Freeman's age and experience has provided him with invaluable insights into life and music. He attributes his longevity not from avoiding the pitfalls of living in the jazz world, but from embracing their subsequent lessons. "I think it all comes from just going through the hard times, the hard life. Foolin' around with that juice and whatnot. And I was very fortunate that I missed dope. Very, very, very, very fortunate, 'cause it seems like that really takes cats out. But there were always women around, there were always many other ways to get your ego all messed up. So it's a beautiful life, but then again it can be another thing.
"Now a lot of kids, their parents bring them around to see me and I try to tell them just to keep on doing whatever you're doing and stay out of the wild life if you can, 'cause it's hard, boy. When you're young everything looks good. And people really look out for you when you're young, say nice things about you and put you in a lot of positions that you really shouldn't be in. You really should have training first before you get into that nightclub scene. That nightclub scene, a lot of soldiers did not come out without getting wounded. So I try to tell 'em to think of fame last. Try to master your instrument.
"That's always saved my sanity. I kept trying to play the best I could and even today I do. I sit around and practice all day long. I don't know what I'm practicing, probably nothing, but the whole thing is, if you play an instrument you got to keep it in your mouth all the time or else you lose your chops. Of course if you get famous I think it's beautiful. A hit helps tremendously. If you get one, two, three, beautiful! But if you don't you have to just bury your head and keep on trying. And I like to see an older guy keep on trying. I have a lot of veteran cats come around me and they're very disgusted with their careers. They say 'I keep the faith because of you.'
When playfully asked if he has any thoughts of retiring, Freeman laughed heartily with the joke. "I've gone places where people didn't know me at all and they come up to the bandstand and tell me beautiful things and that's better than [them] saying 'Boy, you ought to go put that thing up!' When I played at my birthday party they said 'Boy, you're playing as hard as ever.' When I lose that, I think it's time for me to wrap it up. But I don't think I'll ever lose it. Life is good, man. I'm like a kid at a circus. Recommended Listening:
Von Freeman, Doin' It Right Now
Von Freeman, Lester Leaps In
Von Freeman, Fire with Von Freeman
Chico Freeman/Von Freeman, Live at the Blue Note: 75th Birthday Celebration
(Half Note, 1998)
Von Freeman, The Improvisor
Von Freeman, The Great Divide
October 2002 Interview
Maarten van de Ven