJ: And Frank Lowe?
BB: I first worked with Frank on his record called Lowe and Behold. That was a real different kind of record for me to be involved with because he was bringing people from two different camps at the same time. There was one camp that was John Zorn and Eugene Chadbourne and others and the other camp was Joe Bowie, Phillip Wilson, Butch Morris, and myself. What Frank Lowe did was bring everybody together on the same LP. I thought it was really amazing that he could see that far in advance. This was before Bill Laswell. This was way before. So that is when we first began collaborating. He saw me really moving because Frank was my hero and he later saw me as an equal. We talked together and did projects together.
FJ: You returned to playing solo on Commandment, not the easiest of tasks.
BB: It isn't, particularly in this music and trying to keep the interest of yourself and the audience, but I was ready for it at that time on the second one, as I am for a third one. I have so many projects right now on the table, I can only do so much. My next big project is doing the follow up to Vietnam: The Aftermath. I am slowly writing for it, but the big push will be in August, September. On this CD, I will include some Vietnamese musicians.
BB: This was from a CD I did called Big Bang Theory and that was Jean-Pierre's first assignment with me. During breaks and intermissions and things, we had talked. Somehow he was interested in my
FJ: Are those demons behind you now?
BB: I think I put quite a few of them back. Not all of them, because it will never end, but enough to function on a better level now, Fred.
(c) National Public Radio [NPR] Coverage
NPR – by Tom Cole and Patrick Jaren Wattananon
Billy Bang, a violinist known for intense performances and a wide-ranging sensibility, died Monday night, his agent Jean-Pierre Leduc confirmed. Bang, who had been suffering from lung cancer, was 63.
Born William Walker in 1947, Bang was an important figure on the experimental jazz scene that blossomed in
His experiences in combat scarred him mentally, and he generally avoided speaking about them until Leduc encouraged him to create what would become 2001's
"There used to be a time where I used to have dreams about it a lot and it's not as often now," he told Howard Mandel for NPR in 2004. "But for a very long time, I suffered a lot in my sleep. But to be honest, I think after I faced the ordeals of what I've gone through — after completing that music, and after rehearsing it, particularly after recording it — I've felt a lot lighter."
Despite being offered a scholarship to a boarding preparatory school in
As a squad leader, he had to maintain intense focus in combat. There was no music in his life then.
"Only the music of machine guns," Bang told Mandel. "The rhythm of that is what I heard. The only instrument I had was an M-79, M-14 and a .45."
At least initially, the period after his service was hardly any better. In 2005, Bang told Roy Hurst of NPR's News and Notes that returning was a shock.
"When I came home from Vietnam — when I got off the airplane — the next thing I was on was the New York City subway, and that was extremely traumatic for me — I mean, just really destructive to my whole system," Bang said. "I couldn't take the sounds. I couldn't take the people all around. So I finally got home; I didn't want to come outside for a long time, which I didn't do. So my mother was coaxing me to come out and sort of — she was trying to help me to get back to some kind of normality. But I still criticize the
Bang's trauma led him to heavy drinking and drug use. He joined a Black Liberation group that drew on his wartime experience to help it buy guns. On one trip to a pawn shop, he saw a violin and that led him back to music. After discovering the way that free jazz artists like Leroy Jenkins and Ornette Coleman were using the instrument, he began taking his own study seriously. He moved from the
Bang proved to be an active, passionate performer. Though he was associated with free improvisation, his concepts also came from more traditional jazz and Latin music, and he often incorporated that language into his playing. Tom Vitale's 1993 profile of Bang centered on his project paying tribute to pioneering jazz violinist Stuff Smith.
By the new millennium, Billy Bang had already become a well-respected musician within the jazz world. He spent 10 years with an important group called the String Trio of New York, an improvising ensemble with his violin, guitarist James Emery and bassist John Lindberg.
"It was quite heavy," Morris told Howard Mandel. "I've never seen so many grown men cry. It's not only how he brought this thematic stuff back — it's how he brought the experience back, the experience of being there, the experience of smelling, the experience of seeing, the experience of feeling, the experience of fear, the experience of joy, the experience — he brought back all these experiences. That's what was so frightening in the studio. He brought back the same experience that each of us had."
Billy Bang was scheduled to perform at the Rochester International Jazz Festival in June of this year. Last year, he released a well-received album called Prayer for Peace.