Apr 13, 2011
Violinist Billy Bang, noted for forging his own way on his instrument, died on April 11. According to an associate, he had been suffering from lung cancer. Bang was 63.
Born in Mobile, Alabama as William Vincent Walker, Bang was raised in the Bronx and began playing the violin at a very young age. He was allegedly given the nickname "Billy Bang" in homage to a cartoon character.
After a traumatizing period of service in the military in Viet Nam (click here to listen to a track from his album Vietnam Reflections, "Waltz of the Water Puppets"), Bang set out to be a musician. He eschewed the fusion route taken by jazz violinists such as Jean-Luc Ponty, and instead headed for the avant-garde scene. Heplayed briefly with the Sun Ra Arkestra and in 1977, inspired by the approach of the World Saxophone Quartet, he formed the New York String Trio with John Lindberg and James Emery, with whom he would play regularly for many years. Bang also developed his own career as a solo artist and bandleader. Over the next three decades, Bang would collaborate with many of the greats of the improvising jazz scene, including William Parker, Hamiett Bluiett, Don Cherry, David Murray and many others. He recorded over 30 albums including many for the Canadian Justin Time label.