Chico Freeman in Chicago Jazz Magazine: In His Own Words

Thanks Mike Jeffers and everyone at Chicago Jazz Magazine for honoring me with your cover and one of the most in-depth interviews I’ve done!

In 1982, Chicago saxophonist Chico Freeman was a key member of the legendary “Young Lions” concert at Lincoln Center that included other stars-to-be Wynton Marsalis, Kevin Eubanks, Paquito D’Rivera, and Bobby McFerrin, among others. Today Freeman merits being called a “master on his instrument,” and has perfected an immediately recognizable approach to music and composition, blending what he has experienced from his past and providing fluidity into a future of infinite musical possibilities.

Freeman amassed a diverse resume, performing R&B, blues, hard bop and avant garde. His collegiate studies in Advanced Composition and Theory at Northwestern University led him to teach composition at the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) Music School, and while attaining his Masters in Composition and Theory at Governor State University, he studied composition with NEA Jazz Master Muhal Richard Abrams. Through apprenticeships in New York and abroad with such innovators as Elvin Jones, Don Pullen, Sam Rivers, Sun Ra, and Jack DeJohnette, Freeman developed his own group and rapidly rose to prominence with his energetic and exploratory style.

Chico is a member of the Freeman family, Chicago’s First Family of jazz. His father is the legendary saxophonist Von, and his uncles include guitarist George and drummer Bruz. Although Freeman has adopted the instrument of his father, it was not his first instrument, as he reveals in this exclusive CJM interview.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: Talk a little about what it was like growing up with your father, Von Freeman, and what the jazz scene was like back then.

Chico Freeman: When I was young we had lots of kids on my block. We had one family with fifteen kids, which was great because you hardly had to leave the block to play. During summer, my dad would have rehearsals. He had the piano in the living room, so when on the front porch you could sit and actually look inside the house through the window and see the piano. I remember seeing people like Leroy Vinnegar, Malachi Favors and Andrew Hill. Other Chicago musicians would come and play with the Freeman Brothers band. The band included my uncle George on guitar and my uncle Bruz on drums. They’d set up in the living room and have a rehearsal. We’d have all the windows open because we didn’t have air conditioning and they would start playing. Within minutes, the front porch was filled with kids; we’d have a big party outside with all my friends. The funny thing is, Richard Davis, the bass player, lived across the street from us, and down the street was Frank Leslie, whose auntie was Abbey Lincoln from Chicago. There was always somebody famous hanging around the house. I was just used to musicians coming over. It was really fun. They were just people that I knew as a kid, with my brother and two sisters at the time. That’s what my dad did. My mom took me to the Regal Theater when I was five––it was kind of like the Apollo of Chicago. She took me to see my dad play with Miles Davis, and that was the band with Coltrane, “Cannonball” and Paul Chambers. I remember him standing next to Miles and Coltrane, playing. I’ll never forget that; I can see it clear as day. Ironically, John Coltrane died on my birthday, so there’s kind of a connection there that’s really unique.”