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Von Freeman

One of the great veterans of jazz, Von Freeman at 85 remains a vital and very individual tenor-saxophonist. Born in 1922, he was the son of a mother who played guitar and a father who loved ragtime piano. Von’s two brothers became jazz musicians with George Freeman being a guitarist and Bruz Freeman playing drums. When he was seven, Von Freeman began playing clarinet, soon switching to C-melody saxophone before settling on the tenor. After studying music at Chicago’s DuSable High School under the legendary Captain Walter Dyett, he worked with Horace Henderson’s big band during 1940-41. While serving in the military during World War II, Freeman performed often with a Navy big band. After his discharge, he was part of the house band at Chicago’s Pershing Ballroom during 1946-50, having opportunities to work with visiting musicians including Charlie Parker. Because he chose to stay in Chicago and hardly recorded at all in his early days (though he appeared on records by Andrew Hill and Jimmy Witherspoon), it took many years before Freeman became known outside of the city. His style became increasingly freer through the decades as he developed his own distinctive sound. A 1972 album sponsored and produced by Rahsaan Roland Kirk was one of Freeman’s first recordings to be noticed. His son Chico Freeman gained fame in the 1980s, which helped Von Freeman get documented more often. In the 1990s he recorded for Steeplechase and Southport, and finally Von Freeman became more than an underground legend. He is now known as a senior statesman of jazz, an individual innovator and a symbol of Chicago jazz.