Monday, July 12, 2004
The Indomitable Vonski
Good news for all you jazz lovers out there: The Great Divide, a new CD from tenor master Von Freeman.
As I've previously mentioned, Von is a Chicago legend. Eighty-one years young, he is still blowing as hard as ever. His style owes much of its allure to the ability to absorb many different influences, from Coleman Hawkins to Lester Young to Gene Ammons to Charlie Parker to John Coltrane to Ornette Coleman, and mix in something absolutely unique. For a quick demonstration, run out and buy his 1981 album Young and Foolish. Go to track one, "I'll Close My Eyes," and skip right ahead to the 9:11 mark. For the next two and a half minutes you'll hear one of the most amazing sax solos ever committed to CD. A true solo, the rest of the band sitting out, that stretches from manic bebop phrases to near-dissonant growling, only to suddenly and sharply caress the original melody in startling epiphanies, bringing the audience to a state of near-riot. And that is the true genius: to experiment and test the limits of the music while remaining consistently and compellingly beautiful. (Don't take my word for it, read the reviews.)
Along with his musical gifts, Von is famous for his generous spirit and mischievous humor. Best of all, he's extremely accessible, at least if you're in Chicago. Von and his quartet play the second Saturday of every month at Andy's downtown, and every single Tuesday at the New Apartment Lounge on 75th Street, in an atmosphere at once informal, authentic, and genuinely welcoming. You will never find music of this caliber for such a low cover charge (zero dollars). Later in the evening, striving young musicians from throughout the city take part in a spirited jam session. (For a lively discussion of the Chicago music scene, opening with an amusing account of the vibe at the Apartment, check out Waking Up in Chicago by British journalist Claire Hughes.) This Tuesday (the 13th) there will be a party to celebrate the new CD; Von will also be playing later this week at the Green Mill and in Millennium Park.
Von's fans will tell you that the only reason he hasn't become as well-known as the usual roster of saxophone legends is that he never moved to New York to pursue a recording career, preferring to stay home and play gigs. Whatever the explanation, Chicagoans are truly fortunate to have such a master in their midst.