Chico Freeman: Playing It All!

The 1970s weren’t easy for American jazzmen. After the deflagration of free jazz in the 1960s, jazz somehow lost its appeal. Several American jazzmen found themselves with lesser opportunities to play, a much-reduced audience and no recording contract as some of the most important labels had closed. Some quit performing music, others accepted less musically-rewarding jobs – read, ‘more commercial’ – and some left for countries where jazz still enjoyed relative success. Old masters started to slowly fade away. Even the ever-transforming Miles Davis was virtually retired by 1975. For young emerging musicians, this just wasn’t the right time…

Then came the 1980s and jazz enjoyed a revival in the public eyesand ears, somehow re-awakened to its magic, fueled by a few marketing gurus who branded it ‘cool’ and ‘sophisticated’. Record labels started signing “young lions”, talented and good-looking, but far from ready, musically-speaking. As for the musicians who had emerged in the 1970s, well, they found themselves too old to be marketable (despite all their great chops and committed wood-shedding) and not old enough to be treated as masters! Even today, this generation of musicians is scandalously overlooked. While we know about Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman and Roy Hargrove (and deservedly so), who is familiar with the music of Mulgrew Miller, Joanne Brackeen, Bobby Watson, Valeri Ponomarev, Woody Shaw, Arthur Blythe, Anthony Davis? A few from that “sacrificed” generation managed to get through to, if not stardom, at least relative popularity. Chico Freeman is one of these.

Son of the legendary Chicagoan and perennial maverick, Von Freeman (still going strong at 86!), Chico Freeman, interestingly enough, started on the trumpet before realizing that his true calling was the tenor saxophone. He has since added the bass clarinet, the soprano saxophone, the flute and keyboard to his palette. Preoccupied with the African origins of jazz, Freeman likes to mix various influences in his music: rhythm & blues, pop, world (and particularly South American):

“My goal is to explore new worlds, and I don’t want to be limited by categories. I don’t want to be told that I can’t go into other categories. The only limitations I place on myself are the limitations I place on my own imagination. And within that realm, there are none.”

His vast knowledge of musical cultures plus solid studies in music theory have made him particularly in demand with other musicians, from avant-gardists to more traditional, from Latin greats to… the pop group Eurythmics! Trying to follow him is a big assignment, but despite his many projects, he’s always managed to remain loyal to his origins: influenced among others by his father, Chico Freeman developed a sound which owes a debt to the Chicago tradition: a robust, warm, big and almost aggressive sound (with a little touch of Coltrane) that he applies to his own style made of long legato phrases, expressionistic harmonics effects and volcano-like eruptions that can be best appreciated within a small group. And the highest compliment: Chico Freeman is also a supreme balladeer!

For his appearance in Vienna’s Jazzland – Europe’s oldest continuing jazz club – on a European tour that includes Linz, Bruck an der Leitha and Lustenau, Chico Freeman will play, as he usually does when touring in Europe, with the Fritz Pauer Trio. Viennese jazz lovers don’t need to be introduced to this legend. It’s probably easier to mention those who haven’t played with him since the list of his collaborations seems endless. But let’s just mention a few who did: Sheila Jordan, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Benny Golson, Benny Carter, Herb Ellis, Dave Liebman, Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, Warren Vaché, Benny Bailey, Kai Winding, Jim Galloway, Attila Zoller, James Moody… without forgetting his unique collaboration as member of the European combo of the late Wahl-Wiener Art Farmer.

Let’s say that when one wants to study the history of jazz in Vienna since 1970, Fritz Pauer is likely to appear more than a couple of times.

Recently awarded with the Grand Decoration of Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria, Pauer belongs to this precious category called the musicians’ musician. In other words, he is a musician able to adapt to the guest’s style and make him sound good while managing to keep his own style. One thinks of Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Rowles or Kenny Barron…

Influenced by Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, Pauer also mentions Friedrich Gulda and mostly Joe Zawinul as mentors:

“I was first influenced by Joe Zawinul whom I heard on radio,” he remembers, “and was particularly fascinated by his sound, his creativity and his whole way of playing.”

And had ever thought of moving to the other side of the ocean:

“I’ve often toured across Europe. Because I’ve gotten so many interesting things to do, I’ve never felt the urge to move to New York.” Also present for these Vienna concerts, bassist Johannes Strasser and drummer Joris Dudli, who have developed over the years with Pauer a rare combination of complicity and flexibility.

Surely one the “must-see” jazz events of



Selected recordings:

Chico Freeman:

Kings of Mali (India Navigation, 1978)

Peaceful Heart, Gentle Spirit (Contemporary, 1980)

Destiny’s Dance (Contemporary, 1981)

Focus (Contemporary, 1995)

Oh, by the way… (Challenge, 2002)

With The Leaders:

Heaven Dance (Black Saint, 1988)

Spirits Alike (Double Moon, 2007)


Fritz Pauer:

New York Meeting (Jive Music, 1996)

With Art Farmer: Azure (Soul Note, 1987)


Chico Freeman and the Fritz Pauer Trio

February 18 – 21, 21:00


1., Franz Josefs-Kai 29

(01) 533 25 75


Musicologist Jean-Pascal Vachon teaches at Webster University Vienna and gives lectures on the history of music at various venues around the city. In addition, he also contributes texts and works as a translator for the Swedish classical label, BIS.

Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » appearance » Widgets » and move a widget into Advertise Widget Zone