First World War Black veterans returned home from fighting in France hoping to be recognized as equal citizens in this country. Despite their sacrifices and service, they faced continued oppression and harsh treatment under Jim Crow laws. The 1919 riots, also known as The Red Summer, marked a turning point as Black citizens supported by these returning veterans fought against their mistreatment for the first time.
In the late 1990s, I was commissioned by The National Opera Orchestra (Intersound Records) to arrange Mozart Arias for their instrumental orchestra release. It was quite the challenge in that the lyrics associated with opera are so important you sometimes overlook the essence of the music that supports the story. In 2023, I decided to bring visibility to Black WW1 Veterans and wanted to tell their story in this format.
This Jazz-Fusion project, titled 'The Red Summer 1919: An Instrumental Opera,' is my musical approach to imagining the events leading up to the riots. While recording these tracks, I relayed the essence of what each character was saying or doing. I composed the music with a scene in mind, and the instrumentalist used their imagination to create conversations through their improvisation or (in the case of Vinnie) shape the scene through rhythm.
Liner notes that include each scene narrative breakdown can be found at jkimowilliams.com
On June 1st, 1969, J. Kimo Williams was captivated as he witnessed Jimi Hendrix's spellbinding performance of "Spanish Castle Magic" at a Waikiki Shell concert in Hawaii. This transformative experience solidified his unwavering commitment to a life devoted to music. Subsequently, on July 4th, 1969, he enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Vietnam. His service in Vietnam, coupled with his departure from Sunset Beach, Hawaii, led J. Kimo to embark on a journey that saw him pursuing his musical aspirations at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
While at Berklee, his inspiration expanded as he encountered the mesmerizing music of the Jazz-Fusion ensemble Mahavishnu Orchestra. This encounter steered him toward enrolling at Berklee with the intention of honing his skills in music composition. An educational milestone came in the form of a pivotal class titled "Styles and Analysis," where he was entranced by the classical compositions of Mussorgsky and Messiaen. This encounter introduced him to yet another avenue for musical expression.
Equipped with foundational harmony and arranging knowledge, J. Kimo began crafting compositions for jazz big bands, infusing them with elements from the classical realm, including strings, French horn, tuba, and double-reeds. As Berklee's curriculum predominantly emphasized jazz and big band ensembles, he established his own musical collective to perform his distinctive compositions. The ensemble, known as "The Paumalu Symphony," drew its name from the street he resided on in Hawaii.
A pivotal moment in his journey came with the creation of his inaugural symphony, "Symphony for the Sons of Nam," a piece that garnered nationwide radio play and earned him multiple composer awards. His musical journey led him to the city of Chicago, where he resumed his military service before co-founding a recording label and studio, "Little Beck Music," alongside his partner Carol in 1990.
Transitioning into his next chapter, J. Kimo rebranded his musical endeavor as "Kimotion," enlisting talented Chicago musicians as collaborators. With a lineup comprising 22 accomplished instrumentalists, including trumpets, trombones, saxes, guitars, keyboards, and a variety of classical instruments, Kimotion brought forth a blend of contemporary Jazz-Fusion with underlying rock influences.
His debut release, "War Stories," in 1991, garnered praise from critics, receiving 4.5 stars from Downbeat Magazine. This album was a therapeutic outlet that drew from his experiences during the Vietnam War. As a Vietnam Veteran dealing with PTSD and disabilities, his compositions often drew inspiration from his military background, including the acclaimed "Symphony For The Sons of Nam."
In 2001, his second album, "Tracking," emerged, featuring esteemed musicians such as Victor Bailey, Vinnie Colaiuta, Michael Brecker, and even actor-musician Gary Sinise. Collaborating with Sinise led to the formation of the Lt. Dan Band, previously known as the G&K Classic Rock Band.
Continuing his creative journey, "Kimotion Live 2002 With My Friend Vinnie" captured a dynamic live performance at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. From 2012 onward, J. Kimo engaged in extensive recording efforts across Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and his Shepherdstown, WV studio. His artistic evolution led to the reimagining, re-recording, remixing, and remastering of prior works, culminating in multiple releases under his own name.
Looking forward to 2023, J. Kimo Williams embarks on a new venture, "The Red Summer 1919 - An Instrumental Opera." Set for release on Veterans Day, November 11th, 2023, this project is rooted in his commitment to honoring Black WW1 Veterans through the medium of instrumental opera. Leveraging advanced AI and audio technology tools, J. Kimo draws upon material from sessions in 2001 and 2012 to weave a narrative that resonates emotionally with listeners. He views his music as a conduit for meaningful emotional connection and communication between himself and his audience.