A Fireside Chat With Von Freeman
AAJ: Rather than leave for New York, you remained in Chicago.
VF: It was just happenstance really. But you know, speaking of that, there is a bunch of musicians around here that probably would be better known and might have become stars had they gone on to New York. New York had a lot of the record companies, most of the record companies, especially main record companies and they would push their clients and that made all the difference in the world. So a lot of guys went on to New York and made big names and perhaps I could have done that also, but it was just happenstance that I stayed around Chicago.
VF: No, not really. I've become very popular in the last couple of years (laughing). I guess it all evens out, if you look at it that way. Now that I am eighty, I can look back and I've been through many trials and tribulations that the average musicians go through. For instance, both Fred Anderson and I, I think what caused us to survive was both of us have been what they call outside players. Fred is much more than myself. I just think everything sort of evens itself out. Like I said, if you happen to stay around long enough. Of course, even if you don't, the people that like you will come. I think for years and years and years, a lot of New York stars were pushed more harder than Chicago people. And then a lot of people from here went to New York. So we lost a lot of people. New York is still the leading capital of jazz music.
AAJ: The Apartment Lounge, where a portion of the new record was recorded live, has been a regular night.
VF: Well, this time, I've been at The Apartment three or four times, but this time, in 1982, I started there. I was just going in there because the lady who booked me, she was booking The Apartment at the time, different little combos, duets and things. She asked me if I would come because one of her stars couldn't make it and I went in and I went in on a Tuesday and I played on Tuesday and she said if I could come back next week and I went back and it has been about twenty-one years.
AAJ: The Improvisor, befitting title.
VF: Well, it is so kind of you to say. I've done it all my life really.
AAJ: Jason Moran plays piano on a couple of tunes and a guitarist is featured on another handful.
VF: Actually, I went into The Apartment about twenty-one years ago with a piano group, piano, bass and drums. I had piano for maybe fifteen years and I lost a lot of piano players. I lost about seven during that tenure and I said that maybe I should try going in a different direction because I never could get a real piano, not that an electric piano is not real, but I'm speaking of an acoustic piano. I always did miss that and finally, I said that maybe I will just go with an electric guitar because it was so hard to find somebody for the kind of money I was playing to bring their own piano. The guitar is a little easier to carry than an electric piano and it sounded OK to me and so that is the way I ended up. I finally found a good one in Michael Allemana and a very good bassist named Jack Zara and a very good drummer named Michael Raynor (all on the album). They have all been with me for quite a while now.
AAJ: You play solo on the opening "If I Should Lose You."
VF: Well, playing solo, I will tell you, Fred, because on this latest recording, I did this tune and most of the things to me happen very, very weirdly. Most of the time when I play solo and I've done that on a few of my recordings, it is done accidently. I remember one record I did that and the pianist didn't come back in time. He went somewhere, I guess out to eat or something and I started playing and it was recorded (laughing). On this last recording, the way that happened was Jason Moran and I were playing a duet. I didn't even know that we were going to do this because I never play duets. I featured him and I went to the mike and said that it is time to introduce this wonderful pianist from New York and I said that I am going to take the walk and Jason played and the moment he got done playing, he said that he was going to feature this wonderful saxophonist and he was going to take a walk and he was gone and left me standing out on the stage, me and this saxophone. He was walking off the stage (laughing) and I just told the crowd that I would do the best that I could do and that's when I played this tune that happens to be on this recording. It was just happenstance and I was so fortunate that it turned out OK because you play by yourself, you are really taking a big risk because you may lose track of the melody and there is really no time, so you may start faltering with the time and you may forget some of the chords. You have to have it all yourself.
AAJ: Turned out to be the best tune on the album.
VF: Well, I was very fortunate. Thank you very much.
AAJ: Rahsaan Roland Kirk produced your first album.
VF: Rahsaan Roland Kirk, oh, that was sort of interesting because I was traveling. I have done a little traveling, but it was always mostly overnight or on the weekends and then I would be right back home. I happen to go to Toledo if I remember it and I know it was somewhere in Ohio, where he is from I think. His dad or somebody, uncle or some grown up brought him to see me and he was a little guy. He must have been eleven or twelve, but he was already great because somebody had taken me around to see him (laughing) that I had to see this little genius and he was with some band that was jamming and he was playing two or three horns at once and doing circular breathing and all that stuff at his age and he really had it together. Later on, he looked me up. He heard I had been by to see him and he said that his uncle brought him by and he listened to me and where was I from. I told him Chicago and he asked me my name and he said that he had been taken to see most of the great horn players, but he had never heard of me and he made the staunchest statement that one day he was going to be famous and he was going to look me up and see that I got recorded. Well, he was rather precocious of course, but I said, "Oh, sure," and everybody in the band laughed a little bit. But you know, that guy, years later, looked me up right here in Chicago and actually asked me if I remembered him. He was a big star at that time and he had this big hit record, Three for the Festival, where he is on there playing three instruments, four, five instruments at once and he was like a whole band up there. He said he wanted to take me on to New York because he was leaving and do you know that he asked me who I wanted and I told him a couple of guys and he said that he had to have two from New York and so I told him and I had a pianist, John Young. We worked on and off for fifty years or so. We went off to New York because he called me the next morning and he fulfilled what he said and I went to New York and that is where I made this recording. Of course, it didn't do anything, but they tell me now that it is doing very well.