3 October 1923
11 August 2012 (aged 88)
Earle Lavon "Von" Freeman Sr. (October 3, 1923 – August 11, 2012) was an American hard bop jazz tenor saxophonist.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, United States, as a young child Freeman was exposed to jazz. His father, George, a city policeman, was a close friend of Louis Armstrong with Armstrong living at the Freeman house when he first arrived in Chicago.
Freeman learned to play the saxophone as a child and at DuSable High School, where his band director was Walter Dyett. He began his professional career at age 16 in Horace Henderson's Orchestra. He was drafted into the Navy during World War II and played for a Navy band while in the service.
After his return to Chicago, where he remained for the duration of his career, he played with his brothers George Freeman on guitar and Eldridge "Bruz" Freeman on drums at the Pershing Hotel Ballroom. Various leading jazzmen such as Charlie Parker, Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie played there with the Freemans as the backing band. In the early 1950s, Von played in Sun Ra's band.
Von Freeman's first venture into the recording studio took place in 1954, backing a vocal group called The Maples for Al Benson's Blue Lake label. He appeared on Andrew Hill's second single on the Ping label in 1956, followed by some recording for Vee-Jay with Jimmy Witherspoon and Albert B. Smith in the late fifties, and a recorded appearance at a Charlie Parker tribute concert in 1970.
In 1972, Freeman first recorded under his own name, the album Doin' It Right Now with the support of Roland Kirk. His next effort was a marathon session in 1975 released over two albums by Nessa. Since then he lived, regularly performed, and recorded in Chicago. His recordings included three albums with his son, the tenorist Chico Freeman, and You Talkin' To Me with 22-year old saxophonist Frank Catalano, following their successful appearance at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 1999.
One of Von's singular contributions was his mentoring of countless younger musicians and his steadfast support of what he liked to call "hardcore jazz"(as he still did in a 2001 article in Downbeat.) Von's quartet played Monday nights throughout the 1970s and the mid-1980s at The Enterprise Lounge which closed when he toured Japan, and then Tuesdays at The Apartment Lounge. The quartet played a long set first, the vehicle that showcased Von's range from sensitively unwound ballads to intense improvisations that utilized his sometimes rough timbre and indefinite pitch to create a unique avant garde style of his own. His performances were also impressive verbal ones, as he served as an important figure that both helped African-American culture thrive on the South Side as well as invited the participation of European-Americans and others into the warmth of the community he and the rest of the Enterprise and Apartment created.
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. Freeman died of heart failure on August 11, 2012, in his home town, at the age of 88.
Freeman was the father of jazz saxophonist Chico Freeman.
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