Violin saved his life: Billy Bang

Turning from despair and urban terrorism to improvised music re-energized the life of Vietnam veteran Billy Bang in the late 1960s after he found a violin in a pawn shop while buying guns. At least that’s what Bang (1947-2011), recounted to Bandcamp Daily’s Andy Thomas. A survey of the violinist’s recording career, with embedded examples, the article recounts how Bang’s musical skills were subsumed in bitterness and substance abuse following a stint in Vietnam. Then the pawnshop violin “calling” him brought Bang back to music. Studying with pioneering Free Music violinist Leroy Jenkins, Bang was soon part of, and then a band leader in, New York’s so-called Loft Scene playing regularly with the likes of bassist William Parker, clarinetist Henry Warner, trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah and during a 10-year stint in Sun Ra’s Arkestra. While utilizing his gritty sound to lead or co-lead a series of groups over the few years, early in this century he finally recorded two CDs reflecting his time in Vietnam. One was with fellow American advanced players like tenor saxophonist Frank Lowe and trumpet Ted Daniel, and the other, on-site, with local Vietnamese musicians.