"Things Ain't What They Used to Be" (M. Ellington)
Earle Lavon Freeman Sr. was born in Chicago on Oct. 3, 1922 or 1923 (opinions differ), and has lived there for all of his nearly 90 years. This year, the tenor saxophone man celebrates his birthday as a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, chosen for his lifetime of artistry. "With his individual sound, at once husky and melodic, he makes every song his own," the NEA writes.
This time on JazzSet, we celebrate the legend, Von Freeman,with a Surround Sound remix of his 2010 New Year's Eve Battle of the Tenors. In the ring with Freeman, it's Ed Petersen, a protégé of the master, at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge in the Windy City.
Freeman grew up in music. He played saxophone at DuSable High School, the source of a slew of mid-century tenor men — Johnny Griffin, Clifford Jordan, Gene Ammons, John Gilmore. Von played in a Navy band while in the service, and then at the Pershing Hotel Ballroom in the house band with his brothers George on guitar and Bruz on drums. At 50, Von Freeman made his first album under his own name, Doin' It Right Now, produced by fellow saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
For decades, Freeman ran a Tuesday-night jam session at the New Apartment Lounge. It started late and ran later, but young players came and put in the long hours to learn their craft side-by-side with the master. We're hoping that one or two readers of this story participated in those sessions, and if so, please share some memories in the comments section.
This past July, the city of Chicago organized Truth Be Told: Celebrating the Legacy of Von Freeman, a concert in Millennium Park. For health reasons, Freeman missed the event. Though other tenors stepped up, Howard Reich wrote in Chicago Tribunethat "Freeman's absence was deeply felt, and not only because he projects a singular voice in jazz."
Appreciate that big voice throughout this set of bebop, ballads and blues, and contrast it to the related but unique voice of Ed Petersen, now a Jazz Studies professor at the University of New Orleans. Imagine coming out of the cold into a clutch of humanity at the Green Mill bar, feeling the music in the air and edging closer to the stage. Note well the all-star piano of Chicago's great Willie Pickens, bassist Brian Sandstrom and veteran drummer Robert Shy. There's no midnight like one from proprietor Dave Jemilo, who leads the countdown to 2011.
Onsite producer Dayna Calderon, with stage manager Meredith Ries. Green Mill recording by Timothy Powell of Metro Mobile Recording, assisted by Michael Ways. Surround Sound mix by Duke Markos.