The Fierceness of Fred Ho
Out of the corner of my eye in my busy past couple of days I noticed a tweet informing me that the baritone sax master Fred Ho had died. I felt a pang of sadness as I fleetingly computed what I knew about the man; that I’d once heard magnificent, rapturous music emanating from a neighboring rehearsal studio at Complete Music Services in Brooklyn and had gone to peek and discovered that it was Fred Ho rehearsing his orchestra. My friend Joseph Yoon was in the studio; he was working with Mr. Ho in a managerial capacity and introduced us. Fred Ho was beautiful, smiling with a warm handshake and clad in a fantastic, flamboyant outfit fit for an emperor. I was immediately enamored and told Joseph I’d love to get some lessons from him, but Joseph told me Mr. Ho was fighting cancer and wasn’t currently teaching. The gig I was rehearsing for was the same night as his, but I resolved to check out his music, which I proceeded to not get around to doing for the next couple of years during which time I picked up piecemeal snippets of information about his activism and eschewal of social media. Upon learning of his death I’m left with a mental sketch of a noble master who was living under my nose and a hope that, having been deeply moved by the video attached to his New York Times obituary, that I will finally get around to learning more about the music and life of this baritone saxophone master. I’m reminded that while as musicians we almost universally, as far as I can tell, look to our forebears, there are masters living and working among us whose work needn’t be enjoyed posthumously. I’m really sorry I never got to see Fred Ho play his saxophone. I’m glad his suffering is over and I hope his spirit will perpetually enjoy generations of celebration and acclaim.
I haven’t posted much here in a while, but I just found this televised concert performance by Louis Armstrong, the first horn player of my consciousness, from Berlin in 1965. It’s exactly the kind of thing I might have watched on TV as a toddler in Australia. Always, loved him, still love him and went to his house in Corona, Queens a few months back. I wrote a piece about it for an Australian magazine, but don’t know if they ever used it; if not I’ll post it here.
Alto & Tuba action on a delicious bed of cello, guitar and drums
I was lucky enough to see Junior Walker and the All Stars live in concert the second night I was ever in New York City in July of 1989. My friend and I arrived on a Friday night, I picked up a copy of The Village Voice and saw that there was a soul music concert the next night at The Beacon Theater, $25 a ticket to see Percy Sledge, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Picket and Junior Walker. Coming from Australia, this was unbelievable to me, but it was real and that specific concert is undoubtedly one of the experiences that compelled me to find a way to live in this magical musical city. To see Percy sing When A Man Loves A Woman, Eddie knock knock knock knock knocking on wood for around 15 minutes and Wilson Pickett resentfully churning out performances of a dozen of his hits thrilled me half to death, but when Junior Walker came out swinging with his own band, The All Stars, and literally jumped right into Shotgun I broke down and wept. Junior Walker has been one of my favorite sax players as long as I’ve had favorite sax players and his concert was one of the best I’ve seen in my life. I couldn’t find any lengthier snippet of live footage than this clip of him and the band playing at the Ram Jam Club in London in 1967, but you get the idea of what I experienced and why he’s one of my faves in the first 10 seconds.