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.
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.
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.
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.