Chico Freeman Plus+tet at Vermont Jazz Center
BRATTLEBORO >> The Vermont Jazz Center welcomes legendary saxophonist, Chico Freeman with an all-star quartet on Saturday, at 8 p.m. He will be performing with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Kenny Davis and Kush Abadey on the drums.
Although Freeman moved to New York from Chicago in the mid-1970s, his strong roots, family ties and openness to a variety of musical styles continue to link him to the Windy City. He embodies the Chicago sound — his playing is saturated with the history of that city's deep, musical heritage. Freeman's tone is breathy and full, he is open-minded and emphasizes creativity as well as precision; he approaches every tune as if his life depends on it. The thread of Freeman's supportive, family-jazz connection extends directly to Louis Armstrong who lived with Chico's grandparents when he first traveled from New Orleans to Chicago in the 1920s. Chico remembers his father, the iconic Von Freeman telling him of how he (Chico) "grew up listening to Louis Armstrong play duets with [his] grandfather." His grandmother played guitar and sang gospel music in church; she was a featured soloist in the choir who sang with guest artists like Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward. Chico's grandparents raised their children in a home surrounded by music and encouraged their involvement in music. His father and two of his brothers are cornerstones of the Chicago music scene — his uncle, Bruz Freeman played drums, his father, Von played the saxophone (Von is a Chicago legend and a mentor to many). Chico's uncle, George is a guitarist who played with Bird, Gene Ammons and many others. At age 88, he is still quite active — just two years ago George and Chico recorded an album that is adventurous, hard swinging and meaningful.
The passage of music through the generations of Freemans continued with Von's influence on a young Chico: "I had seen my father play with Miles Davis and John Coltrane when I was like five years old," Chico remembers. "He was conducting these jam sessions in Chicago and I mean everybody that came through town came there afterwards: Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Clifford Jordan, Sonny Rollins, you name it. They would work the places in Chicago and afterwards they'd go to wherever my Dad [was playing]."
Chicago's music scene was — and still is — expansive. Freeman went to school with and performed with members of Earth, Wind and Fire, he worked with blues icons J.B. Hutto and Memphis Slim, he studied with Muhal Richard Abrams, performed with the AACM (Association of the Advancement of Creative Music) Big Band and hung out with Henry Threadgill and Anthony Braxton. Freeman is now an esteemed educator who cut his teeth as a teacher while completing his masters degree at the AACM's school.
Chico Freeman's musical vision is expansive. He refuses to lock himself into one style. He carries on the tradition of Von Freeman: "My father had always taught me to follow my own voice. That is a very, very strong concept that I think has always pervaded this music the individuality and the originality is very important we've always looked forward. You think of the greats, let's talk about the greats, the major exponents of the music that we all have come to admire and hold up as the defining factors. Right? You look at people like Monk, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday. When you look at these people, they have one thing in common and that is they were all original."
Chico ended up in New York while in his mid-twenties and was quickly recognized as a new and meaningful voice. He joined Elvin Jones' Jazz Machine and the ensembles of vocalist Jeanne Lee, Michael Carvin, Mickey Bass and eventually McCoy Tyner. He says "working with Elvin was great. I mean to have that power, the drummer that propelled Coltrane, and to understand what that meant. Not just to hear it but to feel it and be a part of it was for me a very great thing." This led to other important work including appearances with Andrew Hill, Bobby Hutcherson, Ron Carter, Roy Haynes, and Joe Henderson. Freeman was recognized as one of the new "young lions," a term referring to a surge of virtuosic twenty-somethings who emerged on the scene to great fanfare. He appears on a 1982 recording of a Kool Jazz Festival concert he played with Bobby McFerrin, James Newton, Paquito D'Rivera, Wynton Marsalis, Kevin Eubanks and others that was billed as "The Young Lions, a Concert of New Music played by Seventeen Exceptional Young Musicians."
Chico will be performing at the Vermont Jazz Center on Saturday with a top-shelf group including pianist Luis Perdomo, one of the finest pianists of his generation. The bassist Kenny Davis has toured the world with Herbie Hancock, Dianne Reeves, Art Farmer and many others. Drummer, Kush Abaday is a first call musician out of Brooklyn.
The Vermont Jazz Center presents The Chico Freeman Plus+tet on Saturday at 8 p.m. The VJC is especially grateful for sponsorship of this event by a "Friend of the Vermont Jazz Center's Educational Programs" as well as Norman Cohen/Cohen and Rice Attorneys and Al Wakefield of Wakefield Global. Their contributions made this concert possible and we are filled with gratitude. The VJC is also thankful for the ongoing support from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, Hampton Inn of Brattleboro. VJC publicity is underwritten by the Brattleboro Reformer, WVPR, WVEW, WFCR and Chris Lenois of WKVT's Green Mountain Mornings.
Tickets for the Chico Freeman Plus+tet at the Vermont Jazz Center are $20+ general admission, $15 for students with I.D. (contact VJC about educational discounts); available at In the Moment in Brattleboro, or online at vtjazz.org, by email at email@example.com. Tickets can also be reserved by calling the Vermont Jazz Center ticket line, 802-254-9088, ext. 1. Handicapped access is available by calling the VJC at 802-254 9088.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.