Von Freeman: Have No Fear (1975) Nessa


Selection: Polka Dots and Moonbeams  (Van Heusen / Burke) 320 kbps MP3


David Shipp (bass), Wilbur Campbell (drums), John Young (piano),  Von Freeman (tenor saxophone) Recorded June 11, 1975, engineer Stu Black


Finding myself owner of this record, but knowing nothing about the artist, the label, or the genre of Chicago jazz, I first fact-checked the usual suspects, just in case I put my foot firmly in my mouth. The results were encouraging:

Dusty Groove say:

One of the best studio albums ever from the legendary Von Freeman – and a date that really captures some of the careful essence of his live performances in Chicago. … This easy-going Nessa session really lets him open up and take off – blowing tunes that are straight ahead, but always with that offbeat style that turns the songs inside out – making them rich exploratory fields for inventive and creative solos.

Amazon reviewer says:

 This is one of the best tenor sax players of his day, hopefully with his passing his legacy will come to light. The playing on this is crisp and swinging. … Not a household name outside of Chicago but for many years he held court in the windy city. I would rate this five stars, straight ahead jazz at it’s finest.

Wiki add:

Freeman was considered a founder of the Chicago School of jazz tenorists along with Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin and Clifford Jordan. His music has been described as “wonderfully swinging and dramatic” featuring a “large rich sound”.

“Vonski,” as he was known by his jazz fans, was selected to receive the nation’s highest jazz honor, the NEA Jazz Masters award. He died of heart failure at the age of 88. on August 11, 2012.

LJC says:

Both Nessa and Von Freeman were new to me, drawn to my attention by  LJC poster Andy C – hat tip. I’m not proud, I can learn.  An unfamiliar artist but you feel immediately at home with the music. A little homework indicated that Von Freeman was a heavyweight.

During the golden years of the ’50s and ’60s he worked only as a sideman but with some big names, making his first recording as leader as late as 1972. Over the following four decades he released a string of albums in the genre he liked to call “hardcore jazz” but remained a stalwart of the Chicago jazz scene.

Perhaps it made sense to stay home in Chicago. By the early ’70s many jazz greats were prematurely deceased, had fled New York for Europe or followed the money to LA scoring for film/TV. Worse, some had  donned gold lame pants and embraced the funky chicken, or even worse, the “F” word, Fusion.

Freeman’s commitment to the mainstream jazz tradition is worthy of exploration. Mounting Have No Fear on the turntable, I pretty soon found myself wondering where the last twenty minutes had gone. It may not be ground-breaking or boundary-pushing, but it is thoroughly enjoyable jazz.

Vinyl: Nessa N-6 Stereo

Great feisty sounding record – gutsy tenor, strong piano, firm bass and punchy drums. Solid pressing. The build- quality of the cover is another matter  Makes you appreciate those  thick card laminated Blue Note and Impulse all the more.



Collector’s Corner


Rarely frequented vintage vinyl shop off tourist mecca Portobello Road West London.

LJC poster Andy C pointed me at Nessa, a Chicago based specialist small jazz label founded by one Chuck Nessa, a name  I keep coming across on the Groovisimo forum (frequented by some of the usual suspects here, you know who you are).

Andy recommended the tenor player on the Nessa label, Von Freeman . I  knew I had seen the name Von Freeman on an album somewhere, but for the life of me couldn’t remember where or when. It’s a strange thing, that. While looking through hundreds may be thousands of records a month, you can actually remember seeing one record title and artist name for a split second, and you can remember the name and vaguely a cover, despite giving it no thought, passing on it. However you can’t remember anything important, like the date of your wedding anniversary.

A month later, for no better reason than looking for a birthday card from a shop I knew that had nice cards, I found myself in Notting Hill. Notting Hill resident Prime Minister David Cameron was busy issuing flood warnings, Julia Roberts was on answerphone and Hugh Grant’s line was engaged: so much for blending in with the locals. The card shop had closed down, what else but take a rare browse through a local record store that rarely has anything, and what should pop up in hand? Von Freeman, on Nessa. Spooky.

Heaven knows what this record’s ownership history was, adorned by a gold sticker from an Amsterdam record store, The Jazz Inn.  I wonder if they are still around. Sounds like my sort of place.

Hi LJC, another genever? Had this great record come in. Von Freeman…You don’t know him? He’s great.

And so he is.

16 thoughts on “Von Freeman: Have No Fear (1975) Nessa

  1. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never heard of him either, being a Chicagoan and all (have heard Chico more than once on WDCB, thank you College of Dupage!). I like what I hear. I’m also a noob to Nessa, nice quality sound indeed. I’ll have to keep my eyes wider-open whilst digging the crates. BTW, did I hear a door slamming right around the 5:16 mark or has my browser gone mad?

  2. Thanks for the introduction. I, too, was new to Von Freeman, but one learns something new everyday and boy was it enjoyable.

    I have a few old finds in my cabinet that have that same Jazz-Inn sticker on the back. And I want to say that I also have a record, I forget what title right now, that has the sticker on the label. The jubilant comments from the other cats here about Jazz-Inn made me jealous 😉

  3. Jazz Inn on Vijzelgracht is sadly defunkt…. I used to buy records there in the late 80’s as a student, great little jazz shop. I have a few Nessa’s, nice label. Just like Strata East is a nice niche US label. I will have to check out Von Freeman, never heard of him…

    • Now you come to mention it, I did go to Amsterdam on an ‘educational’ trip as a university student in the late 80s. I went to the very same shop and bought some Sun Ra on Infinity and Actuel – still have them.

  4. Strangely, I bought this a few weeks ago in a charity shop for a couple of quid. Definitely worth the investment! Looks identical to your copy, right down to the gold Dutch import sticker.

  5. Great finding ; if you like Von Freeman, take some time to search for vinyls of .his son Chico Freeman , also a great tenor saxophone player now living in Switzerland . He also plays in the style of the Chicago tradition with some links to the AACM association. We got him and others great ones like Nicole Mitchell and Hamid Drake from Chicago during our Junas 2011 festival

    • For those who search beyond the boundaries of “pure” jazz: Chico Freeman’s “Kings Of Mali”, a great example of “world music”, from 1977.

  6. If you are interested in Von Freeman you can find him on

    George Freeman’s”New Improved Funk”(Groove Merchant GM 519)
    Doin’ it right now (Atlantic SD 1628) with Sam Jones and Jimmy Cobb!
    Serenade and Blues (Nessa n11)
    Von Freeman Quartet (Daybreak D 002)recorded in 1977 at Singer Concert Hall,Laren,Netherlands.

    Jazz Inn used to be the best recordshop in Amsterdam,they closed some 20 years ago.

  7. After watching the worst performance by a Manchester United team that I can remember I was thoroughly cheered to see this record posted on the site. And glad, after all the many tips I’ve picked up from LJC, I was able to give a little something back tip-wise.
    Apart from Von Freeman’s uninhibited playing, Wilbur Campbell’s druming is something else.
    I also have Air’s wonderful Airtime on Nessa but would really love to pick up Art Ensemble’s Les Stances a Sophie.

  8. Thanks LJC, my evening was made brighter after reading Terry Martin’s sleeve note comment on the chosen track:-
    “After a fine, ornate, and typical piano interlude, Von comes in “halfway home,” stalking like a melancholy but irritable panther- the cadenza is a uniquely Freeman search on the harmonic borderlands of the song and of sound itself.”
    Hyperbole aside, I enjoyed this journey to Chicago though, and its introduction to Von Freeman.

  9. Good old Vonski. A life-size cardboard cutoff of Von still stands tall behind the stage at the Green Mill. You didn’t mention the best story about Von: Miles Davis phoned him after Coltrane left the first classic quintet, and Von never called him back, as he rarely left Chicago.

  10. Chuck frequents the Organissimo forum, he’s a long standing and valued contributor.
    Nessa vinyl is very solid in my experience and the music is of the highest order only. No duds in the small but perfect Nessa catalog.

    Von Freeman is something else. His sound is totally unique. The two Nessas from 1975 are the best place to start but he had long career documented pretty well in the 90/00s (on CD though). Don’t limit your exploration to vinyl only as it’d be your loss.

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