Billy Bang (b. William Vincent Walker, Mobile, Alabama, September 20, 1947 & died on Apr 11th 2011) was an American free jazz violinist and composer. Bang's family moved to New York City's Bronx neighborhood while he was still an infant, and as a child he attended a special school for musicians in nearby Harlem. At that school, students were assigned instruments based on their physical size. Bang was fairly small, so he received a violin instead of either of his first choices, the saxophone or the drums.
Bang's family moved to New York City's Bronx neighborhood while he was still an infant, and as a child he attended a special school for musicians in nearby Harlem. At that school, students were assigned instruments based on their physical size. Bang was fairly small, so he received a violin instead of either of his first choices, the saxophone or the drums. It was around this time that he acquired the nickname of "Billy Bang", derived from a popular cartoon character.
Bang studied the violin until he earned a hardship scholarship to a prep school in Massachusetts, at which point he abandoned it because the school did not have a music program. He had difficulty adjusting to life at the school, where he encountered racism and developed confusion about his identity, which he later blamed for his onset of schizophrenia. Bang felt that he had little in common with the largely privileged children at the school, who included Jackie Robinson, Jr. (son of baseball star Jackie Robinson) and Arlo Guthrie, and he struggled to reconcile the disparity between the wealth of the school and the poverty of his home in New York. He left the school after two years and attended a school in the Bronx. He did not graduate, decided not to return to school after receiving his draft papers, and at the age of 18, he was drafted into the United States Army.
Bang spent six months in basic training and another two weeks learning jungle warfare, arriving in Vietnam just in time for the Tet Offensive. Starting out as an infantryrman, he did one tour of combat duty, rising to the rank of sergeant before he mustered out.
After Bang returned from the war, his life lacked direction. The job he had held before being drafted had been filled in his absence. He pursued and then abandoned a law degree, before becoming politically active and falling in with an underground group of revolutionaries. The group recognized Bang's knowledge of weapons from his time in the Army, and they used him to procure firearms for the group during trips to Maryland and Virginia, buying from pawnshops and other small operators who did not conduct extensive background checks. During one of these trips, Bang spotted three violins hanging at the back of a pawnshop, and he impulsively purchased one.
After serving in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, he returned to New York and joined the Sun Ra Arkestra.
In 1977, Bang co-founded the String Trio of New York (with guitarist James Emery and double bassist John Lindberg).
Billy Bang has most recently explored his experience in Vietnam in two albums: Vietnam: The Aftermath (2001) and Vietnam: Reflections (2005), recorded with a band which included several other veterans of that conflict. The latter album also features two Vietnamese musicians based in the United States (voice and ??n tranh zither).
* Distinction without a Difference (hat Hut, 1979)
* Commandment (No More, 1997)
* Sweet Space (Anima, 1979)
* Rainbow Gladiator (Soul Note, 1981)
* Invitation (Soul Note, 1982)
* Bangception, Willisau 1982 (hatOLOGY, 1982)
* Outline No. 12 (Celluloid, 1983)
* The Fire from Within (Soul Note, 1984)
* Live at Carlos 1 (Soul Note, 1986)
* Valve No. 10 (Soul Note, 1991)
* A Tribute to Stuff Smith (Soul Note, 1992)
* Spirits Gathering (CIMP, 1996)
* Bang On! (Justin Time, 1997)
* Big Bang Theory (Justin Time, 1999)
* Vietnam: The Aftermath (Justin Time, 2001)
* Vietnam: Reflections (Justin Time, 2004)
* Billy Bang & Charles Tyler: Live at Green Space (Anima, 1982)
* String Trio of New York: First String (Black Saint, 1979)
* String Trio of New York: Area Code 212 (Black Saint, 1980)
* String Trio of New York: Common Goal (Black Saint, 1981)
* String Trio of New York: Rebirth of a Feeling (Black Saint, 1983)
* String Trio of New York: Natural Balance (Black Saint, 1986)
* William Hooker/Billy Bang Duo: Joy (Within)! (1994-95)
* Sirone Bang Ensemble: Configuration (Silkheart, 2004)
* Billy Bang, Wayne Providence and Michael Maloy: Hip Hop Bebop (ITM, 2003)
(dates are recording, not release)