by Piotr Michalowski
There are currently two disparate trends in the practice of jazz and improvised music in our country. One is firmly committed to maintaining a strictly defined tradition and therefore requires long apprenticeship, now mainly done in schools. The second trend looks to the future and claims an openness to other cultures and other musics that seeks to embrace the globalization of the arts. This fusion of different artistic traditions can often lead to faceless eclecticism, but in talented hands and minds it can lead to powerful individualism. Such is the case with American-born violinist and composer Jason Kao Hwang, whose parents emigrated from China.
Hwang’s formal college education was not in music but in other areas—he has a degree in film and television from NYU. Though he soon dedicated his life to music, he has always maintained his interest in all the arts. He first came into prominence with Commitment, a band that included the great bassist William Parker, and then as part of the cast of the Broadway drama M. Butterfly, for which he helped to arrange the music and played the violin. In 1993 he organized the Far East Side Band, which brought together Asian and Asian American musicians and a tuba player by the name of Joe Daley. He continues to lead various groups to this day, and is so busy that it is impossible to summarize his achievements in a few paragraphs. He has played with many of the greatest musicians of our time, such as Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill; led his own groups; made many recordings; written chamber works and an opera; and composed music for numerous films.
From the beginning Hwang has worked as a performer and composer, but he has also consciously used his art to explore, create, and discover his own identity as an Asian American. He credits a 1992 trip to Korea with awakening his sense of ethnic distinctiveness, but he does not simply see himself as Chinese;
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