Francis Wong

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Francis Wong
Birth nameFrancis Wong
Born(1957-04-13)April 13, 1957
San Francisco, CA, U.S.
  • Musician
  • community organizer
  • composer
  • professor of Asian American Studies
  • Tenor saxophone
  • flute
  • erhu
Years active
  • 1982 - present

Francis Wong (Chinese: ; pinyin: Wáng Shìmíng) is an American jazz saxophonist, flutist, and erhu player.

Wong is of Chinese descent; his father is from Shanghai and his mother is Cantonese. He specializes in the fusion of free jazz and Asian musics, and is a central member in the Asian American jazz movement.[1] He has worked with Glenn Horiuchi, Jon Jang, John Tchicai, James Newton, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Brown, and Liu Qi-Chao. He and Jon Jang founded Asian Improv Records in 1987 (now Asian Improv aRts) and both have recorded albums for the label.[1]

Wong lives in South San Francisco, California.

As a performer[edit]

Wong is known for his versatility on the saxophone. He can use aggressive-sounding extended techniques, but can also play "so slowly and softly that he dissolves into the group, giving the feeling of an ethereal string ensemble."[2] In an interview, Wong said:

I've put a lot of time into saxophone playing and having an individual sound on the instrument itself. I've gone through a lot of different influences and tried to develop extended techniques in my approach to the horn in order to be able to play the saxophone the way I feel. How can I make the saxophone play in my image? Part of it is getting from the masters certain traditions and sounds. But also, with that sense of control or mastery of the instrument, be able to have come out what's inside of me. Relating that to some sense of self-empowerment with the instrument. This is one of the basic messages of the African American masters. Be yourself. Looking at that whole tradition, every player that has come along to develop his individual sound has had to change the instrument or the way the instrument is played in order to be themself with it.[3]

Central to Wong’s oeuvre is the intercultural cast of his music. The self-defining and uplifting qualities expressed in the music of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and later Art Ensemble of Chicago, Cecil Taylor, and Ornette Coleman shaped him as a performer and composer. Asian American musicians felt comfortable exploring their heritage “in the context of African American music” because of prior collaborations such as Nat Janning performing with Cantonese opera musicians in 1968 and John Handy partnering with Ali Akbar Khan in 1973. Musicians found the “moment-to- moment interactions” amongst peers enriching, expanding musical dialogue into unknown sonic territories. Asian American musicians aspired to their African American jazz counterparts’ idea of music’s ability to affirm one’s humanity and culture. For Asian American musicians, that meant experimenting with and incorporating Asian musical instruments, forms, scales, rhythms, and aesthetic concepts into jazz-based music. Part of Wong’s leaning toward intercultural explorations derives in part from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music’s (AACM) idea of improvisation as a means for cross-cultural communication in developing one’s music.[4] Wong’s albums, Pachinko Dreamtrack 10 with Glenn Horiuchi and Joseph Jarman (1999) and Mo’ Betta Butta with William Roper and Bobby Bradford (2008) represent his interracial and intercultural partnerships, as does the collaborative performance of “4X4,” featuring Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quartet meets Francis Wong Special Edition Quartet on May 23, 2012 at the Hall of Culture, African American Arts and Culture Complex. The intercultural mix of Wong’s “Persistence of Vision Project” combined the talents of Tatsu Aoki, Elliott Humberto Kavee, Jon Jang, John Carlos Perea, and Hafez Modirzadeh with poets Lawson Fusao Inada and Genny Lim. The piece was performed for Asian Improv Arts’ 20th Anniversary celebration in September 2007.

As a pioneering member of the Asian American creative music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area, Wong’s interdisciplinary work with other Asian American artists stemmed from the communal activity at the I-Hotel (International Hotel). The community group Kalian Collective joined forces with Asian American gallery artists, poets, dancers, muralists, politicos, college students and Filipino tenants who set up operations in the hotel to save it from urban renewal. The Asian American movement in the 1970s that followed integrated political, social, cultural, and artistic ideas. Many artists spurred by the communal activity and the movement collaborated to create new work. This set the tone for Wong and many Asian American artists, resulting in interdisciplinary works promoted and produced by Asian Improv Arts. “Diaspora Tales #2: 1969” performed in April 2010 is an interdisciplinary piece featuring music by the Francis Wong Unit, spoken word by A.K. Black, dance by Lenora Lee, and media design by Olivia Ting. The project was a commission of the Oakland Asian Cultural Center with a grant from the East Bay Fund for Artists of the East Bay Community Foundation.[4]

Connecting to communities and forming relationships is important to Wong. Newly emerged Asian American creative music burgeoned in the 1970s when African American and Asian American musicians played together in clubs in the historic jazz scene in San Francisco’s Fillmore District and nearby Japantown, linking musicians from Chinatown and Manilatown as well. In striving to promote jazz within Asian communities, Wong and Jon Jang gave jazz workshops and taught instrumental classes as Artists in Residence from 1990 to 1998 at the Cameron House in Chinatown. Through their efforts to integrate Chinese music into jazz, under the auspices of the California Arts Council, the two exercised true citizenship by drawing on their musicianship to enrich the community. The residency engendered the rise of a new generation of artists with whom Wong and Jang have performed – musicians Jeff Chan, Leon Lee, and dancer Lenora Lee. Wong remains committed to community work; he served as resident artist at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center and in Japantown, providing technical assistance to a local taiko drumming group, and teaching music classes and organizing concerts for young students. Performances persist with the support of Asia Improv Arts (AIA) under Wong’s artistic leadership. The “IMPROVISASIANS!” annual series of performances and workshops explore the connection between the performing arts and community building.[4]

As a community organizer[edit]

Throughout his career, Wong has helped numerous Asian American small-to-medium non-profits that focus on the arts, culture and heritage. His activities include strategic planning, meeting facilitation, grant writing, communications, operations, project management, and human resources. In 1987, he co-founded Asian Improv aRts (AIR), an organization dedicated to producing, presenting and documenting artistic works that represent Asian American experiences.[5] Among the young artists he mentored at AIR are Vijay Iyer, Miya Masaoka and Jen Shyu.[6][7] For nearly three decades, he was affiliated with Kularts (1991-2020),[8] a San Francisco-based organization promoting traditional and contemporary Filipino arts, first as manager and later as a long-time Board President. Wong was also the former Co-Director of the Oakland Asian Cultural Center (2000–01).

As an academic[edit]

Wong has long been active as a college-level educator. He taught jazz saxophone and jazz ensembles at San Francisco State University (1996–98), where one of his students was the Mescalero Apache jazz composer and bassist John-Carlos Perea.[9] He also taught a course entitled "Aspects of Asian American Culture" at the UC-Santa Cruz (1996-2001). Since 2017, he has been a Lecturer in Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University.


Wong is married to Julie Yumi Hatta.

Awards and honors[edit]

Rockefeller Foundation Next Generation Leadership Fellow (2000-2001)

Senior Fellow, Wildflowers Institute (1999-current)[10]

Ford Foundation Mid-Career Visionary Artist Award (2006)

Jazz Hero - Jazz Journalists Association (2017)[11]


As Leader or Co-Leader

Year recorded Title Ensemble Label
1993 Great Wall Asian Improv
1994 Pilgrimage Music and Arts
1995 Chicago Time Code Asian Improv
1995 Ming Asian Improv
1995 Duets I with Elliot Humberto Kavee Asian Improv
1995 Lament of Absalom with William Roper and Elliot Humberto Kavee Asian Improv
1996 Urban Reception with Tatsu Aoki and Dave Pavkovic Southport
1997 Devotee with Genny Lim Asian Improv
1999 Graphic Evidence with Jason Hwang, Tatsu Aoki and Wu Man[2] Asian Improv
1999 Pachinko Dreamtrack 10 with Glenn Horiuchi and Joseph Jarman Music and Arts
1999 Gathering of Ancestors with Elliot Humberto Kavee and John-Carlos Perea Asian Improv
2003 Purple Gums with William Roper and Bobby Bradford[12] Asian Improv
2005 Legends and Legacies Asian Improv
2008 Mo’ Bettah Butta with William Roper and Bobby Bradford Asian Improv
2009 3 big guys + 1 with Jeff Parker, Tatsu Aoki and Elliot Humberto Kavee Asian Improv
2010 Early Abstractions Estrada Poznańska
2016 Needs Are Met with Ari Brown Asian Improv
2016 Wojtek Trio Asian Improv
2017 Miyoshi Sketches[13] Asian Improv
2017 Soundtrack for Light with Lenora Lee Asian Improv
2017 Cartography with William Roper and Glenn Horiuchi Asian Improv

As Ensemble Performer

Year recorded Title Leader / Ensemble(s) Label
1984 Are You Chinese or Charlie Chan? Jon Jang Septet RPM
1988 Next Step Glenn Horiuchi Asian Improv
1989 Never Give Up! Jon Jang Asian Improv
1989 Oxnard Beet Glenn Horiuchi Soul Note
1993 Tiananmen! Jon Jang Soul Note
1995 Dew Drop Glenn Horiuchi Asian Improv
1995 Memorophilia Vijay Iyer Asian Improv
1998 Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire Asian American Jazz Orchestra Asian Improv
1999 Infinitesimal Flash John Tchicai Buzz
1999 Fair Play Glenn Horiuchi Soul Note
1999 Far East Suite Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra Asian Improv
2002 A Symphony of Cities Don Moye / Tatsu Aoki Southport
2002 For Now Jen Shyu 4 A.M.
2003 H.Con.Res.57/Treasure Box Alan Silva Celestrial Communications Orchestra Eremite
2006 Paper Son, Paper Songs Jon Jang Asian Improv
2007 Live in Poznan Tatsu Aoki Miyumi Project Southport
2008 Live at the Velvet Lounge Volume III Fred Anderson Quartet Asian Improv
2009 Horns of Plenty Jeff Chan Asian Improv
2013 Taglish Karl Evangelista Grex
2014 Shadow to Shadow Melody Takata Asian Improv
2019 Boxes Melody Takata Asian Improv
2020 Best of the Miyumi Project Tatsu Aoki FPE


  1. ^ a b Kelsey, Chris. "Francis Wong: Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2010-09-11.
  2. ^ a b Jazz, All About (2 November 2005). "Jason Kao Hwang/Francis Wong/Tatsu Aoki: Graphic Evidence album review @ All About Jazz". All About Jazz. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  3. ^ "A Conversation with Jon Jang and Francis Wong - Part 5 - The recordings of Jon Jang and Francis Wong / In Motion Magazine". Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  4. ^ a b c Interview with Francis Wong by Susan Asai. July 29, 2003. San Francisco.
  5. ^ "Turning 30, Asian-American arts nonprofit prepares for its busiest season yet". NBC News. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  6. ^ "Liner notes for Vijay Iyer's CD _Memorophilia_". 2016-03-04. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  7. ^ "For Asian-American Jazz Artists, Pandemic Uncovers Deep Wounds". 2020-04-15. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  8. ^ Francis Wong Post-Dialogue Celebration and Conversation, archived from the original on 2021-12-21, retrieved 2021-04-08
  9. ^ "Jazz and the Politics of Identity: The Musical Legacy of Jim Pepper by Bill Siegel - Art Changes / In Motion Magazine". Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  10. ^ "Wildflowers Institute - Fellows - Francis Wong". Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  11. ^ "Jazz Journalists Association Selects 2017 Jazz Heroes". JazzTimes. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  12. ^ Jazz, All About (25 August 2003). "Bobby Bradford/Francis Wong/William Roper: Purple Gums album review @ All About Jazz". All About Jazz. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  13. ^ "Celebrating 30 Years of Challenging Music from Asian Improv". KQED. 15 May 2017. Retrieved 2021-04-08.

Further reading[edit]

  • Asai, Susan Miyo. 1995. "Transformations of Tradition: Three Generations of Japanese American Music Making." The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 79, No. 3, pp. 429–453.
  • Dessen, Michael. 2006. “Asian Americans and Creative Music Legacies”. Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation, Vol 1, No 3.
  • Fellezs, Kevin. 2007. “Silenced but Not Silent: Asian Americans and Jazz Archived 2021-05-03 at the Wayback Machine." In Alien Encounters: Popular Culture in Asian America, edited by Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu and Mimi Thi Nguyen (pp. 69–108). Durham, ND: Duke University Press.
  • Hung, Eric. 2012. "Sounds of Asian American Trauma and Cultural Trauma: Jazz Reflections on the Japanese Internment." MusiCultures, Vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 1–29.
  • Kajikawa, Loren. 2012. “The Sound of Struggle: Black Revolutionary Nationalism and Asian American Jazz." In Jazz/Not Jazz: The Music and Its Boundaries, edited by David Ake, Charles Hiroshi Garrett and Daniel Goldmark (pp. 190–217). Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Paget-Clarke, Nic. 1998 (February 25). "A Conversation with Jon Jang and Francis Wong: The 10th Anniversary of Asian Improv." In Motion Magazine.
  • Wong, Deborah. 2004. Speak It Louder: Asian Americans Making Music. New York: Routledge.
  • Wong, Francis. 2017. "Exploring Asian Improv." M.A. Thesis, San Francisco State University.

External links[edit]