Fred Ho’s Last Year = Fred Ho’s Most Prominent Time Alive And In The Hereafter


[a film review]
Fred Ho’s Last Year
Featuring interviews with Fred Ho,
Marie Incontrera, Ben Barson,
Ruth Margraff, Anne T. Greene,
Youn Jung Kim,
Royal Hartigan, and many more
Directed by Steven De Castro
uncool films, inc
58 minutes
Rating: Not rated

It is simply not enough for me to tell you this is a great film or that it features great music. Sometimes I feel like I write quickie pieces about things that are far bigger than I can possibly interpret (I once had a teacher that wrote on my paper that I turned in that was meant to be a written review of a play “This was not supposed to be a quickie review for a weekend newspaper”–I really understand this in much clearer perspective now).

The film Fred Ho’s Last Year, an almost too-brief filmed account of what’s really the last several years of composer/saxophonist/bandleader Fred Ho’s life, is so telling of a man who has so much to say, the film almost can’t compete with his outspokenness, and somehow, one wonders if people are still left feeling like they have no chance in this world when they previously knew absolutely nothing of the things Fred Ho knew and shared with the world, and he still lost his battle with colorectal cancer on April 12, 2014.

But I would suggest that despite the grim reality of the outcome, you should take away from this film several things:
A) Fred Ho’s Resilience: Despite the fact that he was diagnosed 8 years before his death, and had undergone all kinds of possible treatments for his condition (some of which were medical and some much more in the progressive homeopathic vein) and the fact that this sometimes left him physically weak, and even after accepting that his fate was certain, he considered himself a newly reborn individual and christened himself so, and continued on with his music career and public life with both style and tenacity.

He basically educates you throughout this documentary, and among these things is the message that this cancer and anything related to it that left him to struggle, in turn simply made him a much stronger person. The Friedrich Nietzsche quote that has been in popular culture now for quite some time certainly comes to mind here: “That which does not kill me makes me stronger”. I also think of Obi Wan Kenobi becoming more powerful after being struck by Darth Vader.

He also denounces the doctors that treated him very improperly after a particular operation where Fred wasn’t sewn back up–they said it was scar tissue that somehow couldn’t be closed up, but he said this doctor had to make an special public appearance, therefore foregoing the closure. I can’t say I blame him for speaking out against such malpractice. And yet I’m sure this guy probably had a bunch of framed awards covering his office wall like so many in the profession that feel a need to prove their credibility.

B) Fred Ho’s Message: In a world where we are finding out very disturbing things about the stuff we eat or use on ourselves, it is quite astonishing to hear about things like “the Matrix” and what it really is. Fred believes that this Matrix is something that physically keeps everyone from acquiring a self-sufficient lifestyle, and instead forces everyone to continue to make concessions to the capitalist corporate world by buying and consuming food, food that in some cases is processed and unhealthy, and has us all living in an environment immersing everyone with it. Being the out-of-shape person that I am, I feel that this speaks directly to me, and I simply can’t ignore such a message. I would feel like this is an important film even if this was all he had to say.

Fred Ho’s Last Year – Documentary Feature Trailer: “Rain” from Steven De Castro on Vimeo.

C) Fred Ho, the artist: Even though the film doesn’t ever quite get to the subject of Fred’s music in full discussion, the music itself functions as an alternate narrative to the film. Fred does get quite vocal about the way the public is “colonized” to the point that they only understand music when it’s in the popularized 4/4 time signature as opposed to much more complex times heard in his music.

And seriously, if you are a fan of the saxophone, Fred Ho the saxophonist–Let’s just say he made the saxophone speak even louder than he ever did. A stunningly dynamic solo is featured within the first 10 minutes of the film that ends with the shrillest wail that recalls the opening whistles in West Side Story, and the solo in general rivals Lou Reed’s heaviest guitar solos.

The selection of Fred’s pieces for the film were all quite fitting, but I have to say, please look out for “Iron Man Meets The Black Dog Meets Dave Taylor”, a splendid work (by Fred Ho and Marie Incontrera; performed by Youn Jung Kim and the Green Monster Big Band) that combines Black Sabbath with Led Zeppelin and brings them into a satirical big band world.

It is certainly clear in this film that the people that worked closely with Fred Ho as a musician and composer are the ones that will carry his music through to further generations of keyed-in music aficionados. Particularly people like Marie Incontrera, whom I have known for quite some time, and besides being one of Fred’s biggest champions is a great composer and conductor in her own right (You even see her in action in this film besides hearing what she has to say), drummer Royal Hartigan, and Ben Barson, Fred’s saxophone protégé, who will actually be performing on Fred’s saxophone at one of the premieres of this film in New York coming up soon.

Long live Fred Ho.


Listen to my interview with Steven De Castro about Fred Ho and the film on The Glass Sho

NOTE: The 2 New York City premieres of Fred Ho’s Last Year will be held on July 31st and August 2nd.

First Screening:

215 Centre Street New York, NY 10013
July 31, 2014, 7 pm
On the Panel: Anne Greene and Ruth Margraff

Second Screening:

City Cinema Village East
189 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003
August 2, 2014, 5:30 pm
Music Tribute: Ben Barson playing Fred’s saxophone

And August 10th there will be a public birthday celebration for Fred:

Scientific Soul Sessions presents:
To Sing You Down
a celebration of Fred Ho on his first birthday in the sky
featuring Marie Incontrera conducting the Eco-Music Big Band

ShapeShifter Lab
18 Whitwell Place
Brooklyn, NY 11215
August 10, 2014, 7 pm
$20 admission

Discover Fred Ho (

Fred Ho (1957-2014) ~ Marie Incontrera Shares Memories of Her Mentor

Fred Ho

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. Continue reading

Gregg Kallor at Subculture ~ Concert Preview

Photo courtesy of Steve PoolGregg Kallor - Steve Pool

Courtesy of Two Sheps That Pass

Gregg Kallor is the recipient of an Aaron Copland Award for composition. One of ten composers nationwide selected for this prestigious residency, Kallor composed a concerto for piano and orchestra during his time at the home of the late eminent American composer. He also began several chamber music pieces while he was there, including “Undercurrent” for cello and piano – which he will premiere at SubCulture tonight at 7:30 PM with Laura Metcalf (cello).

Kallor’s new album, A Single Noon, is a nine-movement piano suite – a musical tableau of life in New York City told through a combination of classical composition and improvisation. Kallor premiered the suite at Carnegie Hall in 2011. Five-time GRAMMY®-nominee Fred Hersch calls it “the work of an extraordinary pianist, a composer of great distinction and a true conceptualist… this ambitious and unique suite really takes us somewhere that is very deeply heartfelt and dazzlingly executed. This is 21st-century music that has clearly absorbed the past and looks to a bright and borderless musical future.”

Kallor’s first music video, “Espresso Nirvana” (think caffeinated hijinks), is set to the sixth movement of the suite. His new music video, “Broken Sentences” (set to the 2nd movement), will be released tonight at SubCulture. It celebrates one of the most exciting public arts programs in NYC: the Sing For Hope Pianos – 88 artist-designed pianos that were placed in public spaces all around the 5 boroughs for anyone to play. Art for all.

Trailer for “Broken Sentences”

Gregg Kallor
SubCulture, 45 Bleecker St, Downstairs

Donal Fox ~ On Jamming with Hilary Hahn at Skaneateles

Donal FOX(Lou Jones)

Pianist-composer-improviser Donal Fox is performing this year at the 34th annual Skaneateles Festival.
Known for some incredible work in both jazz and new music, Donal has also been very active as a collaborator and experimentalist in merging styles. Besides his solo appearance at the upcoming festival on Thursday, August 15th at 8 PM, he’ll be playing with none other than a longtime favorite of The Glass and a veteran of this festival, Hilary Hahn, on Saturday the 17th at 7:30 PM at a special evening devoted to a collaboration never before seen by the public, and something that promises to be a real treat for both fans of jazz and classical. Hilary will also be appearing on Friday the 16th playing a solo recital at 8 PM.

Donal had a few minutes to talk about the show. Continue reading

Preview of Laila Biali at Subculture


“It is the ultimate task given to the musician, whether as singer or instrumentalist, to create a unique signature or fingerprint that is instantly recognisable as their own. What is surprising and delightful in Laila Biali is that both as vocalist and pianist she accomplishes this with equal aplomb. She is an exciting and unique talent, and I admire her greatly.” – Sting.

Award-winning Canadian Jazz pianist and vocalist Laila Biali has been garnering not only national attention but world-wide recognition for her music, which has been performed at prestigious venues spanning four continents including the North Sea Jazz Festival, Tokyo’s Cotton Club, Peru’s El Festival Internacional de Lima, and Carnegie Hall in New York City. She has toured with Grammy award-winners Chris Botti, Paula Cole and Suzanne Vega and recorded with and supported pop icon Sting.

Laila is performing two more shows of her residency at NYC’s Subculture on Monday, July 22nd and Monday, July 29th at 7 PM. Click here or on the bottom for info/tickets.

Laila takes the best of pop, rock, classical and soul, informs it with her knowledge of Jazz and weaves it all into her musical arrangements. Her latest studio recording Tracing Light received a JUNO nomination for “2011 Best Vocal Jazz Album of the Year” and her most recent release Live in Concert, recorded live in February 2012 in front of a gracious audience at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto, Canada, captures the spirit of live performance so essential to Jazz. Live in Concert was added in rotation at 73 radio stations in North America.

Laila Biali – Show Me The Place (Leonard Cohen)

Critics have called Laila a “keyboard virtuoso” (Toronto Star) with “a voice that makes the listener shudder” (Montreal Gazette), celebrating her “bold musical ventures, youthful funkiness, ingenuity, verve and depth” (Ottawa Citizen) and her “ability to meld traditional jazz with contemporary pop so effortlessly that neither style seems out of place on the same record” (Spinner Magazine). Her accolades include “SOCAN Composer of the Year” and “Keyboardist of the Year” at Canada’s National Jazz Awards.

As an educator, Laila has been on faculty at Stanford University’s renowned summer jazz workshop. She is also a member of the all female, New York based neo-Classical quartet Rose & The Nightingale whose members have toured with Grammy award-winner Esperanza Spalding. She currently splits her time between Toronto and New York City.

Click here for tickets for Laila’s July 22nd show
Click here for tickets for Laila’s July 29th show


Alex Skolnick ~ On Geek to Guitar Hero, Alex Skolnick Trio and Other Projects

Alex Skolnick 300 RGB

I’ve been given the wonderful opportunity to speak to the great Alex Skolnick very recently!
Besides being the lead guitarist for thrash metal band Testament, he has also put together the jazz group Alex Skolnick Trio as an amazing and emboldening outlet for his musicianship, and also has been part of (and collaborated on) other projects like Skol-Patrol, Attention Deficit and with acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. He also pens the popular blog Skolnotes. Alex has recently published his memoir titled Geek to Guitar Hero, not a life story but a book that features numerous key moments from his life (You can order the book here or on the link on the bottom). He also has an ongoing but still new project titled Planetary Coalition, which promises to allow him to do further collaboration with artists around the world.

Alex had a few minutes to Skype for The Glass. Continue reading

Rose & The Nightingale ~ A Concert Preview

Rose & The Nightingale are (L to R): Sara Caswell–violin, Laila Biali–piano and voice, Jody Redhage–cello and voice, and Leala Cyr–trumpet and voice (Photo courtesy of Ari Uzi)roseandnightingale

Jazz chamber ensemble Rose & the Nightingale have officially released their debut album, Spirit of the Garden (4 songs can be previewed on the embedded link below), on Sunnyside Records, and they are having an album release concert on Wed. May 8 at 9:00 pm at SubCulture in Manhattan (45 Bleeker St. @ Lafayette, downstairs).

Rose & the Nightingale are four powerful New York based multi-instrumentalists and improvisers: Jody Redhage (voice, cello, compositions), Leala Cyr (voice, trumpet), Sara Caswell (violin, mandolin), & Laila Biali (voice, piano). The band’s warm sound of three part vocal harmonies, intricate arrangements, and burning solos has proven to cut through to a deeper level of connection with audiences.

Cellist and composer/songwriter Jody Redhage had a few minutes to talk about Spirit in The Garden.


“The whole album is based on the overall Japanese concept of haiku are always about nature, always ajudgmental, nothing is right or wrong, good or bad, and everything is observational. You just try to capture this special moment of wonder in this little poem, and the tradition is they all have a seasonal keyword, something that tells you the season of the year.

All of the lyrics of the 16 songs on Spirit in The Garden are poems, either poetry by Japanese haiku masters or by living American poets. I started collecting nature poetry in 2009–The loose overlying concept of this recording was going to be inspired by the nexus of spirituality and nature, as in nature as a place where you feel awe and where you feel a connection to something greater, or an energy force–all of these things. I was invited to be guest recitalist and composer in various places around the country over the past few years, and each of the places I went, I would find a local poet, usually somebody who was really well-known in that state, and if they didn’t have poems that fit the theme already they would write new ones. We did our first-ever concert at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park last June–We collaborated with 2 local San Francisco poets who each wrote new poems in response to the Conservatory of Flowers spaces themselves. One of the poets, Evan Karp, wrote about this indoor rain forest room that’s in the Conservatory of Flowers, and a female San Franciscan poet named Silvi Alcivar wrote a piece inspired by the Orchid Room (and written while she was experiencing a family tragedy), by far the most emotional piece on the album.”

Click here for info/tickets for Rose & the Nightingale’s CD release concert May 7th at Subculture

Click here to purchase Spirit in The Garden

Rose & The

A Night of Jazz in Connecticut: Steven Husted and The Low Initiative/Sean Clapis

Steve Husted and the Low-End Initiative
Sean Clapis
The Outer Space, Hamden, CT
May 5th, 2012

A very rare thing for me is to go to jazz concerts, simply because I am so caught up in new classical music and rock that I sometimes forget jazz is happening, but this night certainly reminded me that it’s alive, kicking, and ripe for listening when you’re ready for it!

Hamden, CT’s The Outer Space, sister to The Space, was the venue for this evening of both classic and fusion-based jazz. In an area that is mostly coveted by cover bands and sports-like dives, both Spaces are, and have been, wonderful venues for original music from artists and bands both from CT and outside the area, and it was certainly a good place on this night to check out extraordinary performances by a couple of local virtuosos.

Queens-area bassist Steve Husted and his band The Low Initiavtive were the highlight of the evening, but before they took the stage, guitarist Sean Clapis and a small ad-hoc combo of two played a smoking set of classic bebop-oriented tunes comprised of some originals as well as a few older standards. Clapis, a Hartt School graduate, was amazing, and his guitar sound was reminiscent of Wes Montgomery as he and his small combo of bass and drums (played exquisitely by his bandmates; his drummer on this night was a lady that had chops I rarely see in person) provided sort of a laid-back, yet progressive bebop set.

When Husted and his group came on, they proceeded to give a whole ‘nother side of jazz and actively brought us to a later period of a more fusion-oriented sound. The 90-minute set consisted mostly of songs from their latest release Views From The Event Horizon, and Husted’s band had such a good rough-sounding funk combination of bass, guitar and electric piano that reminded me heavily at times of Bitches Brew, and it made me pine for the possibility of them actually playing that album’s title piece in all its 26-minute glory (The only thing missing from this band if they did that is a trumpet player).
Songs like “Cebrez”, “Frustration”, and a song for his wife “Kitty Kat Boogie” were all sweetly rendered, and Husted played at times like a man possessed, as if Jaco Pastorius set up shop inside his soul.
They wrapped up the evening with a wonderful ballad titled “Will I Ever See You Again?”, to which I responded “I hope so!”.

Steven Husted and the Low Initiative
Their Reverbnation page

Sean Clapis’ official page

Lara Downes

Pianist Lara Downes is someone that I thought I just knew from twitter, but I was totally fascinated when I checked out her current CD 13 Ways Of Looking at the Goldberg, a collection of 13 newly-composed variations/re-imagined takes on Bach by the same number of living composers (Among them Jennifer Higdon, William Bolcom and Lukas Foss), along with the original Bach collection’s plaintive “Aria”. On top of this, I realized she’s not just a great pianist but an incredible presenter and conversationalist of the music she plays. She even has, besides a regular cool website, a second one titled On The Bench where she turns the tables and interviews other pianists. This was kind of like those interviews, except I’m not nearly as good a pianist!
Lara spoke to me via Skype. Continue reading