Reviews that mention Von Freeman

June 1, 2016

Artist Feature

Mike Reed
By Ken Waxman

Chicago drummer Mike Reed, 42, is a realist – and a visionary. More than a dozen years ago he experienced his own epiphany about the (jazz) music business and his place in it while working part time as a bartender. “I was thinking about my future and how I didn’t want to still be a bartender when I was 39 … or 49,” he recalls. Reed who at that point had been involved with different bands in Chicago’s music ferment since his mid-‘90s return to the city after completing a degree in English and Psychology at the University of Dayton Ohio, was with cornetist Josh Berman, already co-curating a series of Sunday sessions at the Hungry Brain club. Earlier, while working for a marketing agency he had helped organize city concerts encouraging people to vote in the presidential election. Promotion seemed to be the appropriate career choice and within a year, he had partnered with Pitchfork, a Chicago-based online music magazine, to create the annual summer Pitchfork Music Festival which is still going strong. MORE

May 9, 2014

Artist Feature

Greg Ward
By Ken Waxman

Back in the heyday of vaudeville, answering affirmatively the question “Will It Play in Peoria?” meant that if an act could impress the audience in that small Illinois town, it was good enough to work nationwide. Ironically enough alto saxophonist Greg Ward embodies that maxim. Before moving to NYC, after maturing his career in Chicago, Ward, 31, spent his teenage years playing every gig he could in his home town of Peoria.

“At that time between Peoria and Chicago there was lots of work for a young player, which was very important,” the saxophonist, explains. Today he’s still kept busy gigging in larger centres, but he doesn’t deny his roots or early associations. On May 16 and 17 at the Jazz Gallery, a septet will premiere his series of composition honoring the 70th birthday of one of his long-time mentors, Preston Jackson. Jackson who is professor emeritus of sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago’s school, as well as a semi-professional guitarist, first played with Ward when the latter was 14. That was three years after Ward had made up his mind to become a musician, despite family pressure to become a doctor. That too was ironic, since both his father and uncle were professional gospel musicians and Ward had been singing gospel music as a three-year-old and studying violin from the age of nine. By the fifth grade he began playing alto saxophone using his father's old Conn. MORE

November 8, 2013


George Freeman
By Ken Waxman

Over the years he’s played with Gene Ammons, Charlie Parker, Johnny Griffin and Richard “Groove” Holmes, composed a couple of funky jazz hits and still gigs frequently at 85, yet if Chicago-based George Freeman is known in jazz, it’s as the last remaining jazz-playing Freeman Brothers.

Baby brother of the three siblings, that included Drummer Bruz 1921-2006) and tenor saxophonist Von (1922-12012), he’s also the uncle of saxophonist Chico Freeman. Freeman says without boasting, but with no false modesty “God gave me an extremely different type of talent, but I don’t think I’ve been properly heard”. MORE

October 21, 2002


The Improvisor
Premonition Records 66917 90757 2 3

Resorting to clichés when writing about Von Freeman is easy. A, quote, “living legend” end quote, in his home town of Chicago, he turned 80 this month (on October 3) and, as the phrase makers would have it, never quote “rests on his laurels” end quote, and quote “plays with the energy of a man half his age” end quote.

All this is true enough, but unlike other honored septuagenarian or octogenarian jazzers, Freeman is doing more than merely playing with the artistic maturity he exhibited in his forties, fifties, sixties ands seventies: he’s trying new things as well. This CD, recorded when he was a mere 79, finds him not only working with his regular band, at a live gig he’s had at South Side club for 20 years of Tuesdays, but also with an out-of-town rhythm section. It also features a duet on an obscure Duke Ellington line with him and New York pianist Jason Moran, who is more than 50 years Freeman’s junior. Plus the album begins with an unaccompanied tenor saxophone version of the standard “If I Should Leave You”, where Freeman mixes the sensuality of a Gene Ammons with the cold steel of a Sonny Rollins. MORE

August 12, 2000


You Talkin' To Me?!
Delmark DE-525

Opera may be promoting its three (vocal) tenors ad nauseam, but jazz has a much more venerable tradition of two (instrumental) tenors. In many ways the tenor saxophone is the prototypical jazz instrument. So tenor duels have been a feature of the music almost from the time Coleman Hawkins first changed a reed in the 1920s.

This enjoyable disc confirms that the sax face off pioneered by such tenor tag teams as Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Johnny Griffin is still alive and blowing. But there's an extra twist here: One of the saxophone soloists is 22, the other more than 55 years older.


August 30, 1997

Von Freeman's 75th Birthday Tribute

Chicago -August 30, 1997

People ask me why I didn't leave Chicago?" queried tenor saxophonist Von Freeman, at centre stage on The Petrillo Bandshell for his 75th birthday tribute as the Saturday night finale of this year's Chicago Jazz Festival.

"It's because I love Chicago and it loves me," he concluded. And then the gray-haired, loquacious, patriarch of the city's jazz musicians, proceeded to play a hearty chorus of "I Hear A Rhapsody," before introducing the other musicians on stage.

Indeed the love and respect Freeman takes as his due could be seen not only in the rapturous response to his appearance, which came from the thousands of fans gathered in Chicago's Grant Park for the 19th annual edition of the festival, but also from the musicians who participated in the tribute. Prominent among them at first was seasoned club vocalist Bettye Jean Reynolds,who has been part of the Freeman nightclub "show" for years and his brother, guitarist George Freeman, "who has been with me all his life," as Von declared. That crew, backed by Chicago piano legend John Young, sporting his trademark white cap; young bassist Rob Amster and veteran, but still many years Freeman's junior, drummer Mike Raynor performed their distinctive versions of a couple of jazz standards. Then it was star time. MORE