When Fred Ho—a composer, saxophonist, writer, teacher and activist, died at his home in Brooklyn, New York on April 12, at 56, the music world lost an artist and thinker of singular vision and extraordinarily potent drive, one capable of playing the baritone saxophone with rare articulation and poise and of sharing a politically charged, spiritually driven ethos with the musicians who followed him. The world lost a tireless and true radical, who advanced an idea of Afro-Asian culture that was ahead of its time and of increasing relevance.
As Ben Ratliff wrote in his New York Times obituary,
Mr. Ho, who was of Chinese descent, considered himself a “popular avant-gardist.” He was inspired by the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and by the ambitious, powerful music of African-American bandleaders including Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Sun Ra and especially Charles Mingus. But he rejected the word jazz, which he considered a pejorative term imposed by Europeans.
Fred Ho’s music will be performed in his honor Wednesday night, April 23rd at Ginny’s Supper Club in Harlem, as organized by his student, friend and fellow baritone saxophonist Benjamin Barson.
One of the great benefits of my work is that I get to absorb the legacies—the fine details as well as the larger purposes—of musicians through other musicians, which is the richest way to do it. Ben Barson has deep and touching insights into Ho’s music and mind. I invited Ben to write about Fred’s spirit and legacy here. Based on his piece, I trust that my edit process was nothing compared to say, working in Fred Ho’s band (or, for that matter, his kitchen).
TRUTH TO POWER: IN HONOR OF FRED HO (August 10th, 1957-April 12th, 2014)
By Benjamin Barson
To understand the truth of baritone saxophonist and composer Fred Ho is to also speak truth to power. To be around Fred was to be around a very powerful human being, who administered truth gracefully at times and brutally at others, but always consistently.
One forceful evocation of Fred Ho’s truth emerged early in my tutelage with the 5-10″ Chinese-American matriarchal ecosocialist (he believed in the political rule of mothers; and of a humanity retuned to the Earth’s ecosystems) after I set off Fred’s bullshit-detector: I showed up 20 minutes late to a lesson I had scheduled with him. Not a lesson on the baritone saxophone (I had been playing an old Buescher Aristocrat since 2008, and studying with Fred Ho since 2009) but on the stove: a cooking lesson. A lesson I specifically requested of him. He hovered over me, his eyes focused on my every chop of parsley, examining with perpetual disgust my clammy grasp of his magnificent custom-made blades, becoming frustrated at my failure to use the knife’s blade as a pivot (as he had so meticulously demonstrated before we started), and just exuding an undeniable odor of pissed-offness that he had to tolerate the inconsistency of a white male from a hippie school in the town he grew up (Hampshire College, in Amherst, Mass.) who couldn’t tell his parsley from his mint, much less revolution versus reform. Continue reading “Truth to Power: In Honor of Fred Ho (August 10th, 1957-April 12th, 2014)”