Jazz Violin Pioneer, Billy Bang

On April 11, jazz violinist Billy Bang died due to complications from lung cancer.

Billy Bang was a “free jazz” violinist who c0-founded the String Trio of New York and played with the likes of Sun RaDon Cherry, and David Murray. He led his own groups as well.

“At the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2008 Billy brought the house down at the Salle Wilfred Pelletier – a 2000-seat venue. Very few in the audience had known his name; now they will never forget. We certainly will never forget the look on his face when he came offstage: sheer joy.” – Jean-Pierre Leduc

As the videos below demonstrate, Billy Bang had a powerful and original voice as a jazz violinist and composer/bandleader. His life and art offer some lessons to any violinist, string player, or musician interested in pursuing jazz. One thing that strikes me is that Billy developed such a powerful sound and identity, in spite of the fact that his training, both in music theory and violin playing, had been, presumably, somewhat limited.

Many “old school” jazz musicians “figured it out on their own”, but it’s hard for classically trained string players to imagine a violinist doing this as well as Billy did. So many players, young and old, are afraid to jump into improvised music. Instead they think that someone can “teach” them how to do it. Clearly Billy didn’t let these fears stop him.





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