Billy Bang, (born William Walker, September 20, 1947 – April 11, 2011). Jazz violinist.

Billy Bang, (not to be confused with the younger hip-hop/rap artist), was born in Alabama, but grew up in New York City. Although he studied violin in school as a child, he didn’t relate to European Classical music and gave it up, despite showing great promise. After time spent as a soldier in Vietnam, he returned to New York, where he joined a radical group of young black revolutionaries. Upon going into a pawn shop to buy guns for a planned bank robbery, he saw a violin hanging on the wall and bought it instead. Influenced by the music of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Leroy Jenkins, he became an innovative voice on the instrument.

Although he was often known as a free jazz musician, especially through his playing with Sun Ra’s Arkestra, as well as the various groups led by Sonny Sharrock, Bill Laswell, and Ronald Shannon Jackson, (such as the Decoding Society, Last Exit, and Material), he also showed a great appreciation and respect for tradition. He recorded a tribute album to pioneering jazz violinist Stuff Smith and cited Ellington violinist Ray Nance as an important influence. He was a founding member of the String Trio of New York, which he led for 10 years. He died in New York from lung cancer at the age of 63.

Billy Bang released over 25 albums during his career. During the last ten years, Billy Bang drew on his combat experience in Vietnam to record two highly acclaimed albumsVietnam: The Aftermath and Vietnam: Reflections, which he recorded with other Vietnam War veterans. The music had a profound impact on both the musicians and war veterans in the audiences at his concerts.

“The music was intended as a personal journey but it’s touched a lot of other souls. I hope it gives them rest.”

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