The best way to get to know and love Chicago tenor sax legend Von Freeman is to track down a copy of his first album, Doin' It Right Now, which was produced by Rahsaan Roland Kirk and released by Atlantic Records in 1973. Ideally, step two in the process will involve doing everything in your power to obtain the two-CD + DVD set The Best of Von Freeman on Premonition, a glorious sampling of his fully mature artistry as heard live and in the studio during the years 1996-2006. Freeman, an exceptionally gifted balladeer capable of firing up bebop bottle rockets like "Moose the Mooche" at astonishing velocities, is at his very best on hauntingly surreal masterworks such as Lester Young's "Blue Pres" and Wayne Shorter's "Footprints." The Premonition compilation also carries an extended tribute to Mississippi-born Chicago blues icon Albert Luandrew Sunnyland Slim. Freeman's saxophonic textures, timbres, and tonalities suggest a host of influences and kindred spirits, from Ben Webster and Gene Ammons through the latter day rumblings of Coleman Hawkins, the gutsy honesty of Archie Shepp, and from time to time, the ghosts of Rahsaan and Albert Ayler wafting westward from Cleveland and Columbus.
Von Freeman's discography begins in October 1950 when as a man already nearing 30 years of age, he backed Charlie Parker in live performances at the ballroom inside Chicago's Pershing Hotel where the brothers Freeman served as the nucleus of the house band. The slim pickings from this portion of the saga do include a date with Andrew Hill in 1956 and a Vee Jay session with Jimmy Witherspoon in 1959. Unfortunately, Freeman does not appear to have recorded with Sun Ra, although a friendly and humorous discussion on the DVD does contain vivid memories of his experiences while visiting Ra in his workshop and sitting in with the Arkestra. Von spent many years nourishing and maintaining the root system of his family in Chicago, and encouraging his son Chico Freeman to ultimately find his own voice as an innovative composer and saxophonist who maintains a close affiliation with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Father and son have collaborated on numerous occasions, and both individuals are honored, loved, and respected in their hometown.
The 500 block of Chicago's East 75th Street between Rhodes and Eberhart has been named Von Freeman Way in honor of the city's elder statesman of the tenor saxophone. This was not without precedent, as during the '50s, four Parisian pedestrian thoroughfares were named after jazz heroes Armstrong, Bechet, Ellington, and Gillespie. In addition to an extended interview conducted by critic Neil Tesser on behalf of the Jazz Institute of Chicago, the Premonition set's DVD features a filmic document of the street-naming ceremony, during which Freeman -- clearly in his element out in the fresh air on the street among friends -- delivered an inspired oration during which he demonstrated refreshing honesty and clarity by acknowledging the crucial role played by women -- and mothers in particular -- in the community at large. Von Freeman's Premonition recordings were made during his eighth and ninth decades on this earth. They are warmly recommended as irrefutable proof that uncompromising creativity and spontaneous humor are timeless and inexhaustible resources.