Composer/saxophonist/bandleader Fred Ho, a truly unique artist who has been creating an interesting avant-garde blend of music featuring elements of jazz, big band, opera, and Asian folk and theatrical music, has sadly passed away on April 12 after battling metastatic colorectal cancer for the last 8 years. But it is very interesting to note that Fred Ho continues to keep his legacy going through his protégés, one of them his last student, composer Marie Incontrera. I heard about him when I interviewed her about the premiere of one of her works, and sure enough, I had the brief pleasure of meeting Mr. Ho that night at the show. Marie and I later spoke of interviewing Fred to preview a concert of his, but by that time, he’d become too ill to do an interview.
I asked Marie to talk about her experiences with Fred, and it is clear that so much has changed in her life as well as his during the 3 years they worked together. She has even taken over the role of bandleader for Fred’s ensembles The Green Monster Big Band and the Eco-Music Big Band. While Marie is a composer in her own right, I would say she is destined to be Fred’s most outspoken champion.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: She also happened to write a wonderful memorial posted on New Music Box titled ALL THE COLORS OF LIFE: A CELEBRATION OF FRED HO (1957-2014); 4/14/14)
CM: So, talk about what Fred meant to you as both an artist and a teacher.
Marie: Fred ended up being much more than a teacher to me. He became my friend, family, and collaborator, and I am grateful for every moment I got to spend with him, even though hanging out with Fred wasn’t always easy. Fred was an expert in tough love – on our first lesson together, he listened to about 30 seconds of my work before pronouncing it “boring!”
But I knew that Fred had something important to say, and I took the boot camping that he puts his students through gratefully and seriously.
CM: Had you known his music before you started working with him?
Marie: I first heard of Fred Ho in 2007 at the New York Youth Symphony composition program under Derek Bermel. Fred was the guest speaker on the day before my 22nd birthday, and he spoke to us and played his baritone saxophone. He played part of his Black Nation Suite, and wore one of his incredible self-designed Afro-Asian outfits. I remember being blown away–I had never met anyone who lived their lives as Fred did.
CMc: What would you say is his most definitive work or works?
Marie: I think that answer is different for everyone that lives closely with Fred’s works–I’m not even sure what his answer would be to this question. There is Sweet Science Suite, his virtuosic martial arts ballet; The Deadly She-Wolf Assassin at Armageddeon, the manga-opera he co-wrote with Ruth Margraff; The Voice of the Dragon Trilogy…. the list goes on. The works that resonate the most for me are his big band works: “Grace of the Guerrilla”; “My Love”; “Soul Science Stomp”; Movement 2 of Sweet Science Suite–“Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like An Afro-Asian Bumble Bee.”
A mini-doc of Fred Ho speaking about the premiere of the Sweet Science Suite
Marie: Fred always said that he bootcamps his students so that we can eventually bootcamp him and make him obsolete. In carrying on Fred’s legacy by leading his bands, I have been tasked with this monumental mission: not to put Fred’s music in a museum but to do Fred’s music better than Fred could have imagined, and also to create my own work that looks to the future in ways that Fred couldn’t. Fred was always very clear about that – he wanted to make sure that I would always continue my own creative work as well. It’s my life’s mission now–to make Fred obsolete in the best way possible, and to make his name immortal.
CM: What has it been like taking over the task of leading the 2 bands of his?
Marie: Above all things, it has been humbling. Fred’s bands are multi-generational and comprise some of the best jazz musicians on the planet. They have had my back every step of the way. Fred has a way of creating family wherever he goes–political, musical, his students, his friends. I see the bands as an extension of Fred’s big family that I have the honor of being a part of.
CM: What can we look forward to with the upcoming concerts?
Marie: On April 23, the Eco-Music Big Band will play at the Red Rooster Ginny’s Supper Club in Harlem. The concert will celebrate Fred’s life and will feature some of Fred’s important works, including his very last work, “Grace of the Guerrilla, My Love”. I’ve written a work that honors the time I spent in the last few months by Fred’s side. Also featured is Fred’s and my co-arrangement, “Iron Man Meets the Black Dog Meets David Taylor” (honoring the legendary bass trombonist David Taylor); “Soul Science Stomp”; and others.
Also the works of Cal Massey will be performed, a 1960s revolutionary composer who was overlooked during his time.
CM: I’m very fortunate that I have learned more about him from you than anywhere else, especially because I had the blessing of meeting him very briefly the night your riot girl opera debuted.
Marie: Thank you :) Fred has a way of changing the lives of everyone he meets!
Solo performance of Free New Afrika! Boogaloo from 2011
Although no funeral is being planned for Fred, there is going to be a memorial with a date to be determined, and will be held at BAM Cafe in Brooklyn.
Ginny’s Supper Club in Harlem is going to be the location for a pair of celebration concerts with the Eco-Music Big Band on Wed, April 23rd at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Tickets are $25.
Click here for tickets for the 7:30 show.
R.I.P. Fred Ho