- Jim Newberry
- Von Freeman at the Green Mill in 2011
Howard Reich at the Tribune reports that tenor saxophonist Von Freeman died on Saturday of heart failure at age 88. Because Freeman stayed in Chicago for most of his life instead of lighting out for the coasts to pursue fame and fortune, he was hugely influential here and just as deeply beloved. The city renamed the stretch of 75th Street in front of his New Apartment Lounge “Von Freeman Way” in 2002. And his influence extended far beyond Chicago: last year the National Endowment for the Arts named him one of its Jazz Masters, a distinction awarded to only 100 artists or so since the program’s inception in 1982.
Reich’s obituary and remembrance is very much worth your time, and the Reader has a lot of Vonski articles in its archives too. My favorites? As part of the celebration of our 40th year in 2011, longtime contributor Neil Tesser revisited the very first substantial piece anyone had ever written about Freeman—not at all by coincidence, it was a feature he’d done for the Reader in 1973. At the time Freeman was in his 50s and had just released his first album, Doin’ It Right Now, produced by Rahsaan Roland Kirk; though already a fully formed genius, at the time he was something of a south-side secret. Fortunately that changed in the decades that followed—the whole world of jazz knows about Vonski now, and on the sad occasion of his passing, the whole world of jazz can pay its respects.