It’s difficult to overstate what a loss the death of Fred Ho is for jazz, for music, and for the nexus of art and revolution. He had been frank about his prognosis for some time and was quite open about the fact that he had a very limited amount of time left. Still, this comes as a shock.
The sophistication Ho brought to the table when he conceived of integrating his radicalism into the aesthetics of his music was second to none; easily on the same level as Mingus, Roach, Shepp and other radicals throughout jazz history (though it’s only fair to point out that Ho himself understandably bristled at the very term “jazz”). The above composition — a tribute to Muhammad Ali — illustrates this as well as any of his compositions. One fears that with his death, one more link between that history and a future for the political avant-garde has been severed.
There’s more to say, and I certainly will. But in the meantime it is worth appreciating the staggering breadth of Ho’s work. Not just countless albums but a roster of stage operas, a handful of books, even a few art exhibitions on his own idiosyncratic style of dress. Not many artists of any genre can really claim this much and have it be so consistently stunning.