Von Freeman celebrated his 80th birthday amid much-deserved hoopla, but another great Chicago tenor man will reach an even more significant milestone under a virtual cone of silence this week. Rock Island native Franz Jackson turns 90 on November 1 with his skills still remarkably intact–for evidence, check out his most recent disc, Yellow Fire (Delmark), recorded two years ago, or one of his regular gigs at Andy’s. Jackson is a walking, talking jazz-history book: in his teens he worked in Chicago with boogie-woogie savant Albert Ammons; he played with clarinetist Jimmie Noone and remembers the young Benny Goodman dropping by to pick up pointers; he starred in bands led by Roy Eldridge, Fats Waller, and Earl Hines; and he fought tenor battles with the likes of the legendary Chu Berry. Jackson belongs to the generation that brought jazz out of the cradle and into its wild adolescence in the swing era, and like most of his contemporaries he never adapted to the music’s later developments. In fact, over the last 40 years he’s actually stepped back: he plays a rough, essentially unreconstructed traditional jazz, with none of swing’s spit and polish. Speaking of his earliest days in the book An Autobiography of Black Jazz, Jackson told author Dempsey Travis, “I could really bark on a tenor saxophone.” He still can, though it sounds less like the sharp Klaxon of his youth and more like a throaty bluster. And he barks less often: the tenor takes more physical power than most other reed instruments, and Jackson often switches to the soprano. He’s also more likely than ever to put the horns down and just sing, which he does with a vibrancy and joy that recall the young Louis Armstrong. For his birthday, Jackson will be sitting in wtih the Eric Schneider/Greg Fishman Quintet at 5 PM on Friday at Andy’s. Saturday, November 2, 8:30 PM, Pops Highwood, 214 Green Bay, Highwood; 847-266-1313. Friday, November 8, noon, Andy’s, 11 E. Hubbard; 312-642-6805.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.