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Billy Bang

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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. 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.

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  • insomniacme

    you rule billy!

    15 Jul 2012 Reply
  • MilesBachman

    rest in peace, billy.

    13 Apr 2011 Reply
  • timgt

    At play in the fields of the Lord. So sorry to hear. Was a joy to see you play.

    13 Apr 2011 Reply
  • greenfoxy

    R.I.P.

    13 Apr 2011 Reply
  • xbountyhunterx

    Rest in peace, Billy. One of the greatest violinists in free jazz, certainly.

    12 Apr 2011 Reply
  • pillfeast

    The new album, Prayer for Peace, is outstanding!

    18 Oct 2010 Reply
  • xbountyhunterx

    "vietnam: reflections" is also good, it's like the second part of "vietman: the aftermath". also try "rainbow gladiator", "outline no. 12", "the fire from within", "live at carlos 1", and "commandment". this musician has several top quality albums but he's a bit underrated.

    27 Jul 2010 Reply
  • rituallnoise

    Completely agree with you, debtail. : ) So charged, so dark and cathartic. Great, great music. Excellent. I like free jazz that look like industrial music. : ))) But I don't know anything else about the man than this beautiful album. Some suggestions?

    6 Jul 2010 Reply
  • timgt

    The man! I agree with mr.clayfold, catch him live if you can.

    20 Apr 2009 Reply
  • clayfold

    If you have never seen Billy perform you are missing one of the peak listening experiences possible. As good as the recordings are he is amazing live.

    13 Feb 2009 Reply
  • debtail

    Listen to 'Vietnam the Aftermath' CD. Excellent.

    31 Jan 2009 Reply
  • Honkmeier

    please vote for a new image. the one at the moment is badly chosen...

    8 May 2007 Reply

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