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Announcement :: Media
Revolutionary musician Fred Ho coming to town!
07 Mar 2006
Modified: 02:40:48 AM
Fred Ho, who has supported the struggles of political prisoners for many years, and performed for free at community events in Boston, is speaking in Cambridge this Friday. This is a chance for us to support him, and to learn more about this remarkable man.
Fri., March 10-"The Artistic Philosophy and Guerilla Career of Fred Ho." (Learning From Performers, OfA, Harvard-Radcliffe Asian-American Association) A conversation with Fred Ho, jazz composer/saxophonist, moderated by Tom Everett, director, Harvard Bands. Dudley House Graduate Student Lounge, (opposite Out-of-Town News and just inside Harvard Yard), 4 p.m. Free and open to the public. (617) 495-8676,
[...] Who is Fred Ho? A Chinese-American jazz saxophonist, composer, and writer—and self-described “radical, revolutionary artist.” His genre-busting music is an artful, arresting mix of African and Asian traditions peppered with iconic American notes. He creates jazz suites that incorporate Chinese folk songs and Duke Ellington-style swing, and epic musicals with martial arts, vampires, and mythological monkeys. He also writes articles, essays, and speeches, and has edited books, such as Sounding Off! Music as Subversion/Resistance/Revolution. Based in Brooklyn, Ho has a full performance schedule. He tours regularly (most recently out West with one of his bands, the Brooklyn Sax Quartet) and has been reviewed by the New York Times and Jazz Times, among others. Commenting on a production of Ho’s operatic homage to female rebels, Warrior Sisters, the New Yorker called him “a musician who joins a protean range of talents.”

One fan is Myra Mayman, former director of Harvard’s Office for the Arts, who oversaw Ho’s week-long campus stay as the Peter Ivers Visiting Artist in 1987. “Fred came on with this enormous saxophone and made the most amazing sounds—sort of exploding burping sounds,” she says of the first time she heard him play at Sanders Theatre. “It was among the most aggressive, awakening music I’ve ever heard in a concert hall, and it grabbed you by the back of the neck. He was trying to explode things, to tear the tops off of ordinary experience. It was very different. Sounds of protest? Anger? Aggression? Or all of that. He didn’t want to be doing what everyone else was doing. That was quite clear.”

Ho is an uncompromising Marxist. He currently believes that the capitalist patriarchy should be replaced with its opposite—a matriarchy—as a necessary transition stage toward true communism. His music and radical politics, both discovered by the age of 14, are inseparable and dominate his life. “All music is political,” he explains, “whether the artist is conscious of it or not. I subscribe to the interpenetration of ideas and material life. I talk the walk.”

Growing up near the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where his father was a Chinese political-science professor, Ho immersed himself in the political unrest of the 1960s and 1970s. “As a teenager I was trying to find an example of something that was not part of the white world. The catalytic impact of the Black Power movement, and Malcolm X, and the Black Arts movement sought to challenge white supremacy in America,” he told the Village Voice in 1997. “I came of age during the Asian-American movement of the early ’70s, and am trying to forge a unity between the two great social movements that had an impact on my life. Music that has been called ‘jazz’ said a lot to me because it came out of the experience of an oppressed people. At the same time, it spoke to the beauty and passion of people who in spite of their oppression affirmed their humanity.”

Ho took up the baritone saxophone—its booming, guttural sound, when played at the lower register, can fit into both the wind and horn sections—because it was free and available: nobody else in the high school band liked it. His friends included the sons of experimental musicians Archie Shepp and Max Roach (both on the university’s faculty at the time), and he never wasted an opportunity to watch the men perform, or to audit Shepp’s classes. Within several years, Ho was performing semi-professionally.

At home, he and his sisters (Florence ’80, a doctor, and Flora ’87, a lawyer) coped with domestic violence. “Though successful, my father faced discrimination and had no social response to that oppression,” is how Ho explains it. “He was extremely feudal, Confucian, in his thinking, so he internalized it all and took it out on those at home, rather than on his white colleagues. One of my first insurrections was to defend my mother against his physical beatings and give him two black eyes.” The experience “made me a militant in the sense that I’ve never subscribed to turning the other cheek, or to pacifism.”

After high school, Ho and a friend, confused over their paths in life, joined the U.S. Marines in 1973. It was the Vietnam era, and Ho says he was continually targeted during training exercises—“This is what the gook looks like.” That was a “very tough, alienating experience,” he says, “an experience of turning pain into power [a phrase he used as the title of his 1997 jazz suite]. I became very good in hand-to-hand combat, trained to fight and sanction my enemy in close quarters without the use of firearms so there would be no forensic evidence.” In 1975, he was dishonorably discharged after clocking his commanding officer over a racist slur. He successfully contested the discharge and his record was expunged.

Since then, Ho has returned to a military milieu on several occasions, most recently last fall, in Cambodia, where he trained security forces for the newly installed king, Norodom Sihamoni, the son of the country’s former leader, Norodom Sihanouk. Ho had met Sihanouk as part of a small group of Americans sympathetic to his efforts to stabilize his country and halt U.S. incursions. “He liked me a lot,” Ho notes. “I agreed to help train his security forces then, and returned when he transferred power to his son.”

Ho says he has now retired from that kind of work. He also no longer carries a gun; licensing is too expensive, and gun users are “cowards.” “I understand their right to bear arms for self-defense, but the use of a gun requires no wisdom,” he explains. “But I do believe in knives.” A Filipino machete and a bowie knife hang on the back of his front door—his “home-security system.”

By the time he entered Harvard, at 20, Ho had already joined, and left, the Nation of Islam (he considered it too insular, and never got an answer about why his name had to be changed to Fred 3X when his ancestors were not slaves). Ideologically, he was a “yellow nationalist” until the summer after his freshman year, when he joined the I Wor Kuen, an Asian-American radical group, initially modeled after the Black Panthers, that morphed into the League of Revolutionary Struggle. Ho painstakingly converted to Marxism and quickly came to regard the IWK as his family. (More than a decade later, he was thrown out because of ideological differences; he says the group, which disbanded in 1989, was jettisoning Marxism.)

Meanwhile, he concentrated in sociology. He organized the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian-American Association and the Harvard-Radcliffe Task Force on Affirmative Action; and worked to end the University’s ties to apartheid [...]
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Re: Revolutionary musician Fred Ho coming to town!
08 Mar 2006
thanks a ton for posting this. never knew about you until i was surfing in honor of intl womens day/radio. i'm an old friend of brother fred. since the 70's when he co-founded the asian american resource workshop in boston, which is still the primary community organization for political, educational, cultural, fighting to preserve chinatown [from tufts expansion and city/ developer hirise encroachment], & against hate crimes.
i last saw him at northeastern u a few summers ago when he was rehearsing something like his
martial arts opera. i missed the performance.
he is obviously a one man tour de force. it is a
rare treat just to see him and hear him. even if
he doesn't play a note on the baritone sax. the
page on him from your posted link:more
is perfect.
thanks again for getting the word out.
a truly gifted artist and free spirit in the truest
sense. i'm sure he would approve the japanese
word, ganbatte' keep moving forward,don't stop.
Re: Revolutionary musician Fred Ho coming to town!
09 Mar 2006
I saw FH perform during the Critical Resistance East conference a few years back. It was spellbinding. Disappointed that this is just a speaking event.