IMPROVISED VIOLIN: FOUR PERSONAL VIEWS
featuring Leroy Jenkins, Billy Bang, John Blake, Jr., and Julie Lyonn Lieberman
In the 1980s, avant garde jazz violinist Leroy Jenkins approached me about making a film together. He asked me to design it and be one of the four violinists on it, as well as the moderator. We worked on the project together for close to a year. Leroy booked a date in Long Island at the now defunct IMAC (Intermedia Arts Center, Huntington, LI) and John Blake, Jr., Billy Bang, Leroy and I met at IMAC to film it.
Billy showed up with open wounds on his face and hand from a fistfight the night before at a bar in NYC. We had quite the time trying to find makeup for his dark skin tone in an all-white town. His “Michael Jackson” look with a white glove was to cover the wound on his hand. During the shoot, just before the group jam on “Now’s the Time,” a thief broke into the engineer’s room, hit him over the head, and stole his wallet, so the engineer chased the thief for blocks to get his wallet back as his head dripped blood on the sidewalks of Hungtinton. It was quite the day! After filming, Leroy and I commuted back and forth from NYC for many months to complete the edits.
When the documentary was completed, Leroy wasn’t interested in doing anything to make it available to the public. I later found out that he’d received grant money and, having satisfied the requirements of the grant, had shelved the now completely edited film. We were each given a BETA master. Now that I am the only artist alive out of the four of us (Leroy passed away in 2007, Billy in 2011, and John in 2014), it’s more important than ever to digitize this documentary, reformat it for the internet, and make it available to the public.
The orange and white painting was an abstract of me performing painted by famed artist Si Lewen. The blue violin was a fun project. I hand-painted it and attached various pieces of “art” into the paint. I bought the poster while working in New Orleans. It’s the only art I’ve ever found that depicts the black blues fiddlers active in the U.S. until the talking films came out in 1927. Listen to my NPR series to learn their fate.