Maysa holds unique status in the world of R&B/Jazz. Her incomparably lush, sensuous vocals have garnered her legions of loyal, loving fans. As featured vocalist of the UK super group Incognito, core member of Stevie Wonder’s Wonderlove and, of course, through her own albums and concerts, Maysa has been thrilling R&B and Jazz audiences for decades.
Blue Velvet Soul is far and away the most sensuous and heartfelt recording of her brilliant career. Maysa thrills us with a stirring rendition of the Mariah Carey classic “I Still Believe” and her version of “Quiet Fire” a loving tribute to her mentor and role model Nancy Wilson that will leave you breathless!
A special highlight is the guest vocal appearance and soulful production by Jean Paul “Bluey” Bluey Maunick , the creator of Incognito, who contribute 3 originals to this. R&B super producer Mike City (Rihanna, Jamie Foxx, Ledisi) contributes several brilliant originals to the mix, and Chris “Big Dog” Davis (Kim Burrell, Will Downing, George Clinton), Maysa’s longtime collaborator and inspiration, round out the inspired supporting cast!
2013 release from the veteran Jazz outfit. A Rise In The Road is indeed an appropriate title for a time-honored ensemble that has never been fearful of facing newer musical horizons, not to mention the myriad challenges of life itself. Produced by Ferrante, Mintzer and Kennedy, A Rise In The Road stands shoulder-to-shoulder with their 21 previous efforts.
”It’s about the challenges that people face in their lives and whatever path they are on: It’s not always smooth sailing, it’s not always a level road,” explains Ferrante, with regards to the project’s meaning. ”Certainly, over the 32 years that we’ve been a band, we’ve had things come up, challenges such as musicians that have left the band, business people, relationships that you have built over the years. Things come to an end, and you have to meet the challenge and keep going forward.”
Larry Corban’s debut trio recording was created in the company of bassist Harvie S (#1 CD on Billboard Charts 2013, “Witchcraft” duo with Kenny Barron) and drummer Steve Williams (Shirley Horn’s drummer for 25 years). The essence of this band can be described as “the sound of Wes Montgomery playing Countdown in 5/4 with the Miles Davis 60’s quintet rhythm section, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, backing him.” In the guitar trio environment, Larry’s playing has a sharp-edged, metallic chording, stinging single notes, and the seemingly effortless ability to move back and forth between the two modes.
Solo guitar with bass/drums accompaniment is at the centerpiece of this project but the acoustic guitar duets done with overdubbing add another sound texture. Thirteen out of the fourteen songs on this record are penned by Larry with moods ranging from an uptempo 4/4 “burner” (Enjoy the Ride) to a medium tempo “swinger” (Sideswiped) to a moody introspective “bossa” (Roll the Dice) to a gorgeous “ballad” (The Second She Leaves, which features Harvie S bowing the melody). “Seventh Dimension”(in 7/8), “Story Inside My Head” (Countdown changes in 5/4 with a new melody), and “Wolf’s Den” (2 reharmonized chorus of blues ala Joe Henederson) will appeal to jazz fans with an adventurous flair.
“Bossa Barb” is a slow, loose moody bossa with a gorgeous bass solo by Harvie S. “Blink of an Eye” is a “Coltrane/Elvin 3/4” featuring Steve Williams with a solo guitar intro that brings to mind Lenny Breau. The great texture changers are the duets done with overdubs using a steel string acoustic (Seventh Dimension in 7/8), nylon string acoustic (Dreamwheel in 3/4), and Gibson L-5 (3 Hours Late). These acoustic pieces will appeal to John McLaughlin fans of the My Goals Beyond CD and Pat Metheny fans of One Quiet Night. The ballad “Hmm” is a solo guitar piece done with fingers with a relaxed, meditative feel.
“East of the Sun” by Bowman Brooks, the one standard on the CD, is done as a medium tempo with brushes and gets a tour-de-force treatment ala Joe Pass. As interesting as the songs are as musical vehicles, they are written as a way to commemorate and tell the stories of various events that we participate in through life itself.
Bobby McFerrin brings it all back home with his new album, spirityouall, re-imagining Americana with beloved spirituals and original songs. Bobby invites us along on his everyday search for grace, wisdom, and freedom, embracing bluegrass and the baroque, heartfelt lyrics and wordless melodies, joy and sorrow.
He throws some unexpected new ingredients into the melting pot and invites us to sing together through life’s trials and triumphs. Across genres, across boundaries, across generations, spirityouall raises the roof with joyful grooves.
About the Artist:
For decades Bobby McFerrin has broken all the rules. The 10-time Grammy winner has blurred the distinction between pop music and fine art, goofing around barefoot in the world’s finest concert halls, exploring uncharted vocal territory, inspiring a whole new generation of a cappella singers and the beatbox movement. His new album, spirityouall re-imagines Americana with beloved spirituals and original songs, raising the roof with joyful grooves. This bluesy, feel-good recording (featuring an incredible lineup of great musicians including Larry Campbell, Charley Drayton, Gil Goldstein, Larry Grenadier, Ali Jackson, and Esperanza Spalding) is an unexpected move from the music-industry rebel who singlehandedly redefined the role of the human voice with his a cappella hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” his collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma, Chick Corea and the Vienna Philharmonic, his improvising choir Voicestra, and his legendary solo vocal performances. All that pioneer spirit and virtuosity has opened up a great big sky, including game-changing experiments in multi-tracking (Don’t Worry, Be Happy has seven separate, over-dubbed vocal tracks; Bobby”s choral album VOCAbuLarieS has thousands). But virtuosity isn’t the point. “I try not to “perform” onstage,” says Bobby. “I try to sing the way I sing in my kitchen, because I just can’t help myself. I want to get people to just sing the way they do when they’re just hanging out waiting for the bus, in their regular “blue-jeans” voice. I want to bring audiences into the incredible feeling of joy and freedom I get when I sing. “Ask him where he went to school, and he just might tell you that he is a graduate of MSU: Making Stuff Up. “Music for me is like a spiritual journey down into the depths of my soul,” says McFerrin. “And I like to think we’re all on a journey into our souls. What’s down there? That’s why I do what I do.”
But Beautiful is Brandon Bernstein’s debut CD as a bandleader. The CD features ten jazz standards performed by Brandon on guitar, legendary bassist Putter Smith (formally with Thelonious Monk) and one of Los Angeles finest drummers, Kendall Kay. On But Beautiful the trio takes standards we all know, and love and reinterpret them, infusing the tracks with their own unique feel.
With new song offerings from Alan Sparhawk of Low, Nick Lowe, and three new Jeff Tweedy originals, One True Vine is at once a darker and more uplifting album than its Grammy-winning predecessor, You Are Not Alone.
Anchored by reinventions of two ’70s classics – Funkadelic’s ‘Can You Get To That?’ and the Staple Singer’s ‘I Like The Things About Me’ – producer Jeff Tweedy and Staples have constructed a dense narrative that starts with the soul-searching of Sparhawk’s ‘One Holy Ghost’ and Tweedy’s ‘Jesus Wept,’ and then breaks wide open with Nick Lowe’s soaring ‘Far Celestial Shores.’
UPCOMING TOUR DATES
|Camden, NJ, US
Dave Matthews Band with Mavis Staples at Susquehanna Bank Center
|Camden, NJ, US
Dave Matthews Band with Mavis Staples at Susquehanna Bank Center
|Portland, OR, US
Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival 2013
|Apple Valley, MN, US
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue with Mavis Staples at Weesner Amphitheater, Minnesota Zoo
Mavis Staples at Market Hall
Oslo Jazzfestival 2013
|Chicago, IL, US
Young the Giant with Neko Case, Mavis Staples, The Hold Steady, and 5 more… at Hideout Block Party
|Chicago, IL, US
Hideout Block Party with Jon Langford, Young the Giant, Neko Case, and 6 more… at Hideout
|Nashville, TN, US
Mavis Staples with The Blind Boys of Alabama at War Memorial Auditorium, Tennessee Performing Arts Center
|Seattle, WA, US
Mavis Staples at The Moore Theatre
Any time that Grammy winning bassist, composer,arranger and bandleader Christian McBride steps into the studio or onto a stage he plays what could be called “people music,” but it’s a particularly apt title for the second release by his hard-swinging acoustic quintet Inside Straight. Four years after Kind of Brown, the band’s acclaimed debut album, People Music delivers a more road- tested, “lived-in” Inside Straight, able to dig deep while projecting that ebullient vigor that has become McBride’s trademark.“People Music is my personal mantra as a musician,” McBride says of the title.
“Sometimes jazz musicians can get too caught up in their own heads; they get so serious and so caught up in their creativity that they’re not bringing the people in. So I figure the best way to communicate is to let the people navigate where you should go.” The melody of the new album’s opening track, “Listen to the Heroes Cry,” evokes a modern spiritual, and was inspired by the parade of vapid performances on a music awards show McBride watched one night, which he described as all garish spectacle and absolutely no substance. Six of the album’s eight tracks feature the core lineup of McBride, saxophonist Steve Wilson, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Peter Martin and drummer Carl Allen.
The other two tracks substitute pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr., who have performed extensively with the band when Martin’s touring schedule with Dianne Reeves or Allen’s duties as Artistic Director of Jazz Studies at Juilliard keep them away from the bandstand. Sands and Owens also comprise McBride’s new trio, which will make its recording debut later this year. While Christian McBride wrote most of the compositions, Wolf provides “Gang Gang,” the name that a dancer (like Wolf’s wife) would use in place of a musician’s “Afro- Cuban” or “12/8” to refer to the song’s surging rhythm.
Sands brings the bright-hued “Dream Train,” while Martin offers the stealth funk of “Unusual Suspects” which recalls the groove of “Used ‘Ta Could” from Kind of Brown. Wilson’s entrancing ballad “Ms. Angelou” draws inspiration from the words and rhythms of the great poet while also exemplifying the saxophonist’s own unique approach. Overall, this recording swings and swings hard.
Getting to the Downbeat…
” Why produce a Jazz recording with the Muck? The answer is the inertia of a chance meeting. More than ten years ago, when relocating to California to head the jazz program at CSU, Fullerton, Glenn Cashman and I were simultaneously out and about viewing dwelling spaces. We arrived at the same place at the same time, struck up a conversation and became fast friends. I began to invite Glenn to play on industrial, commercial and demo recordings I was writing, composing and producing. What a brilliant player he was/is! At the time I was on a kick to get to know Fullerton in a more social way. Since I had raised my children there, I decided it was time for some payback.
I began attending charitable events and discovered the Muck. I found the facility to be charming, unique and special. They had an intimate amphitheater perfectly suited to Jazz performances. And all of that was the stunning gift the Muckenthaler family had given to the local citizenry. After the idea germinated, I proposed to Glenn that we create and produce a Jazz Festival there. He agreed and we asked jazz venue pioneer, and former Stan Kenton Orchestra member, Howard Rumsey to advise us. Eight now-sold-out seasons later, we asked ourselves what was next. With the concerts, we have strived not only to host a more Straight Ahead genre but also to honor the quality and spirit of the Muckenthalers’ gift by inviting only the highest possible caliber of players to concertize there. Following that mission and purpose we now wish to distribute the goods news farther afield. The actual music recorded here represents Glenn Cashman’s composing and arranging abilities to be of the highest possible order.
And as a bandleader and player, combined with the brilliance of the full band represented herein, I believe this recording fulfills that requirement. Also, please understand this recording was funded with donations from those who have become believers in our cause through concert attendance! We wish to thank them, honor their generous spirits, and multiply their gifts by sharing the proceeds from this recording with the Muckenthaler Cultural Center and with Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières). We also wish to thank you for your support. We believe in the universal appeal of having given your best effort and sharing it. Combining all of the above thoughts with the international interest in Jazz Music we entitled this recording Music Without Borders. We hope you will love this recording and recommend it to your friends.”
– Eric Futterer (Guitar)
Robin Bessier’s debut album, Other Side of Forever is a musical journey — a kaleidoscope of musical influences and philosophical perspectives, including five never-before recorded originals, and fresh takes on a few select jazz standards.
Bessier’s crystalline vocals are met with lush arrangements that include all six members of the band on-deck; small combos that dig deep into the groove of each song; and stripped-down impromptu pieces with piano and voice alone. The album interweaves toe-tapping swing tunes, with cool and swaying bossas, haunting ballads and effervescent sambas.
The album begins with one of Bessier’s originals, a swinging “Don’t Worry, We’ve Got You.” Reminiscent of Freddy Green, guitarist Dan Sales does serious justice with his back-up and solo.
“Jubilee” is a joy-infused piece that drops you into a Caribbean street parade. Percussionist Jeff Busch brings out all his toys on this piece, and Jay Thomas clones himself, playing both trumpet and saxophone in a call and response solo. Producer/arranger Barney McClure adds his voice to the chorus vocals here.
“God Bless the Child” is a simple, soulful rendition, featuring Barney McClure on piano (the only song he plays on in this album, that otherwise features the phenomenal Darin Clendenin on piano). Barney is a monster player in his own right, and this song is just a hint of what he is capable of. A consummate accompanist, he lays back and gives Bessier room to move.
“Right Here, Right Now” is another Bessier original, written the morning after she sang for the first time with Barney at the renowned Upstage Theater and Restaurant in Port Townsend. It should be noted that Barney had shared the title song “Other Side of Forever” with Robin during rehearsal that previous afternoon. These initial steps began the journey that became this album.
“Prelude to a Kiss” is inspired by, and dedicated to, the extraordinary jazz singer, Jan Stentz, who passed out of this physical realm much too young. Her consummate musicianship and beautiful spirit remain a constant influence.
Barney’s Latin song “Too Nice” was too fun not to include in this album. And listen for the solo section. Jay Thomas and Darin Clendenin smoke.
“Whisper” is one of Bessier’s first compositions, written before the turn of the century (sadly yes, this is true…). To hear this piece come to life under the skilled hands of these world class musicians was a dream come true.
“Better Than Anything” poses a philosophical question that has been debated for several years, but there is no debating that this version, which features the masterful Mark Ivester on drums, offers up more than your average waltz.
Daren Clendenin arranged the beautiful Herbie Hancock song “Harvest Time” in a way that honors the original instrumental version, with a seamless blending of the vocal that includes words by Herbie’s sister Jean. Darin’s sensitive playing, that manages to be light yet full of substance at the same time is exquisite, allowing Bessier the freedom to be introspective and to soar.
“The Very Thought of You,” typically done as a ballad, takes on new energy with this swinging version. The brilliant bassist Clipper Anderson, who shines throughout this album, is featured on the solo section.
“On the other side of forever…” The words and haunting melody of the title track of this album evoke a yearning for what was, for what could have been; the bittersweet impermanence of life here in the this physical plane; the illusion and fleeting nature of time; and ultimately, the value of living in and appreciating the simplicity of each moment.
- Robin Bessier – Voice
(Pronounced: Robin Bess-‐ee-‐ay’)
- Darin Clendenin – Piano
(Pronounced: Darin Clen-‐den’-‐in)
- Clipper Anderson – Bass
- Mark Ivester – Drums
(Pronounced: Mark I’-‐ves-‐ter)
- Jay Thomas –Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Tenor & Soprano Sax
- Jeff Busch – Percussion
- Dan Sales – Guitar & Banjo
- *Mike McKinley – hand percussion on Jubilee
- *David Lange – hand percussion on Jubilee
(Pronounced David LANG)
- *Barney McClure – piano on God Bless the Child; background vocals and hand percussion on Jubilee
The scope of keyboardist-composer-producer George Duke’s imprint on jazz and pop music over the past forty years is almost impossible to calculate. He has collaborated with some of the most prominent figures in the industry. A producer since the 1980s, he has crafted scores of fine recordings – many of them GRAMMY? winners – for artists representing almost every corner of the contemporary American music landscape.
Duke was born in San Rafael, California, in January 1946. When he was four, his mother took him to a performance by that other Duke of jazz, Duke Ellington. He admits that he doesn’t remember much of the performance, but his mother told him years later that he spent the next several days demanding a piano.
Duke began his formal training on the instrument at age seven, his earliest influence being the culturally and historically rich black music of his local Baptist church. By his teen years, his universe of musical influences had expanded to include the more secular sounds of young jazz mavericks like Miles Davis, Les McCann and Cal Tjader – all of whom inspired him to play in numerous high school jazz groups. After high school, he attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and received a bachelors degree in 1967.
But perhaps the most important lessons came after college, when Duke joined Al Jarreau in forming the house band at the Half Note, the popular San Francisco club, in the late ‘60s. He also played with Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon in other San Francisco clubs around the same time.
For the next several years, Duke experimented with jazz and fusion by collaborating and performing with artists as diverse as Jean Luc-Ponty, Frank Zappa, Cannonball Adderley, Nancy Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Cobham and Stanley Clarke. He launched his solo recording career at age 20, and shortly thereafter began cutting LPs for the MPS label in the ‘70s. As the decade progressed, he veered more toward fusion, R&B and funk with albums like From Me To You (1976) and Reach For It(1978).
During this period he recorded what is possibly his best known album, Brazilian Love Affair. Released in 1980, the album included vocals by Flora Purim and Milton Nascimento, and percussion by Airto Moreira. Love Affair stood in marked contrast to the other jazz/funk styled albums he was cutting at the time.
Duke’s reputation as a skilled producer was also gathering steam. By the end of the ‘80s, he had made his mark as a versatile producer by helping to craft recordings by a broad cross section of jazz, R&B and pop artists: Raoul de Souza, Dee Dee Bridgewater, A Taste of Honey, Jeffrey Osborne, Deniece Williams, Melissa Manchester, Al Jarreau, Barry Manilow, Smokey Robinson, The Pointer Sisters, Take 6, Gladys Knight, Anita Baker and many others. Several of these projects scored GRAMMY? Awards.
During this time, Duke was just as busy outside the studio as inside. He worked as musical director for numerous large-scale events, including the Nelson Mandela tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in London in 1988. The following year, along with Marcus Miller, he served as musical director of NBC’s acclaimed late-night music performance program, Sunday Night.
The ‘90s were no less hectic. He toured Europe and Japan with Dianne Reeves and Najee in 1991, and joined the Warner Brothers label the following year with the release of Snapshot, an album that stayed at the top of the jazz charts for five weeks and generated the top 10 R&B single, “No Rhyme, No Reason.”
Other noteworthy albums in the ‘90s included the orchestral tour de force Muir Woods Suite (1993) and the eclecticIllusions (1995), in addition to the numerous records Duke produced for a variety of other artists: Najee, George Howard, the Winans, and Natalie Cole (Duke produced 1/3 of the material on Cole’s GRAMMY?-winning 1996 release, Stardust).
In 2000, Duke severed his ties with Warner Records and launched his own record label, BPM (Big Piano Music). “I spent thirty years at other labels as a recording artist,” he says. “I felt it was time for me to step up to the next level of challenge and form a company that would give me and other artists the opportunity to create quality music and push back the musical restraints that dominate most record labels these days.”
But even with the new responsibilities and challenges associated with running a record label, Duke has continued to juggle the multiple career tracks of recording solo albums, international touring and producing records for other artists. In addition to his own Face the Music (2002), he also produced recent records for Wayman Tisdale, Dianne Reeves, Kelly Price, Regina Belle and Marilyn Scott.
For the better part of 25 years, Duke has also composed and recorded numerous scores for film and television. In addition to nine years as the musical director for the Soul Train Music Awards, he also wrote music – either individual songs or entire soundtracks – for a number of films, including The Five Heartbeats, Karate Kid III, Leap of Faith, Never Die Alone andMeteor Man.
With more than thirty solo recordings in his canon and a resume that spans more than 40 years, Duke joins forces with the Heads Up label with the August 26, 2008, release of Dukey Treats, a return to the old-school funk sensibilities of icons like James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone and Parliament/Funkadelic. A careful balance of rhythmic energy and simmering balladry, Dukey Treats recalls the golden age of funk and soul, while at the same time maintaining a fresh sound and addressing issues that are relevant to the global culture of the 21st century.
“I feel a responsibility to carry positive messages in my music,” says Duke. “I think music is meant to lift people up. I don’t think you can push things under the rug and not address them. Those who have the ability and the opportunity to let people know what’s going on musically and socially should not be afraid to say it and do it and play about it and sing about it.”
Pablo Ablanedo was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is a composer, pianist and music educator. In 1996, he graduated with a diploma in Jazz Composition from Berklee College of Music, where he took part in the last courses taught by the legendary trumpet player Herb Pomeroy. Pablo’s artistic development owes much to the Argentinian classical pianist Susana Bonora, with who he has been working since the 80’s. In 1999, he joined forces with a diverse group of jazz players to form the Pablo Ablanedo Octet.
In the decade since, Pablo has recorded three albums on Fresh Sound New Talent Records. From Down There (2001) and Alegría (2004) received 4 and 4½ stars, respectively, in Down Beat Magazine, and JazzMan Magazine (France) gave the multi-artist project The Sound of New York Underground (2004) its highest rating CHOC. Pablo’s work has also been commissioned by Paquito D’Rivera to be performed by Germany’s NDR Big Band.
His current release is Recontradoble, a new album recorded with his Octet after a successful fund rising project on Kickstarter.com. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his wife, the french painter Lucile Chaurin Ablanedo and their basset hound Tosca.
A plethora of captivating artists join Booker on his upcoming celebratory return to Stax Records, including Anthony Hamilton, Raphael Saadiq, Mayer Hawthorne, Estelle, Vintage Trouble, Luke James and James Jay Picton among many others. Gary Clark Jr., Poncho Sanchez, and Sheila E. also contribute their singular instrumental prowess to the soulful tracks among this highly anticipated release.
Booker T Jones is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Musicians Hall of Fame inductee and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. Arguably, as the leader of the legendary Memphis soul icons, Booker T and the MG’s, he single-handedly set the cast for modern soul on classic Stax tunes like “Green Onions” and “Time is Tight.”
Matt Herskowitz blends jazz and classical influences on his new solo piano recording titled Upstairs. Released on Justin Time Records, the CD was recorded live at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on November 6, 2011. Upstairs is Mr. Herskowitz’s follow up to his 2010 acclaimed Jerusalem Trilogy and features songs composed by Dave Brubeck (“Dziekuje”), Michel Petrucciani (“Cantabile”), J.S. Bach (“Bach A La Jazz) and George & Ira Gershwin (“But Not For Me,” and “I’ve Got Rhythm”).
Herskowitz also wrote and arranged several originals for the program. The night opened with Mr. Herskowitz’s interpretation of Dave Brubeck’s rhapsodic homage to Chopin titled “Dziekuje.” His performance got raves from the late pianist himself and Herskowitz’s tribute to his friend is certainly one of the most inspired performances on the recording. Further inspiration came from Mr. Herskowitz’s visit to Moscow as a competitor in the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition.
“Waltz In Moscow” is a refined piece that emphasizes Herskowitz’s classical influences and calls attention to his fluid pianism. He further accentuates his classical flair in “Traumerei” by Robert Schumann. His stellar arrangement makes this masterwork accessible to a new generation of pianists who may excel in the classical/jazz genre by adding it to their repertoire. The entire recording underlines Mr. Herskowitz’s virtuosity and finesse as a pianist and ranks among his finest works
Dave Koz is joined by a front line of top-notch horn players (Mindi Abair, Richard Elliot & Gerald Albright) to re-interpret an array of powerhouse horn-heavy songs made famous by Tower of Power, Chicago, EW&F, James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, Ronnie Laws, Blood Sweat & Tears and others.
Three of the world’s best horn arrangers are contributing their talents: Greg Adams (Tower of Power) and Tom Scott. Topping it off is a sax-only rendition of “Take Five” with Gordon Goodwin offering his arrangement to the quartet.
JazzUSA talks to
by Mark Ruffin
1999 is starting to shape up as quite a notable year for the Freeman jazz family. Last month, George Freeman’s album George Burns, came out, and in this month Von and Chico Freeman will put out Von Freeman’s 75th Anniversary with Diane Reeves.
Von and George Freeman, Chico’s father and uncle respectively, live in Chicago. Chico lives in New York, but he brought his new band Gattaca, featuring Hilton Ruiz to Chicago’s Symphony Center last month. It gave Chicagoans a rare chance to see all three members of Chicago’s first family of jazz. His uncle George also had a big record release party at a local club for his new album “George Burns.”
“It’s kind of ironic, but there are people who still think I live in Chicago,” the sax star said by phone from his New York home. “I never quite understand it, since I’ve been in New York for 20 some odd years, but there’s always someone who thinks I live in Chicago.”
Also last month, Chico was at Lincoln Center attending the premiere of a movie he scored called Andre’s Lies. In June, he’ll be performing with comedian and drummer Bill Cosby, in anticipation of their new live album coming out later this year. Plus Freeman is the producer and music director of the stage show of actor singer Keith David (Armageddeon, Dead Presidents, Clockers, Platoon), but it’s his new band that has him raving.
“Guataca is the name of the band. We play Afro-Cuban music with a twist,” Freeman explained. “That is, we play the rhythms that are from Africa and from Cuba. The compositions are mine and some of the harmonies, as well as the tunes and structures are atypical.”
It comes as no surprise that Freeman is coming home playing a different kind of jazz. He’s been crossing genres since he was a kid growing up on 69th and Calumet, on Chicago’s south side.
“I’ve always liked different kinds of music,” he said. “I just really try to express myself, whatever I honestly feel.”
Jazz wasn’t always what inspired Freeman. For that matter, music wasn’t always a priority for this Northwestern graduate, just a constant. As a youngster, he remembers watching his father’s band, The Freeman Brothers, rehearse at his house. Along with Von and George on sax and guitar, was the now retired Bruz Freeman on drums, David Shipp on drums and either Andrew Hill or Don Baltazar on piano.
“We had a lot of kids on our block, and I remember, especially during summertime when it was hot, a lot of kids would come sit on the porch and listen a lot. All of my friends were all excited because there were all these instruments in my house.”
Many of Freeman’s classmates at Parker High School went on to become musicians including brothers Verdine and Fred White of Earth, Wind & Fire, and the Hutchinson sisters who became the Emotions. While excelling at math, Freeman too was part of a vocal group called the Rotations.
When the rest of the group got drafted, and Freeman accepted a four-year scholarship from Northwestern, the would-be singer turned first to trumpet and then to the saxophone. Before graduating with a degree in music and working on a Master’s from Governors State, Freeman played more r&b with the Spinners, Dells and Four Tops, and blues with J.B. Hutto and Buddy Guy.
“It’s funny, my father wasn’t a big influence on me musically until later in my life,” said the musician who would only give his age as 40-something. “I use to hear him practice all the time, and then I didn’t care for it because it was practicing. It wasn’t connected to any music at the time, but I heard it all day, so I think it got into my self-conscious.”
Chico never had intentions of leaving Chicago, it just happened after his determined jazz studies started taking him places. First, it was the Norte Dame Jazz Festival in the late 70’s, where he won best soloist and participation in a Brazilian student exchange program. On the way home from Sao Paulo, he decided to visit a Chicago friend in New York, bassist Fred Hopkins, who just passed away in January.
“It was three days to be exact, which is what I thought,” Freeman said picking up the story. “I was just trying to see what New York was like. Then (another Chicago saxophonist) needed a sub because he had to get back to Chicago, so three days turned into a week. Then I jammed with another musician who liked me so much, he hired me for his weekly Sunday gigs. So my week was now a month.”
That cycle increased as he met bassist Cecil McBee who hired him as did his father’s old employer Sun Ra. He then hit the big time landing a gig with internationally renowned drummer Elvin Jones who landed Freeman his first record contract within weeks of coming to New York for three days.
“Once I got with Elvin, that was all she wrote,” Freeman remembered, “because I started touring all over the world. To make a long story short, once I got to New York, I started working and never looked back.”